VISTA — Comprehensive homeless aid organization Solutions for Change honored Kiwanian Bill Gerken on July 16 for his years of work with the shelter. The new Corner of Hope, a children’s classroom at the shelter’s California Avenue facility, was dedicated to Gerken, who passed away April 1. Gerken’s wife Loretta was on hand to accept a plaque on his behalf.
Solutions for Change is somewhat unique among homeless shelters, providing job training, health classes and helping secure housing for its 200 tenants.
“When you think of homeless centers, you don’t think of places this big as comprehensive,” Executive Director Chris Megison said. “Solving homelessness requires a comprehensive plan versus just throwing soup bowls and shelter beds at it.”
Megison credits Gerken with much of the shelter’s success. A pious Lutheran and devoted football fan, Gerken became Solutions’ biggest local booster after discovering the group in 2003.
“He saw the kids and said, ‘This is unacceptable,’” Outreach Coordinator Antonea Peterson said. “He went out and told anybody and everybody, ‘We’ve got to take care of this. We’ve got to do something.’”
Gerken got the word out, becoming the shelter’s unofficial ambassador to Vista’s three Kiwanis clubs. Gerken, a Kiwanian himself, secured a good deal of donations. Gerken even helped start a chapter of Kiwanis at the shelter itself which lasted three years. He was instrumental in starting the Bring Up Grades, or BUGS, after-school homework program at the shelter. Gerken also donated his time at the shelter, but his primary strength was getting others to give.
“He was just a really great voice and a good example of what a Kiwanian is supposed to do,” Peterson said.
“He might be a very frugal individual, but if there were people in need, you could always rely on Bill to help,” old friend Don Miller from Oceanside remembered.
Bill Gerkn’s “Corner of Hope” will be the daytime play and learning place for up to a dozen children every day. Its walls and those of the neighboring nursery are covered with pleasant landscape murals donated by Escondido artist Julia Anthony.
The Corner of Hope and the rest of the Solutions for Change Family Center are located at 722 W. California Ave, Vista 92083. More information can be obtained at www.solutionsforchange.org.