Riverside residents Damien and Jennifer “Jenn” O’Farrell see their desire to serve their community as just a part of who they are.
For Damien, a former church youth pastor, it’s his calling. Jenn traces it back to her childhood, when she would go with her mom to visit her great grandfather at a senior-living facility. They would cap the day by going to the rooms of other residents to offer greetings.
Besides their jobs and their respective leadership roles for other nonprofits, such as Operation SafeHouse and Today’s Urban Renewal Network, the couple also volunteers for community organizations and initiatives. Jenn serves on the Riverside Community Health Foundation’s board and is a three-term past board president of the YWCA. While involved in Riverside’s leadership program, she and others in her class created an annual bike ride that benefits the Riverside and Alvord Unified school districts. The event, the Riverside Citrus City Classic, is in its fourth year.
Damien serves on the Riverside Neighborhood Partnership and both he and Jenn worked with others to co-found Pick Group, an organization that brings young professionals together to socialize and find ways to impact the community socially.
Damien has been at the helm of Path of Life Ministries in Riverside for seven years. His organization has three shelter programs for homeless individuals and families with children. Most of the 1,500 people the nonprofit serves in its shelters are children under the age of 10, he said.
Other nonprofits Path of Life has launched include Health to Hope Clinics, which offers medical services to people in need, and Path of Life Enterprises, a transitional employment program. The first business opened under that program is Angel Wings Bakery, which sells its goods online, he said.
Jenn has been with the newly formed Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire chapter for a year. The program serves at-risk children and youth ages 6 to 18, providing them with a one-on-one mentor. Before this post, she previously co-facilitated a task force on human trafficking.
In working with victims of human trafficking, she said she learned from the teen girls she served that if they had positive role models and mentors earlier in life, their lives might have taken a different path.
“Seventy-five percent of those we serve come from single-family homes and are at risk for homelessness or gang violence, so mentors are needed at the tipping point to point them in another direction,” she said. “All of us have had a mentor at some point. While our mentors happen naturally, it’s not happening for the children we serve.”
Damien said while some may see problems such as homelessness or human trafficking as impenetrable, he feels efforts to make the community better do have an impact.
“It’s important for all of us to do what we can to better the lives of other people,” he said. “There’s a tangible cost to homelessness, and there is also an opportunity cost. Bringing families stability is what opens them up to generations of opportunity and following dreams instead of generations of poverty.”
Damien and Jenn exemplify Seizing Our Destiny’s unified city pillar. Riversiders such as Damien and Jenn are working together everyday to not only address local issues, but to also have a positive impact on the region, nation, and the world.
To read the full article, click here.