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This article was published on: 11/01/2007

FEATURE: REALTORŪ Magazine’s 2007 Good Neighbor Awards

Carol Reza: An Angel on Earth

BY JIM HATFIELD




"Call Carol!"In Whittier, Calif., 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles, those words have become a rallying cry for women in trouble.

Carol is Carol Reza, real estate salesperson, ordained minister, and founder of Bridge of Faith, the nonprofit organization she started in 1995 to support emancipated foster children and women trying to rebuild their lives after being released from prison.

“Most people don’t understand the obstacles so many women have to overcome,” says Reza. Those women “have been hurt a lot in life, and they’ve lost faith in themselves and in other people. What they need is a safe place and someone to believe in them so they can begin to build a future.”

Reza’s desire to help other women stems from her own difficult childhood, a period when she wanted to become invisible. “I was in an orphanage and later a foster home, and I could have ended up in jail. But I survived, and today I can feel other people’s pain from across the room,” says Reza, 64.

In fact, Reza did more than merely survive. She acquired an education and the skills needed to become a success. But despite her accomplishments, she wasn’t happy. “Something was nagging at me and I didn’t know what it was until I hired a personal coach, who told me what he was hearing was that what I really wanted was to help other people find happiness.”

Soon Reza was holding Friday-night group meetings for women in jail. She also became associated with a local church, eventually taking instruction that led her to become an ordained minister and to found Bridge of Faith.

In 2003, Bridge of Faith purchased a 22-room, three-story colonial revival house and turned it into a residence for women. The residence, called H.O.M.E. — which stands for Home Opportunity Meets Emancipation — can accommodate up to 12 women, with the typical resident remaining for about nine months.

Most of the residents have aged out of the foster care system at 18 and become emancipated under California law, often with little education and few or no job skills, says Reza (pictured with four current residents).

“The state just says, ‘Happy Birthday. You’re an adult now,’ and a lot of girls aren’t ready for that,” says Reza. “They don’t have the financial or emotional skills. We want them to be healthy adults with an education and a job.”

Studies by the California Department of Social Services reveal that more than a third of emancipated foster children have not completed high school and approximately a quarter have lived on the streets or in shelters. “I want to change that, one girl at a time,” she says. “If someone wants to stay with us for 10 years while she goes to medical school, she can. This isn’t a house; it’s their home.”

Residents say H.O.M.E. is a success largely because of Reza’s personal commitment. Just since January 2006, she has contributed thousands of dollars and raised another $30,000 to help meet expenses. In addition, in that time she has logged more than 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, serving as housemother, caretaker, mentor, and fund-raiser.

To help raise money, Reza opened a thrift store called Up*Scale Collectibles, which also serves as a job training tool for residents as well as a drop-in counseling center for community residents in need.

Reza’s work has attracted considerable attention throughout Southern California. In 2006, she received the 58th Assembly District Woman of the Year Award. Presenting the honor, California Assemblyman Ron Calderon said, “Many of these young women would be literally out in the cold if not for Rev. Reza’s efforts. She gives from the heart and expects nothing in return. I can think of no one more worthy of this honor.”

But even higher praise for Reza comes from women she has helped — women like Rose Nieves who once was a H.O.M.E. resident but now is a member of the board and has found new happiness helping Reza help others.

“She’s a very special person,” says Nieves, who admits she was depressed and desperate when she asked Reza if she could move into the H.O.M.E. residence. “She showed me how to become a whole person, and I will never forget her for that.”

Reza believes she has a special calling — a calling to help troubled young women find happiness. That, she says, lifts her spirit as well.

“What makes me truly happy is seeing my girls go from being angry and bitter to becoming joyful at the prospect of what life has to offer.”

Contact Reza at The Real Estate Store; P.O. Box 9108; Whittier, CA 90608; 562/322-5265; bridgeoffaith@att.net.

Contact Bridge of Faith at 13979 Mulberry Drive, Whittier, CA 90605; 562/789-8009; www.bridgeoffaith.org.

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Read about the 2007 winners:

Virginia Ferry: Mission Accomplished

Phil Landis: Walking Hope for Vets

Patrick Moore: Help for Haitians

Carol Reza: An Angel on Earth

Bert Waugh: He’s All About the Kids

Honorable Mentions

Introduction: About Good Neighbors

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