The Mission:

To put an end to homelessness in Kern County through collaborative planning and action.

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For information: Homelessness Resources Administrative Assistant Jessica M. Janssen (661) 834-1580 or Jessica.F@uwkern.org. 

 


Rockhill Farm's Groundbreaking a Feel-Good Event

3/25/2012

Rockhill Farm, a faith-based, nonprofit rehabilitation program for former felons, gang members and drug addicts, expanded its organic farming operations yesterday (3/24/12) with the groundbreaking of its new "Rockhill 2" 10-acre location at the crossing of David and North Wheeler Ridge Roads in Arvin.  Called "Seeds of Change," the event drew community dignitaries and local media. 

Seeds of Chage combines the efforts of three-year-old Rockhill Farm, Turning Point of Central California--which is the Kern County Homeless Collaborative's newest member agency--and Claremont Lincoln University. According to Claremont Fund Director Wendy Lee, the program is designed to rehabilitate men with a troubled past in a sober living environment, give them vocational skills in organic farming, crop irrigation and produce marketing, and, through Rockhill Institute, provide them with theological training, peer and group counseling, and community organizing skills to help them give back to their communities.

The eight men in the program (which could increase to as many as 60, as farming operations grow) get up before dawn to do physical exercises to ensure they stay fit for the gruelling farmwork that takes up most of their day. They are also taught Japanese Aikido martial arts techniques to be "in harmony with the law of life," according to instructor Cliff Ishigaki. A U.S. Marine officer during the Vietnam War, Ishigaki helps the men control their anger and post-traumatic stress through mind-body techniques that emphasize the principles of nonviolence.

Speaking in front of a stately fountain at Saturday's ceremony, Rockhill Farm's Founder and Executive Director Fernando Jara said the program can last one to three years. Those who feel ready to leave after a year may do so, but those wishing to go on to learn through Rockhill Institute commit to an additional two years and have the opportunity to become program staff and move up through the ranks, up to and including Jara's current position. In fact, he already has his eye on a candidate, said Jara, who is currently completing his Masters of Divinity at Claremont Lincoln University, and has a personal goal of becoming a full-time minister.  

Rockhill Farm has garnered the attention of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative lately for several reasons:

  • Leticia Perez of CA 16th District Senator Michael Rubio's Office, who has been involved in the Collaborative's Discharge Planning and 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness Committees and is Jara's wife, has been an outspoken advocate of Rockhill Farm.
  • The program has the full support of long-established Turning Point of Central California, which actually owns the Rochkill 2 property and is allowing Jara to use it rent-free and paying for the operation's utilities until the first crop comes in, according to Turning Point's Deputy Regional Director Lorraine Castro, who is also on Rockhill's Board of Directors. (Turning Point had been subleasing the propery--which includes living quarters, classroom facilities and office space--to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for a program where female inmates could serve time without being separated from their children up to a certain age. But the program lost funding with the passage last year of CA Assembly Bill 109, the state's Public Safety Realignment Act.)    
  • There has been much community involvement and collaboration in making Seeds of Change succeed: from a modest $3,000 seed money investment from Senator Rubio, to Turning Point's generous partnership, to local grocer Green Frog Supermarket's agreement to purchase produce from Rockhill Farm, including watermelons, peppers, corn and different varieties of tomatoes, according to Lee. (And we know how much the Homeless Collaborative loves collaborative planning and action.)
  • The program boasts a zero recidivism rate among its participants, who have gone on to become productive members of society, and a reduction in rehabilitation costs of more than $40,000 per program participant over CDCR's costs, according to Sen. Rubio.
  • Rockhill Farm's success was recognized by President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge initiative, and Jara was just one of 5 leaders from among 600 around the country chosen to travel to the nation's capital to present his program. 

Saturday's groundbreaking ceremony was covered by several local media and attended by Sen. Rubio, Kern County Fifth District Supervisor Karen Goh and CA 20th District Congressman Jim Costa--all of whom presented certificates of recognition--Rockhill board members, staff and program participants, Turning Point and Claremont School of Theology representatives, Green Frog Market, several members of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, and others from the community.

The entertainment was provided by the Kishin Taiko Drumming Group from the San Gabriel Valley.

After the formal ceremony, a ribbon cutting took place (the ribbon was green, of course), and the close to 100 attendees were invited to plant seedlings in the Rockhill fields.    

As Jara said, people were witnessing not only the growing of crops, but "the blooming of men's souls that are being transformed here at Rockhill Farm."

For more information, visit www.rockhill-farm.org. 

 

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