This story was originally published in the NorCal Association newsletter, The Beet.
Three years ago, an affordable housing complex was built directly across the street from Oak Hills Church in Folsom. Oak Hills began to dream of ways to interact with this new community – to be a hope-filled presence in the lives of the residents. Stephanie Valadez, Community Engagement Coordinator at Oak Hills, began to pray about intentionally moving into the neighborhood; below is her story. Please be praying for Oak Hills as we continue to discern where the Spirit is at work in this new community and how we can continue to share the love of Jesus outside the walls of our church. Please also be praying for Stephanie as she leads us in engaging our community well.
In 2020, I was encouraged by a fellow church member to apply to the new apartment community that was being built right across the street from the church. At first, I was skeptical because I knew living in Folsom would be challenging to manage as a single mom working in ministry. Each day on my drive to work (also at the church) I would picture myself there, praying God would save me an affordable unit and help me live out the vision of creating a community of neighbors who would live and do life together. As a single mom, I have a heart for other single parents and wondered if there would be any other residents there who’d share my value for a supportive community. At the end of 2021, I received the keys to my new apartment and almost immediately began forming relationships with my neighbors by just introducing myself and remembering their names. One of my mentors even made a map of the complex where I could keep track of each apartment and building, labeling them with the names of each new neighbor I met. It was fun to see how many families I could fill in each week!
As the summer approached, I felt God calling me to get creative with relationship building in my community, so the idea of serving food at the picnic table area on Friday nights was born. The kids especially loved being fed, and I quickly realized that many of them were starving for connection. Some of their parents would come and hang out but many of them were often outside alone during dinner time. They came out faithfully each Friday and would ask each week if we would be doing our picnic regularly. It gave them something to look forward to and allowed me to get to know them each on an individual basis. The parents who did come out were single moms and friendships were organically made with a consistent gathering time each week.
Fast-forward to the present, and those same moms meet at my apartment each week to go deeper in relationship with one another, with a curiosity of who Jesus is. Our kids play together in one of the other moms’ homes, which is right next door! Some of us are still very new to our faith, but all are willing to show up with curiosity and open hearts. Some of us have even restored past hurts within the church and Christianity as a whole. The beauty of this group of women is that all we’re on different journeys and God has given me a home that serves as a safe space to continue navigating life and faith together.