A fire and $300,000 worth of losses are not enough to keep William Swigart from doing what he feels is his calling.
Swigart, 49, runs a Christian-based youth program named Youth Built Ministries. The program teaches children vocational skills as well as lessons from the Bible.
The program started in January 2002 as a fundraiser for the youth group in Mountain Christian Center in Oakhurst, and quickly spread to other churches there.
However, in November 2008, the facilities in Oakhurst were destroyed in a fire of unknown origin. Swigart said he lost four buildings, materials and a lifelong collection of tools. The fire came close to his house. "It was a miracle that our home didn't burn down," he said.
Swigart noted a few Oakhurst-area residents who offered help. Dennis Flammang brought equipment to clear off the land free-of-charge after the buildings burned down. Others, including Randy Disney, Sandy Craft, Alex Cardor and Urma Smith, gave cash or tool donations.
Since the fire, Swigart said, the ministry has been concentrating on its activities in Fresno. But he is interested in resuming operations in Oakhurst in the future. He said he will also be looking for leadership to get the Oakhurst program going again. "My job is planning, so my job is to find directors and leaders to run it," he said.
The goal of the program is "to mentor young girls and boys with values and also to mentor them in the things of the Bible and the Lord," Swigart said. "We wanted to teach kids as a way to mentor them."
The program teaches children skills in woodworking, auto mechanics and welding. The children are sectioned into classes for ages 10 to 14 and 15 to 18. Other classes are taught for young adults.
The classes are about two hours long, beginning with a prayer, followed by a lesson in one of the vocations and closing with a message on morality and the principles of the Bible. Swigart said he plans to implement new types of classes soon.
"We're also starting Youth Built Project Green, which will be teaching kids on solar, wind and hydrogen power, because that is the future," he said. "Then we'll be implementing many more kinds of classes, from sewing to culinary."
The expansion into Fresno brought a change in emphasis for the program.
"We're shifting more toward the cities and the gangs, the more broken children," he said.
"We're in a fatherless nation right now," Swigart said. "That's why all the kids and all the guys are in prison, because Dad wasn't home, Dad wasn't doing his job. We're trying to be fathers for those kids."
The kids that come to the program are from a variety of places. Some are from off the street, foster homes, group homes, juvenile hall and boot camp. Swigart works in close conjunction with Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency, House of Hope and Genesis Group Homes.
Lisa Casarez, CEO and founder of Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency, said Swigart has had a beneficial influence on the youth in her foster homes.
"It's been a powerful, positive relationship for the youth that we're trying to serve," she said. "He's a good role model for the children. A lot of our kids have not had good male role models."
Casarez said Swigart is teaching skills to foster self-sufficiency. The youth are learning basic agricultural skills so they will be able to grow food for themselves. They are also learning to repair donated cars that will become their own once they are fixed.
"It's an incredible program," Casarez said. "It offers our kids the opportunity to grow within their own skills. At the same time we're able to pour into them the love of God, that they were created for a purpose."
Casarez said the fire was a great tragedy. "That was a huge loss for many people," she said.
However, she remains optimistic about the program' future. "Hopefully the community can come together and we can create something better so that the mission can continue to grow," she said. "Everybody just giving a little bit really can be an opportunity for something bigger and better."
Swigart said the program is in the process of opening a new, large center in Fresno. "Once it opens, I estimate we'll have 100 kids within 45 days, and then we'll have a solid 500 kids within two years just in the one center," he said.
In addition, the program is extending overseas. "We're going international," he said. "We're starting one in Africa."
He said the program is also going to extend into Kona, Hawaii.
Although his program has faced some devastating challenges, Swigart remains motivated to continue. "Just my faith and God and compassion for the pain that these young people are going through," he said, "that we can intercept and intercede for those kids, that's what keeps me going.
"And it's my purpose in life. We all got to know exactly what our purpose is. There's a difference between a good idea and God's will for our life."