After having to close its doors to the public several months ago due to lack of funding, the Open Gate Ministries shelter has experienced a resurrection. Monday morning, the shelter opened its doors again, welcoming the local displaced into a completely renovated home.
From the outside the Open Gate Ministries Shelter on North K Street looks much like it has over the past several decades. On the inside, however, the home has undergone an extensive remodel, with updates in the bedrooms, family room, dining room and kitchen.
For new Executive Director of Operations Cheryl Jackson, the opening comes at just the right time.
“We were going to do just a soft opening last week,” said Jackson. “And I thought, it’s Easter weekend, it’s significant. It’s significant to do it the day after Easter.
“That’s what this place is for,” Jackson added. “When Vivian Martzen opened it, it was because Jesus spoke to her very clearly and said ‘when I was hungry you fed me and when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink’ (Matt. 25). We have held to that mission all along.”
Jackson took over as the Executive Director for the shelter in February, after a reorganization of the Open Gate board of directors. She is originally from the Kingsburg area, but has spent the last 36 year living in Orange County, where she pastored a church for 32 of those years.
She most recently served as the Pastor of Outreach for the Vineyard Church of Anaheim.
Jackson said she heard from a niece of hers that the shelter was having problems and was in search of a new Executive Director. Given that she worked in some degree with shelters in Orange County, on the pastoral side, she felt compelled to look further into it.
“I knew that I would eventually land here,” said Jackson. “I have family here. And I still have 8 to 10 years before I retire, so it’s just a perfect job for me. And I just love it.”
Budget shortages last year caused Open Gate Ministries to cut back extensively on its services. Though the Open Gate Thrift Store, a major source of the ministry’s revenue, remained open, the shelter was forced to close its doors because it could no longer afford to staff it.
And when the shelter had to tell those living there that they could no longer stay, they promised one woman that she could come back when the shelter reopened. That woman, who goes by Stephanie, was one of the first to enter, or re-enter, the doors of the Open Gate Shelter on Monday.
“This is a blessing,” said Stephanie while getting comfortable in a newly refurbished room. “The most blessed thing about it is how uplifting it is with the staff.”
As for the remodel, Stephanie said she was simply amazed when she walked through the doors on Monday. “This color and atmosphere makes it so uplifting, and roomier and more blessed.”
The house has five bedrooms and three apartments to house intact families. According to Jackson, the shelter is the only one in Tulare County that allows intact families to stay together in the same unit. Typically, she said, other shelters will put men in separate rooms while women and children will be housed together.
In addition to Stephanie, on Monday the shelter took in a single mother and her four children as well as a family consisting of mom, dad and two children. They were also expecting to take in a mother and her five-year-old daughter.
One person who truly understands the benefits of the Open Gate Shelter is Alex Kazarian. Some time ago, Kazarian was a resident at the shelter. She now spends her time serving as an employee there, and was there when staff was told the shelter would be closed.
Said Kazarian, “Now, everything is brand new and we’re full force again. It’s wonderful. It’s exciting, overwhelming, I want to cry just thinking about it.”
Helping Jackson run the shelter is Robin Robart, and the two of them make up half of the full-time employees at the shelter. The shelter also employs two part-time employees and utilizes volunteers in various capacities.
The food pantry, which remained unaffected during the shelter’s closure, still serves approximately 600 people per month. As many as 80 to 100 families receive food from the shelter on Mondays.
Much of the renovation was made available from donations from the public as well as the city of Dinuba. All of the construction work, and much of the new furnishings, was also donated by community members.
For Jackson, the re-opening of the shelter is the fulfillment of a community coming together and, most importantly, the spirit of Easter - giving new life to what was once closed.