At age 17, Medina was forced to leave her parents' house when her daughter was born. She found shelter at the local nonprofit New Creations. They gave her a place to live, helped her care for her daughter and stay in school, and took her to church, where she "met God," she says. "God has given me the ability to feel their struggles as if they were my own."
In addition to being a housing counselor, Medina teaches single moms about finances and leadership and mentors them in their careers. She also leads the women in an optional Bible study. "I think the biggest struggle for a single mom is finding resources and building a positive community. These women are extremely smart; they are leaders. Had I not met certain people from the community who are doing good, I would not have had as much opportunity, nor would I have the desire to reach out to the community myself."
Breaking these generational cycles is what Able Works is all about. Started in 2005 by John Liotti and Marc Prioleau, Able Works seeks to address East Palo Alto's deficits in education, banking, housing, and employment—deficits that appear even starker within Silicon Valley. "We started asking questions like how, in a community of 2.5 square miles, can there be 97 youth-serving nonprofits and still have a 70 percent dropout rate?" says Liotti, Able Works CEO and a local police chaplain. "How can a community that's literally a stone's throw away from Palo Alto have check cashing outlets as the primary banking outlet? And no grocery store?"
There's a grocery store now—a busy Hispanic market with "the best tacos around," says Liotti. And thanks to groundbreaking partnerships Able Works forged in 2007, a number of businesses and development groups have cropped up in the area. They've also educated thousands of kids—upward of 500 a week—through FutureProfits, a program done in local public high schools to train underresourced kids in financial literacy and life skills. Lasting change will come only when these systemic issues are addressed, says Liotti.
"The stuff we're dealing with is long-term: major education issues, major housing issues, crime, systemic racism. It's just this big thing that takes lots of care, lots of effort, and lots of time."
"Slow and steady" isn't a celebrated value in a startup culture like Silicon Valley. But each in their own way, Wilhelms, Hall, Medina, and Liotti are championing patience, especially regarding wealth and all its effects. The question of what's downstream (or down the street) from wealth is ultimately a question of the long run: the long-term consequences and benefits of a for-profit culture. It's a question Christians in Silicon Valley must consider, because, in the end, it's also a kingdom question.
Roxanne Stone is curriculum editor for This Is Our City and serves as an editorial consultant for organizations such as Barna Group and Q Ideas.