BY BROOKE EDWARDS STAGGS STAFF WRITER for Tustin News
Online article here.
TUSTIN • In August, Tiffany Taylor had the rug pulled out from underneath her. Again. That’s when the troubled teen found out Laurel House – a transitional home for at-risk girls – was out of money and shutting its doors. Taylor would have to go back to living with the grandparents she’d worked so hard to rebel against. But Taylor’s nine months at Laurel House had changed her. She joined her church worship team, started choosing better friends and started getting along with her grandparents.
“When she got home, she was a different person,” Taylor’s grandfather, Mike Rilea, said. On May 6, Taylor nervously stood before a crowd of community leaders, business owners and philanthropists to thank them for rallying to save the place that had saved her. Laurel House staged a grand reopening ceremony, offering supporters a chance to tour the home that has been renovated and recently welcomed its first new residents. The nonprofit organization serves Southern California girls ages 12-17, housing up to six at a time who otherwise would be on the streets. Laurel House got its start 30 years ago, when Nadene Holub was a nurse with Tustin Unified School District. Too often, when she prescribed a day of rest, teens told her they didn’t have anywhere to go. So Holub called friends, asking if they could take homeless and runaway teens in for a couple of days. Soon friend Elinor Tompkins suggested a more permanent solution. With seed money from local churches, the two women founded Laurel House in 1985.
Despite hundreds of success stories, the organization’s finances started to go downhill amid the recession in 2008. In July, board members announced Laurel House would have to dissolve and the home would be put up for sale unless they could raise $300,000. Jim Palmer, president of the Orange County Rescue Mission, read about Laurel House’s plight in The Tustin News. Though the home provides only six beds, he said that’s 20 percent of beds available for that population in the entire county. Orange County Rescue Mission quickly took over leadership and ownership of the home. Laurel House closed in August, but Palmer started making phone calls, soon recruiting an anonymous $100,000 donation, a $50,000 grant from philanthropists Howard and Roberta Ahmanson and additional donations. A team went to work renovating the 1960s home, not only doing a complete remodel but also fixing plumbing and other pricy issues. Palmer also restructured the staff, folding some positions into Orange County Rescue Mission to cut monthly costs.
Donna Giddings, who has been house mother at Laurel House for 18 years, recently moved back in to care for three girls who already have been placed there. She calls Palmer an “angel” who has allowed the organization to get back to its mission of keeping girls off the streets, healing them and reuniting them with their families. Taylor won’t be living at Laurel House anymore. But as the 18-year-old prepares to graduate from Foothill High, she’s looking forward to mentoring the new residents, encouraging them to listen to their parents and have hope that things will get better.
A peek at part of Laurel House. Much of the home’s artwork was donated by the Ahmanson family.
PHOTOS: JOSHUA SUDOCK, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Laurel House has been renovated with a complete remodel that also fixed plumbing and other pricy issues in the 1960s home.