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Andy Pattantyus: Why I'm involved with the winter shelter

SCV Voices

Posted: May 3, 2010 3:51 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Since 2002, I have been working with the Santa Clarita Community Development Corp. to serve the needs of the homeless in our city.

Many of my friends and peers who know of my service on this issue have asked me, "Why do you do it?" Initially, I did not have a pat answer, and I still don't.

My short answer is, "I do it because my heart moves me to do so." This is still the most elemental expression of my motives.

But the question, posed so often, has caused me to look deep into myself to figure out why I feel this way.

I have come up with three reasons:

* Christian values;

* At some point in life, almost everyone needs a helping hand to get through a rough patch;

* Because it is good for the community, making Santa Clarita a better place for all.

As a flawed Christian, I try to follow the teachings of Jesus. Refer to James 2:15-17: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

Almost 20 years ago, I was working through a difficult divorce, which was devastating both economically and spiritually.

With my few remaining possessions, I moved out of my five-bedroom, 2,150-square-foot house in the suburbs, into the basement of my parents' house.

I was humiliated, humbled and grateful. I needed a helping hand, and my parents were there for me, as they always have been.

Others are not so fortunate, I realized, as I contemplated my circumstances.

While spending more time with my parents, I learned about their early days when, in 1956, they were refugees from the Hungarian revolt against communist Russia.

For a whole year, they existed solely on the good will of others, living first in the attic of a family friend in Vienna, and then for nine months in British refugee camp barracks with thousands of others.

After learning English, they got jobs. They have worked nonstop ever since, and they take nothing for granted.

During the 2007 Malibu fire, a good friend of mine suddenly became homeless when the house he was renting burned to the ground. Nobody died, but he lost everything except his cars and pets. It was doubly devastating because his office was in the house. Good friends took him in while he worked feverishly to re-establish his business and his home.

Anyone can become homeless in an instant. Not all can turn to family or friends for help, and sometimes those who are closest are not in a position to help.

When somebody is down, we have a choice. We can shun them, grind them into the dirt and make sure they stay down. Or we can extend a helping hand so they can get back on their feet.

As individuals, and as a community, how will we respond? Are we going to turn away, with a blind eye toward the person sleeping under a bridge or on the park bench, or the family living in the car?

Or instead, will we decide to do our part and extend a helping hand, helping the homeless once again become good workers and productive citizens? Which course of action creates a better community? We must choose.

By serving in my various roles with the Community Development Corp., I have personally benefitted in a big way, but not as you might imagine.

My eyes have been opened, and my worldview has been expanded. I have learned a lot.

Literally anyone can become homeless. Neither the problem nor the solution is simple.

To tackle some really tough problems, nonprofit groups need professional management and talented, motivated people.

I have learned much about local government. The community of Santa Clarita has shown its huge heart, giving time, materials and money to support our initiative.

It has been the education of a lifetime. I am happy to do my small part.

Andy Pattantyus lives and works in Santa Clarita and is vice president of the Santa Clarita Community Development Corp. board. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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