After a month of sleeping on the living room couch and using their kitchen table as a closet for their clothes, Jay and Lori Prentice are moving back into their master bedroom a bedroom they happily gave to a woman they did not know so that she wouldnt have to spend another night sleeping in the cold backseat of her car.
Inviting those in need into their home is nothing new to Jay and Lori and their three children Melanie, 10, Tim, 8, and Ginger, 6. It all began more than two years ago when Lori was busy cooking a week early Thanksgiving dinner and the smell of it filled the house. However, in the midst of it all, Lori said a physical sensation came over her and for some unknown reason she no longer wanted to eat any of the food.
Instead of ignoring the feeling, Lori called up Pastor Paul DePledge at Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church and asked him if he knew of a family in need. DePledge told Lori about a family with two children that no longer had a home and were staying in a hotel with help from the church. Soon Lori was knocking on the hotel door with the Thanksgiving feast. When the door opened, Lori saw a child and it was then that she said the whole situation hit home.
Although they themselves have never been homeless, a few years ago Lori said they went through an awareness situation. Lori had to witness her parents lose their home from a single spark off a plumbers torch that ignited a fire and burnt their Los Angeles home to the ground. Because her parents insurance had gone bankrupt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they were forced to rebuild their home by using up all their retirement savings. Not long after that, Lori and Jay lost their home, too, due to a tough financial situation.
Due to these devastating experiences, Lori knew how easily it was to lose a home and wanted to do what she could to help a family who had lost their home. She asked Jay if they could please fix up their spare room to make it livable for a family.
I was really reluctant and not into the whole idea, but she expressed to me how she felt and ... (it) really rung true to me, Jay said.
Even the Prentice children were supportive of Loris idea.
I had a lot of questions but I felt like it was the right thing to do, Melanie said.
Lori and Jay renovated their guest room and soon the family of four moved in.
It was a magical experience for our family and was amazing, Lori said, adding that the experience was also uplifting by witnessing a family full of love even in their circumstances. It broke the stereotype of homeless people, Lori said. Many people are escaping domestic abuse or situations where theyve really fallen on hard times and thats the people we help.
DePledge said their church encouragess being a community for the community so he was excited to hear what the Prentice family was doing to help others.
For us, it was like, Wow, heres some people that are putting it into practice and being able to show the love of Christ in a tangible way, he said. Were just really excited they are willing to do it.
Lori searches for homeless people, especially those with children, through her church and through Facebook posts. At one she had six people that needed a place to stay, but she didnt have enough room. It was heartbreaking, Lori said, so she asked Jay about making room for one more person in their house and said it was the only thing she wanted for her birthday.
Lori spent her birthday looking for that woman and, when she found her, brought her home. When the woman realized she was taking Lori and Jays own bedroom, she tried to leave and said she could just use more blankets to sleep in her car but Lori would hear none of it.
I told her about the Christmas story and how every time I tell that story to my kids, I tell them how Jesus was turned out into the cold because the innkeeper said there was no room when there could have been room, Lori said. I told the lady, How can I tell my kids that story and keep someone out in the cold?
So Lori and Jay moved all their things out of their room and took up residence in the living room.
It was an inconvenience but not a big deal, Lori said. The couch was uncomfortable but it was either that or have someone sleeping out in the cold and hypothermia is a real risk. Its a sacrifice and we have to tighten our budget but its an opportunity to help people and we have to make sacrifices to help others.
It was while this woman was staying in the master bedroom that Jay and Lori began to see the impact that their actions were having on their children. On Valentines Day, they gave 8-year-old Tim a big bag of chocolates. Instead of ripping the bag open, Tim immediately got up and walked straight to the womans door and gave it all to her every single piece.
I thought she probably needed something to cheer her up, Tim said.
For Jay, it was a moment hell never forget.
My jaw hit the floor, he said. It was quite a Valentines Day.
When Ginger and Melanie saw what Tim had done, they picked up their bags of candy and gave them to Tim.
The children are really learning that theres so much to give and to kids, candy is a big deal, Lori said. It reinforces to us that were teaching life-long lessons to our kids about realizing that you can take the time to help someone else.
Even if that person isnt your friend, you can still love them, said 6-year-old Ginger.
When Lori heard that there is a couple with a nine-month-old in the Mountain Area that needs help, Tim even said he would give up his room for the baby. Lori is still looking for that family but has been unable to locate them.
Since the Prentice family began taking people into their home, they have helped about half a dozen people. Jay said his biggest concern about opening his home to strangers was that theyd get transients refusing to leave. Lori has been careful about who they invite into their home, though, and said they only open their doors to people who are earnestly looking for a job and only need to stay for a short time.
I support Lori in her drive and this has been her drive and ambition, Jay said.
I couldnt do it without him or the kids, Lori said. And if they ever say theyre uncomfortable, even without a reason, thats the end of it. But to me it seems they (children) have grown in ways they could not have without this experience.
Lori wrote a childrens book about her experiences called The Best Dinner I Never Ate that will launch on kickstarter.com on Tuesday, March 26. People can pledge money for Loris book project on kickstarter to help get the book published. Lori hopes the book will help raise awareness for the homeless.