Making a Difference

Ruben and Holly Gil lead Querencia, an innovative Visions Made Viable project that serves Santa Barbara's (CA) lower east side, a low income and largely Latino community in the midst of one of America's wealthiest cities.

Ruben grew up in the lower east side. Unlike so many of the young men around him in the neighborhood he was able to 'make it out' and go to college. While in school he was influenced by people like Tony Campolo and Dr. John Perkins, national Christian leaders who emphasize the importance of social justice and service among the poor. He decided to return to his old neighborhood after graduating to help build the community there.

Meanwhile, Holly was attending Westmont College in Santa Barbara. Right from the start she was drawn to the Latino service workers on campus, people that are 'invisible' to most undergraduates. She intentionally worked long hours so she could pay her way through school as well as perfect her Spanish and establish a network of friends among the folks who cooked and cleaned and gardened at Westmont. Like Ruben, she was developing a Christian faith rooted in service and action among the marginalized.

Fast forward a few years. Now married--and though they were college graduates with many opportunities--Ruben and Holly intentionally moved into the lower east side 'for the long haul' in order to build long term, authentic relationships with their neighbors. Though they knew they would eventually create programs they were convinced that building trusting relationships with their neighbors was the only effective foundation for real change. Unlike so many projects that work for 'at risk' communities from the outside, Ruben and Holly wanted to work with their neighbors from the inside. Taking that approach gave them first hand experience of the challenges the community faced and the trust among their neighbors to initiate change.

What have they been able to accomplish?

They've established a successful mentoring program for neighborhood young people and families. They've consistently carried out tutoring and academic support for area kids. They've created high quality after school and summer programs for the neighborhood. They've acted as community organizers to help mobilize neighbors to fight for practical change. They've acted as a bridge between the 'two Santa Barbaras,' bringing resources into the community and connecting neighbors to resources outside the community.

And they've accomplished it by creating a wide network of committed volunteers from every walk of life in Santa Barbara and from many local institutions. It's a community based approach in the best sense of that term.

All that while also raising four kids of their own.

Now they're ready to take Querencia to the next level. They want to get the word out about what they're doing and expand their work so they can serve more families.

We're helping them get there. Visions Made Viable serves Querencia by providing long term fiscal sponsorship, administrative support, and consulting aimed at building their capacity to take their proven approach to even more neighbors.

If you want to contact Ruben and Holly to learn more, just let us know. And if you'd like to support Querencia directly, go to their Visions Made Viable project page and give online. Or you can go to their website and give there too.