A $1.5 million gift to the Fresno Mission Monday brings the first phase of the nonprofit’s new first-of-its-kind homeless services to nearly complete funding.
Family and associates of the George and Melodie Rogers Foundation handed the check to the nonprofit Monday at the new City Center.
The money will help finish the first phase of the $38 million project, which includes emergency housing, a medical clinic, a free grocery store, support services for youth, and even a coffee shop and dinosaur-themed playground, said Matthew Dildine, CEO of the Fresno Mission.
After California’s high-speed rail project took most of the Fresno Mission’s downtown campus, it gave the nonprofit an opportunity to start anew, said Dildine.
The 9-acre property at Dakota and Blackstone avenues lies at the geographical center of the city, Dildine said.
They wanted a place that could address housing insecurity, youth homelessness, addiction, human trafficking and food insecurity. In Fresno, they have all sorts of nonprofits addressing those needs, Dildine said.
“But they’re all in some respects doing it alone,” he said. City Center will unite the various nonprofits throughout the city.
They’ve partnered with 20 different nonprofits from Central California Food Bank to Centro La Familia and Breaking the Chains.
“What if we created a place that’s going to bring together all of those community resources, all of those nonprofits that service people onto a common campus and then what if we made that campus not just the nicest campus, not just the nicest place for a homeless mother to go, but the nicest place for any mother to go?” Dildine said.
Rogers Family Has a Philanthropic Spirit
George Rogers, founder of Pridestaff, a national staffing agency, died in 2021. Since then, every year on his birthday, his wife, Melodie, makes a donation in George’s name, said Casey Rogers, George and Melodie’s nephew.
“Uncle George built his life and his business around helping people,” Casey said.
The plan was to donate to Fresno Mission. But then the Rogers family got a tour of the City Center.
“After seeing all the good that they’re doing, Aunt Melodie felt compelled to make this donation to help our neighbors in need,” Casey said.
The gift leaves the nonprofit just $600,000 away from its first-phase $9.2 million goal.
City Center to Be a Model for Housing/Social Services Nationwide: Dildine
The housing portion of the City Center is well underway and slated for a June 2024 opening. Construction on the youth center will begin in January 2024. The major aim is to provide family and youth housing, Dildine said.
People with children often face the longest wait times for housing, Dildine said. California’s scoring system prioritizes single homeless people over families. A family may be sleeping in a car one night then have a hotel the next. But because their situation on paper may seem less severe, their wait in line for shelter may be longer.
“If you’re a mother with four kids sleeping outside of a Walmart, you have less of a chance to get housing, to get access to shelter, than a guy who’s been on meth on the street for five years alone,” Dildine said.
Nationally, homeless children outnumber homeless adults, Dildine said. Dildine said there are 1.5 million homeless children nationally compared to 500,000 homeless adults.
They’ve begun seeing that trend locally as well. In 2019, they began seeing more people come to them with kids than without, Dildine said.
“Today, we will have somewhere between 100 and 140 families just on our waiting list,” Dildine said. “That’s not people, that’s families.”
The 72 rooms at City Center will be able to accommodate a family with two children or a family with 10 children.
First Fruits Market Offers Free Groceries
The First Fruits Market opened in September. Located at the City Center, the grocery store offers people of all incomes free food on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. People can get staple goods from meats, grains, and fresh veggies, to healthy snacks and even flowers, Dildine said.
While the line may sometimes be long, City Center has a mountain-themed indoor playground for kids to play.
Money from the Rogers family will also help construct an outdoor playground with a giant T-rex named Georgie.
City Center also has a coffee shop. A bar area will not serve alcohol but will have root beer and other drinks where people can socialize and watch a game, Dildine said. Instead of bartenders, they will have “lifetenders.”
The goal was to give people dignity.
“If somebody walks in, it’s going to be a completely different environment,” Dildine said.
At the youth center, they didn’t want to make it a place where children in need have to walk up to a desk, but more like “your friend’s mom’s kitchen,” Dildine added.
The City Center’s goal is not just to help people in need but to strengthen Fresno as a city.
“The whole mission of this building that we’re in right now, that’s sitting in the very center, the geographical center of our city, is to seek the welfare of our city,” said Mark Ford, president of JD Foods and board chair for the Fresno Mission. “To help those who are experiencing life’s insecurities, to give them hope, to give them resources, to give them direction to seek their welfare.”