Chargers’ departure endangers East County charity’s programs
“Moving violation” is not a penalty with flags thrown in professional football. Local observers might rue that fact, in contemplating the multiple unfortunate consequences for area communities, flowing from departure of the former San Diego Chargers for Los Angeles.
Consider the example of the East County Transitional Living Center, which operates a shelter for endangered individuals and families at 1527 E. Main Street in El Cajon. With shelter-based programs as large as at the downtown San Diego Rescue Mission, but nowhere near as well-known, the ECTLC is one of East County’s hidden treasures.
The charity has been in operation since 2009 as the ECTLC. The center’s set of programs are based on work therapy, providing people at risk of permanent homelessness access to entry-level training through jobs as concessions employees at area sports events. How much lost money for this particular charitable endeavor will those soon-to-be-missing Chargers games mean? Loss of work hours (and associated payments) for program participants will cut away 10 to 12 percent of the ECTLC budget.
The nonprofit is not federally funded and already functions on a barebones budget, according to James Merino, the ECTLC director of family services. Currently about 50 families are residing in the facility, with 120 children. “The work therapy covers many of our costs,” Merino said, “and this income helps us stay above water.”
The ECTLC living shelter is a renovated former motel, associated with the next-door Christian Fellowship of El Cajon, which reserves a portion of its chapel facilities as a cafeteria to serve meals to ECTLC residents.
Harold Brown has taken on the dual roles of senior pastor at the parachurch fellowship and CEO of the ECTLC. “We are unapologetically Christian,” he began in explanation. Attendance at fellowship services is voluntary for most of the center’s programs, mandatory for those in the family restoration program.
“The whole work therapy basis is important to what we do,” Brown continued. “This constitutes a monetary loss certainly, but the loss of the job training is worse. Participants in our programs have suffered harm to their personal valuation. They feel like they are failures in life, and they’ve often turned to drugs and alcohol abuse to numb that sense of failure.”
The organization has a contract in place with Delaware North that gives the charity 12 percent of sales for providing concessions services, amounting to about 80 percent of the ECTLC annual budget of $450,000. Each Chargers home game put about $3500-4500 into the charity’s income stream.
“It was a real hit to us,” Brown said about learning that the Chargers were dead set on leaving San Diego.
Brown expanded on the central focus of work therapy. “We have a civil disaster in society,” he continued. “Men have checked out of their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. And this is across the board, all ethnicities. We teach guys that this is not okay, that they need to be providers for their families.”
Trainees in the concessions-related jobs handle about $12,000 to 15,000 per game, Brown said. “One thing we are most proud of is that over 81 games at Petco Park, we had zero shortages.” And that includes counting every hot dog, every pizza, and all cash transactions. “We acknowledge that we are representing the Lord Jesus Christ, and our participants learn integrity.”
Merino had more to add. “We are grateful for what we have and hopeful that it’s there next year.” The organization is seeking new opportunities to replace the lost Chargers income.
“We are believers,” Merino went on. “We’re going to find a way. That’s where the faith part comes in.”
Merino said that the ECTLC leaders will continue believing in their mission. “We have a lot of work to do. We want to make it easier on families.”
Despite the threat from the Chargers’ move, Brown has plans in place that he hopes will not be jeopardized. “We would like to lower fees for single women with kids,” he stated. “We give them a safe place to live.” Moreover, he envisions a phased complete renovation and expansion of the center’s buildings, which is estimated to require about $10 million.
(Oh, what is that football rules movement infraction that might be confused with a traffic citation moving violation? “Illegal motion” is the term describing the five-yard penalty called against the offense when an offensive player is moving toward the line of scrimmage at the time of the football snap.)
Information on the East County Transitional Living Center can be found at www.ectlc.org/wp. The organization can be contacted directly by phone at (619) 442-0457.