New more-than-halfway house opens in Vallejo

You could call it the house that love built.

Or, you could call it Johanna’s Home, which is what Vallejo Together’s Maria Guevara calls it. It’s the second of two “self sufficiency program” homes the 2016 Solano County Woman of the Year Award recipient has opened here as a hand-up to people struggling to get back on their feet.

This new house, on a quiet, tree-lined, central Vallejo street, was purchased by Guevara’s sister and brother-in-law, to eventually provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to five women who can demonstrate they are ready to rejoin responsible society, they said. It’s meant to be the final step before flying solo again.

“Our first year taught us that it’s difficult for most of our friends in need when they haven’t worked through their challenges,” Guevara said.

They closed on the sale of the house on Thursday and the first resident moved in Sunday, they said.

April Alfonso and her husband, John Short, who live in Arizona, bought the home at a reasonable price from a local realtor who knew the plan for the place. Community members stepped up and helped spruce it up as they donated furniture, housewares, filled the pantry and got it ready for its first resident.

“I see Maria’s work, how she helps others, and I wanted to help, too,” Alfonso said. “She’s always so involved with the community, and I’m so proud of her. She’s the Mother Theresa of the family.”

The couple will pay the mortgage, coming out of pocket increasingly less, as women are accepted into the program and start paying their moderate rent. The plan is for the residents’ rent to eventually pay the mortgage and most of the utilities.

Almost exactly a year ago, Guevara and Vallejo resident Tony Arguello, teamed up on a similar project for men working to regain their footing. That’s been working fine, both for Arguello and the men who are going through the program, he said.

“The one-year anniversary is in August,” Arguello said. “It’s been good. When you work with people who have been struggling with challenges and need to be given a chance, to give someone a chance you can see amazing things happen.”

Arguello said he thinks the benefits are at least two-fold — his property investment is working for him and the property itself is working for the community and the men living there.

“The financial component is working, and it’s used to help find shelter for someone who might not otherwise be able to find any.”

“Part of my work as a coach, is helping find efficient ways for people to explore together and unpack their learning,” she said. “I work with woman to find what areas do they need to look into to help them move forward in their lives. ‘Here is where I am, and here’s where I want to be and what are the resources I can leverage to get there from here?’”

Santiago is donating her time and expertise as one way to give back to her community, she said.

“I’m super excited about it,” she said. “We’ve been discussing it for about a year now, and now it’s happening. I believe deeply in Maria’s work.”

Maria’s approach to helping people lift themselves out of the various quagmires their lives have spiraled not into condemnation, but, the opposite, she said.

“Instead of guilt — instead of, ‘this is the city you committed a crime against,’ It’s ‘this is the city that loves you,” Guevara said. “They need to feel human again, and looked after, to know someone cares.”

Guevara said the fact that everything used in the home is donated, helps make that clear.

The new home’s first resident is a 36-year-old African immigrant who was separated from her children, but who is working now “and making her way on her own.” She did not want to be identified or be quoted for this story.

Johanna’s Homes are designed to be a year-long program, that ends with the residents graduating prepared for a life on their own, Guevara said. She said she hopes others will see a benefit it helping with the project in whatever ways they can, including buying homes for this purpose.

Anyone interested in helping in any capacity, can call Vallejo Together, at (707) 655-5381.

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