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St. Joseph's Miracle Move

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

November 7 -- It's been almost a month since St. Joseph's Center moved its case workers, administrative officials and family programs into temporary digs deep inside Santa Monica, but Project Manager Norma Apoian still reels from the good luck landing the property.

In fact, to Apoian, who works for the social service non-profit agency and brokered the deal for the 7,500-square-foot space at Pico Boulevard and Fourth Street, it was a bit more than luck.

"It was really a miracle," she said. "I believe in miracles and really think the space was meant for us."

Apoian sat on the third floor of what used to be Allen's Janitorial Supply, a landmark business for more than 50 years, and gushed about the new space, which has been divided into a maze of cubicles, media rooms and a senior activity center.

At $350,000 in rent over 18 months, the property, which includes 32 parking spaces, was a steal, she said.

"In an area where the price is skyrocketing, we got a deal maybe as much as 30 percent below market rate," Apoian said. "We have more privacy for counseling, enough parking, and the family that owned the building took care of tenant improvements like carpeting and painting."

For Rhonda Meister, St. Joseph's Executive Director, there was an added benefit.

"For the first time in over 20 years I have an office with a door," said Meister, as she stood near a desk of architectural drawings for St. Joseph's proposed building in Venice.

The move, Meister said, was essential to pave the way for the demolition and reconstruction of the agency's two-story headquarters at 204 Hampton Street near Santa Monica's southern border.

"We had to make space," Meister said. "At the old location we shared it with a parish, and there was no privacy for counseling. We had just outgrown the building for the services we were providing,"

In addition to St. Joseph Center's administrative functions -- including offices for executive staff, the community and donor relations department, facility operations and finance -- the current, as well as the new site, will be home to several programs.

The Family Center helps nearly 900 poor working families cope with living on a tight budget.

The program includes parenting classes, language skills, job search assistance, family advocacy and case management for parents, as well as an after school program for kids ages 11 to 17.

Services are also available on-site for low income and homeless seniors, providing case management, housing assistance and home visits.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes, said St. Joseph's grant writer Paul Rubenstein, is the chance to refrigerate food for the agency’s Food Pantry program.

"Often we would receive so much food and items that wouldn't keep, like eggs and milk, and we would have to refuse it,” Rubenstein said. “The cold storage now allows us to take more of those in-kind contributions."

Rubenstein estimates the agency receives between $700,000 to $800,000 in in-kind contributions every year and distributes nearly 14,000 bags of food.

Unlike St. Joseph's Service Center at Fourth and Rose avenues in Venice, which serves nearly a hundred homeless individuals a day, the temporary location in Santa Monica and the new facility at 204 Hampton will help poor working families and seniors, Meister said.

"We just want to make sure that everyone understands that there are no homeless services being offered down here,” she said. “That's all being handled at the service center on Fourth and Rose."

The non-profit did extensive outreach to neighbors, said Meister, mailing notices to businesses and residents within a 500-foot radius and received no complaints.

With the Santa Monica site up and running, St. Joseph’s next goal is to raise money to rebuild its headquarters, Meister said.

"We are definitely seeking donors, and we still have $1.5 million we have to raise in this campaign," she said, adding that nearly $8.6 million of the $10.225 million needed has been raised.

After the miracle move, Apoian has faith the money will be there.

"I believe at the end of the day, it will all come together," she said.

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