Adopting a Neighborhood of Children

In 1989, Steve ’88 and Jenni Halvorsen ’88 Wiebe rented a cheap apartment close to Fuller Theological Seminary and found a home and a ministry in their Pasadena neighborhood. They’ve lived in the same spot for 23 years, leaving the apartment only to move into an old house across the street. “We never expected to have an urban ministry,” Jenni says. “But once we got here, we saw the need and felt God’s call.”

While Steve earned a Master of Divinity, Jenni taught elementary school in posh San Marino. “Every day I drove through streets with mansions, and the disconnect between my students and the kids in my neighborhood troubled me. So I showed up at the school two blocks from our apartment and told the principal I wanted a job. She thought I was loopy to leave San Marino!”

Jenni transferred to the Pasadena school two years later and took the first step toward a ministry to local children. After an elderly neighbor died in 1993, Jenni saw someone mowing the lawn and sent Steve across the street to ask about buying the home. The Wiebes still live there.

Steve was a youth minister, and Jenni was teaching part time and caring for the first of their three children (now a Westmont student) when they founded the Can-Do Club (Christians Assisting Neighbors, Developing Opportunities). Inviting youth into their backyard, they offered tutoring, help with homework, activities such as art, music and sports, and a weekly Bible club. Kids crowded into the yard, so the Wiebes converted their garage to a classroom and computer lab. Still overrun, they leased a garage on an adjacent lot and made it into a multipurpose room. Steve quit his job in 1999 to serve as executive director of Neighborhood Urban Family Center (NUFC). Jenni worked as program director, and the ministry incorporated as a non-profit organization funded by literacy grants, churches and individuals. In 2003, a former volunteer opened a second location in her backyard. But when a neighbor complained, the city shut down both programs. NUFC moved to the Coral Center, a former YMCA. While the couple hated to leave their neighborhood, the new facility offered an acre for gardening and space for academics, sports and swimming. They spent six years there.

Today, NUFC (athomeinthecity.com) serves 140 children in four locations: Pasadena Covenant Church (the main campus), Pasadena Nazarene Church (which shares a driveway with a public school) and two sites in low-income housing projects. While they organize family programs such as Mom’s Night Out, NUFC focuses on grade-school kids. “It’s critical to provide extra support for kids early on,” Jenni says. “Can-Do is a second family and home for kids, and we want them to know we love them for who they are. We look out for each other.”

“Part of our success is our structured academic program,” Steve says. “We offer literacy training, tutoring and homework assistance; kids need lots of help with homework.” The ministry employs 13 people, and 35 volunteer weekly. Jenni oversees all the sites; Steve now works as executive director of New Vision Partners, an interfaith organization that operates projects in Los Angeles and overseas.

The Wiebes met in college, and Westmont students have volunteered at NUFC.“Westmont changed my life,” Steve says. “It was eye-opening to learn I could be a thinking person—and a fun one—and still be a Christian.”

“Westmont broadened my perspective and enriched my faith,” Jenni says. “It was an important part of our journey.”

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