By Elisabeth Parra, CVCF Intern
In 2012, Richard Burrell, founder and CEO of Live Again Fresno (LAF), and his wife Roxanne Burrell went to Parkway Drive and what they found touched their hearts and changed lives for years to come.
When the Burrell’s first went to the Fresno Inn on Parkway Drive, an area comprised of 15 motels known for sex and drug trafficking, they saw children playing in the filth of the sewer and wondered why they would be there. The Fresno Inn was an intense place; it had 25 registered sex offenders as residents. In general, people who frequented the Fresno Inn were there for one of three things: sex, drugs, or to take away their children. So, when Richard and Roxanne showed up not wanting any part of that and instead wanted to help, it was hard for the tenants to believe.
Richard needed to gain their trust. He found the only way to do this was through consistency. He went there every week and started to build relationships with the kids. He gave them CDs with children’s music which the kids would listen to all week. When he returned all the children gathered together and started singing one of the songs, “This Little Light of Mine.” They were singing light into the darkness that surrounds them. According to the hotel manager the illegal dealings that went on there began to decline and then altogether disappeared thanks to the consistent visibility of Richard and the children.
Though many business owners might not appreciate the loss of income, the manager of the Fresno Inn loved it. He gave the Burrell’s a room rent-free for them to play their music or do activities with kids in a safe place.
In 2014, LAF incorporated into a nonprofit and has been growing and changing lives ever since. In that same year, LAF began developing relationships with the parents of Parkway Drive. One mother in particular was living on Parkway Drive. She was addicted to drugs and had lost her kids. Richard and Roxanne helped her work toward sobriety. They helped her find a job and she moved out of Parkway Drive. They fought alongside her and helped her to get her kids back. She is now a board member of LAF. These are the relationships that they are building. “We are here to walk alongside them for as long as they will allow us,” explains Desiree Amariei, Director of Development at LAF.
Parkway Drive can be unsafe even for adults, so during summer and Christmas break, the children have a harder time getting to LAF’s headquarters and facilities which are located nearly 2 miles away. Partnering up with the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, LAF packs up their trucks and takes breakfast and lunch to the children every single day.
They also help mothers find jobs, securing “something that is a steady income to help them out of the cycle,” says Amariei. Parents who have gone through LAF programming can become Parent Partners and help with the other kids and parents who have found themselves at Parkway.
Since 2017, they now service 15 different motels, they have served over 6,000 meals and they work with over 120 children, but their work is still just beginning.
Sometimes in life, we don’t get to choose the cards we’re dealt. Often, we don’t get to choose the place we live or the type of home we come from. For the kids of Parkway Drive, this is especially true. But Live Again Fresno is doing everything in its power to change that.
Live Again Fresno is featured in the docuseries This Day Fresno. Learn more at www.ThisDayFresno.org.
About the Author:
Elisabeth Parra is a Central Valley native and a Senior at Fresno State pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Media, Communications, and Journalism with an option in Advertising. She is Lead Guide at DISCOVERe and has worked as an Account Executive for The Collegian (Fresno State). After Graduation, she plans to work in the nonprofit sector or for an advertising firm. She then wants to go back to school to pursue her Master’s in Business Administration.
Growing up in the valley, Elisabeth sees all the potential and good people who want to make a difference. She one day wants to open a firm of her own. With her firm, she wants to help nonprofits with free advertising. She also plans to buy her mom a house to thank her for all she’s done for her.