Center for the Working Poor House Journal Old and New Faces at the Center

December 31st, 2014

Paul Engler, in addition to administering the house and services of the Center For The Working Poor, has been writing a bit with his brother, Mark Engler. They are proud to announce they have a book deal from The Nation Books, and they have been publishing monthly articles in a variety of publications. Paul would be happy to have just 30 friends read their writing, so he is just thrilled that they’ve gotten tens of thousands of hits, likes, tweets, and shares for all of their articles, thanks in large part to Mark. Paul has also been traveling across the country to do community organizing trainings with his new organizational partner Carlos Saavedra and a team of talented young volunteer leaders called the “momentum team.” Over a hundred people have applied for the 50 slots in the next training despite the cost and time commitment required. Paul is also spending time again at the Relational Center, involving himself in the mental health programs, and helping with the relaunch of Get Empathy, the high school anti-bullying and leadership development program he co-founded.

Rebekah Berndt joined us last year after becoming active in the Centering Prayer meditation group. She is a critical care nurse by profession, and though she grew up in a conservative evangelical family, she became radicalized through progressive Christian social justice networks, which eventually led her to the Center. She has become known as the best cook in the house and has also taken initiative for planning some of our social events. Although originally not interested in dating Paul, some mixture of hootenannies, baggy jeans, and Paul’s secret care bear powers seemed to win her over. She also admits to liking Paul’s kale salad and cheesy potatoes that he makes for her and the chocolates he gives her when she has a craving. Rebekah is very active in the centering prayer group as its secretary and organizes a trip to the beautiful La Casa de Maria retreat center the first Saturday of every month for a half day of silence and meditation, which all are welcome to join.

Kai Newkirk looks better than ever after his 18-day hunger strike to educate voters about the corrupting influence of money in politics. It took only a few weeks to gain back his strength and regain his lead over the dozen or so people in the 100 pushup challenge competition. Kai is still living in the laundry room and sleeping on the balcony, so he can spend all his resources running the day to day operations of 99 Rise while continuing to build support and momentum for the cause. In the last year or so, he has interrupted the supreme court, marched hundreds of miles across the state, and gotten arrested 3 times, twice in the state capital building.

Alex Stevens is a cofounder of 99 Rise, a fellow past Occupy protester, and recent graduate of Occidental College. This last year he got a job at Nation Builder, where he has been able to help out activist groups doing work in Ferguson, around environmental justice, and other good causes. Paul is proud that he has become a hard working professional man while keeping his foot in the social justice world.

Lacy Wangen lived with us over the summer and left to pursue a degree in documentary filmmaking in New York. While she was here, she made some amazing dinners, including great Thai peanut rice noodles and mango sticky rice. Although she is naturally quiet, introverted, and shy, she has a great appreciation for community and our centering prayer group. There is a wide consensus that she is super nice, and we wish her the best.

Daria stayed with us for over a year. She is a very talented administrator and social media/online organizer for UNITE HERE, the union of hotel and restaurant workers. She added a great mix of unique loud laughter, respect for community, commitment to social justice, and strategic witty tweets. She is still active in our community social events and comes often to our weekly centering prayer group, where she adds a wonderful perspective as a progressive Jew from an Israeli family.

Alex Acuna joined our community this July and has been a great fit. He is a very strong and ambitious community organizer with ACCE, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. He actually likes to listen to all of Paul’s old stories about his “young organizer days” in “the union.” Alex is a respectable cook and brings some delicious recipes from his Mexican family in the San Francisco Bay area. Although he works late every weeknight, he sometimes invites everyone out for drinks or coffee. He has expressed his gratitude about finding a home in Los Angeles after being a traveling community organizer for CALPIRG. He likes having friendship and support as well as home cooked communal meals for his daily office lunch. There are rumors that he knows how to tap dance, but we have not had a Center talent show yet to prove it.

We have had so many great social events in the last few months: birthday parties, hootenannies, a 99 Rise party attended by our old friend, Hannes Ämkärr, and even a pumpkin party where two people carved pumpkins for the first time in their lives. In addition, Judy Esber, who has the reputation as being “the best community member of the Center For the Working Poor ever,” has taken some time off from her job as an organizer for UNITE HERE in Philadelphia and is staying in LA. She has been active in our Centering Prayer group and helping Paul with running the Center and getting the food distribution program up and going again.

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