Los Angeles faces a growing humanitarian crisis as the number of unsheltered persons continues to grow. An interview with Ken Craft, founder of Hope of the Valley, reveals his organization’s work to develop temporary small tiny homes throughout the San Fernando Valley, and now, in LA. A safe place to sleep with an array of healing services can be a turning point for many who come to Hope of the Valley shelters. However, challenges to establishing these communities and permanent housing options range from zoning laws to attitudes about unsheltered persons. Ending homelessness requires addressing the complexity of the issue, including the trauma, addiction, and the mental health issues of the unsheltered, along with the logistical barriers created by laws and a lack of understanding for those who find themselves without a safe, permanent home.
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The Missing Conversation, Episode Four.
This can’t continue change. Nothing, nothing changes. Hey, this is not acceptable. You cannot continue to have this number of people that are living in abject poverty on the streets of Los Angeles. One of the wealthiest cities in the world.
On this podcast, we will propose critical new strategies to address world issues, including homelessness, immigration, amongst several others, and making a connection to how our individual psychology contributes and can help transform the dangers that we face. We will break from traditional thinking. As we look at our challenges from a freer and more independent point of view. Your host Robert Strock has had 45 years of experience as a psychotherapist, author, and humanitarian, and has developed a unique approach to communication, contemplation and inquiry, born from working on his own challenges.
Robert Strock: (01:01)
Welcome to The Missing Conversation, where we explore issues on the world stage that have not been brought into the public eye to benefit our planet and the maximum potential way. It seems so essential today that each of us look at what we can do to help our planet to survive today. We have a truly exceptional guest, Ken Craft.
Ken Craft: (01:28)
Hello, Robert, good to be with you today.
Robert Strock: (01:32)
Thanks so much. So I’d like to give a little bit of Ken’s background, um, after spending many years in the nonprofit and for-profit world in 2009, Ken Craft started Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission. His goal from the beginning was to create a responsive organization to address the growing problem of hunger and homelessness in Los Angeles. Ken has guided the organization from infancy to a leading housing and homeless service agency. Currently Hope of the Valley has over 170 employees and 17 site locations. Ken’s passionate about his work and is known for his authentic and transparent leadership style. Ken is married and has three adult children. So I can only say that as I read that that feels like a humble version of who you are from both the grapevine and my contact with you. And I’ve just been, so I’m really touched by the, uh, common sense and the ability to get along with people in your world. Uh, so could you just tell us what really, it was your motivation to do this work?
Ken Craft: (02:55)
Yeah. Uh, you know, you always got to go back to the beginning and how did I get started in this? Uh, well, for many years I was a pastor and I had my own broken world experience and I lost everything. It was a very dark time in my own personal life. Uh, and through the midst of that, um, I, I ended up going and working in the for-profit sector with Equifax National Credit Bureau did real, real time authentication technology. And, and one day, a couple of years later, um, after this very painful season of my life, um, I had a friend ask me Ken have you ever considered working with the poor and the homeless? And I said, Nope. And he, uh, said, would you just come have lunch with me? And he ran a rescue mission. And so I went and I had lunch with him and he didn’t take me out to a nice restaurant.
Ken Craft: (03:43)
He made me eat lunch with everybody at the rescue mission. And so I was surrounded by everyone, you know, that was part of the program or right off the streets. And it was one of those defining moments that actually, uh, as I was sitting there, everybody I looked at, I thought that could have been me. That should have been me, but for the grace of God, I left that day. And I just said, you know, because I pretty much disqualified myself of ever being, uh, kind of in the public sector again and doing something to really try to help others. And I just prayed a very simple prayer. I said, God, if you see fit to use me to give people a second chance in life, like you’ve given me, then I’m open for business. And so three days later they called me and said, Hey, we’re starting something, would you lead it?
Ken Craft: (04:24)
And I said, I don’t know the first thing about homelessness, but you know what, I’ll do it. So I took a 50% cut in pay. And, uh, I, I began to really study and begin to learn that the complexity of homelessness, uh, here in Los Angeles and, and even in the United States. And, uh, I really made it my life mission to do anything and everything I can do to empower and, and to help people rise above the poverty, the homelessness, the addiction, and to make sure they get the mental health services that they need. And so that was it. It was this fortuitous lunch that I had with a mission director that kind of changed the course of my life.
Robert Strock: (05:05)
Well, when you say it could have been me, you are sharing the words in my mouth. We do a skid row program for the last 18 years. And I always put my 2 cents worth in every single year. We have about 80 volunteers and that day is it could have been me, could have been us. We’re all just, we have no idea how we really got here in terms of why were we the ones that were relatively better off. And I think for all of our listeners and beyond, it’s like to have that perspective is what opens the heart to really be able to not only do the work you’re doing directly, but to be a supporter in whatever way anybody can. Um, so how hard was it for you to get the approval for the pallet-shelter homes for, for the temporary housing from the city, county, the agencies with your funding? And could you tell us a little bit about how you get your funding?
Ken Craft: (06:04)
Yeah, well, uh, if we go back again, Hope of the Valleys were 11 years old, so we’re relatively young when it comes to homeless services. I mean, union rescue mission, I think there were 140 Midnight Mission. I think they’re maybe 80, I think, 75 years for LA Mission. And so we’re relatively young, but from the beginning, you know, I knew that we needed to have multiple revenue streams and we wanted to be very responsive to whatever the needs are. And so somebody wants to, if you want to be successful, find a need and fill it. And so we’ve always tried to find certain niches that are not being met and to be proactive in addressing those. And so, you know, first thing we did once we, you know, how do you start a nonprofit? And we started in 2009, you know, we just started serving hot meals.
Ken Craft: (06:52)
And from there, we then opened up our men’s drug and alcohol recovery program. We opened up our first family shelter, uh, and it continued to grow, uh, right now. Um, we have three family shelters. We have a youth shelter, we have, um, many adult shelters we actually have right now, 10 shelters, 575 beds by the end of this year, we’ll have 14 shelters and over 1100 beds here in the San Fernando valley, which is the north portion of the, uh, of Los Angeles. But one of the things that, uh, you know, in terms of trying to be responsive, uh, also trying to look at what are, what’s creative, what’s innovative, what’s scalable, what’s affordable. You know, you have to look at all those elements when it comes to providing housing. Uh, you know, I know the there’s an outcry from a number of people within Los Angeles Times article that highlighted the fact that, you know, the affordable housing that was being built, um, with Triple H Funds, um, the, a single apartment and it was anywhere between 500 and $700,000 per unit and people were outraged.
Ken Craft: (07:57)
And so I have always been very interested in this tiny home concept. And for a number of years, I was for a year and a half, I was working with the University of Southern California with their architectural and engineering, um, students and teachers and professors. We were trying to come up with a tiny home concept that would work here in Los Angeles. And we had a prototype built and it was just, it was kind of, it was heavy and it required fire sprinklers. And we couldn’t struggling to get the cost down on it. About that time, uh, an organization called Pallet Shelter, out of Seattle, they came out with these tiny homes that were 64 square feet, and they have two beds in each one. They have heat, they have air, they have four windows, front door that locks. And, uh, I remember getting a phone call from Councilman Paul Krikorian’s office.
Ken Craft: (08:44)
And he says, Ken, you know, what do you think about these? Do you think these would work? And the more, and I said, give me a day to really look into it. And as I, the more I looked into it, I thought these are brilliant. This works there. There’s definitely, um, you know, all the basic elements that, that someone needs in terms of living. And so when it came to, we had the privilege of opening the very first tiny home community in the city of Los Angeles. But the beauty with this is that it wasn’t just Hope of the Valley, it was truly a public private partnership. The city of Los Angeles recognizes now that they have to act, they have to do something in part, because there’s a federal lawsuit, uh, in a, in a judge, if a Judge Carter who St Louis and Los Angeles, you can’t keep wiping out encampments, you know, without providing something, someplace for people to go.
Ken Craft: (09:36)
And so, because of the pressure that each city council member has to provide beds for 60% of the previous year’s homeless count, um, they, each council district is being very aggressive. And so they need providers like Hope of the Valley and others that will step up and say, you know what, let’s do this. We can do it together. Let’s do it right. Let’s help people. And so that’s how it got started in this, it was the bureau of engineering from Los Angeles. They’re the ones that designed the whole layout. The city actually funded it. And then at once it was done being built, then they said, okay, open the Valley, do what you do and get people off the street, get them the help that they need, get them into permanent housing and make sure they have access to whatever they need to better their lives and end their homelessness.
Robert Strock: (10:24)
Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned the word permanent housing and it’s, there’s sort of a blur there where I think formally you have to be temporary housing if I’m understanding it correctly. And the, the, one of the questions I really wanted to ask you is, do you have any motivation? And even if you don’t, do you see the need for using tiny homes that maybe have the bathrooms and the kitchenettes in them and have that be considered permanent shelter so that we can really have a long-term strategy?
Ken Craft: (10:55)
Absolutely. I, you know, when for the longest time there’s been the philosophy of permanent housing first, right? Where, you know, a housing first model, a harm reduction housing first, let’s get people into permanent housing and, and that’s coming from the federal government. I am all for a housing first model when you have housing available. But the problem is, is when there’s no housing inventory and you stick to a housing first model, what happens then is what’s happened in Los Angeles is that you had all these individuals that were, are living on the streets, waiting for permanent, permanent supportive housing to be built. And at 5 to $700,000 per unit, we’ll never build our way out of it. And so what you just brought up is something of a conversation that was even had, and people that would never have even thought this way before are starting to think, well, what if we could build these communities, the small groups of communities, affinity groups that could be together because the actual, the physical cost of one of these tiny homes, it’s like $8,000, $8,000, I guess there’s infrastructure costs.
Ken Craft: (12:06)
But I think what we’re getting at now is we have to look at any and all possible solutions. Tiny homes are great. Why? Because they can be, one tiny home can be installed in 90 minutes and an hour and a half. Okay. And now, yes, there’s infrastructure costs that needs to be done. But I mean like the w there’s a, we’ll have the privilege of opening up the next tiny home community here in Los Angeles, which is going to be in North Hollywood also, um, at Alexandria Park, it will be the largest one in the State of California. It is 103 units, 200 beds. Within one week every one of those housing units were stood up, one week. So yes, it’s a, it’s a viable solution. And I think it’s catching on as matter of fact, Robert, one last thing they were saying, I had a document in front of me yesterday that showed like 12 other locations right now, in the city of Los Angeles, for the next tiny home communities. So the city of Los Angeles has bought into it and they see that, yes, we need this for interim housing, but there’s also the high probability that we could use these for long-term, um, permanent supportive housing.
Robert Strock: (13:17)
Yeah. I mean, w we in this podcast have been talking to a number of people, uh, that are doing work that is certainly parallel to your work. And the central conversation is can we be a voice to try to have the tiny home shelters be permanent housing and finally have a viable let’s say, plus or minus, including hookup cost $50,000 a unit instead of $500,000 a unit and have some be on the outskirts of LA that has closed and some of the in skirts and, and have that really happened. So a big part of the motivation on the, on the homeless end is to, is to really be able to have permanent supportive housing. That doesn’t mean the 5 to $700,000 a unit housing.
Ken Craft: (14:05)
Yes, absolutely. Yeah.
Robert Strock: (14:07)
And I think you can see from the white papers, you know, you, you mentioned, uh, communities that are, that have affinity. I like the word affinity. I didn’t use that word in the white papers, but, but the idea of being able to have these communities be ones that have similar needs, that, that there’s there’s vets, and then there’s single women and families, and then you have addiction issues. And, and if you have targeted communities that really are able to then parlay the resources that are needed, it can be most economical, most comprehensive. So that’s what we’re really shooting for.
Ken Craft: (14:40)
Actually in reading your white paper, one word that stood out to me and I wrote it down because I really liked the way it was phrased was identifying people that are part of this community as members. And I thought, you know, what, a beautiful way to say it, because sometimes we say their clients, um, you know, no, Hey, you’re a member of a very special, uh, fraternity, you know, of people working together to end their homelessness. And then the beautiful thing is once somebody comes to, let’s just say the tiny homesite, you know, we are able to provide them all the social services that they need. And what I do is, and I’ve given more tours of the tiny homes in the last, you know, month than I could’ve ever imagined. And when I do one of my, one of my questions that I always ask people is this. And as they’re walking down the street, may see tiny homes on both sides, I say, what would you prefer? Would you rather have this? Or would you rather have an encampment? And 100% of the time they prefer that.
Robert Strock: (15:42)
Yeah. And when you highlight the word member it, I can’t help, but mention my partner at Global Bridge and I in 1972, uh, ran a halfway house, I was 22, uh, for 128 schizophrenic patients and it was kind of a, you know, in between, uh, the, uh, psychiatric hospitals and, and being able to come back in the world. And the first thing we did was we changed their name from, uh, a patient to a member. So, so that’s a 50 year old concept that, that really is important. And it does facilitate the sense of having the pride of community, which is so important for, especially for permanent housing. It’s important for temporary housing, but if you move to a home that feels like, oh my God, I’m finally at a home, how amazing and so we can all work together in this interim housing, and then ultimately hopefully inspiring the city and the county and the state and the federal government to really see this is really viable.
Ken Craft: (16:42)
Robert Strock: (16:44)
So with your, uh, pallet shelters, could you explain a little bit about how the bathrooms work?
Ken Craft: (16:50)
Yeah. Well, one of the ways that we’re able to keep the cost down on these pallet shelters is that at least in this model, there’s no plumbing and no water in these pallet shelters, there’s 64 square feet. Okay. They’re pretty small. Um, but what it does have is, I mentioned it has heat has air conditioning. It has two electrical outlets. It has two beds. It has storage underneath the beds. The most important thing that it has is a front door that locks and I got to tell you, I just this week had conversation with three different women, okay. That are part of the pallet shelter right now. First one was a woman whose house burned down five years ago. She’s been living in her car and she broke down and cried. And she . . . you don’t know what it means to me to be able to actually lay down, to be horizontal, instead of trying to sleep in my car. Another woman, she was in an abusive relationship and she was fleeing her perpetrator. While she was running she was hit by an 18 wheeler and I was somewhat skeptical when she first told me. And then she, she pulled up her sweat pants and showed me one of the most mangled legs I’ve ever seen. And she says, Ken, I was sleeping in the park over here. She said, now for the first time, I have hope that my life could actually turn around. And then the other last gal I spoke with this week was a gal who just tragically, was living in the wash, in her late thirties, really attractive woman and she said, she’d been raped multiple times to the point that she would go to bed with jeans, two sizes too small, just to try that it would take, you know, a long time for someone to try to get them off while she was screaming. If someone attacked her, she came into the site and she was able to, for the first time sleep. See what people don’t understand is oftentimes the most dangerous time when you’re homeless is at nighttime.
Ken Craft: (18:40)
You don’t have the protection, you can’t close a door and be protected. So, so many are abused and, and, and attacked. So what they do, a lot of them, that’s why they develop a drug addiction, okay, they’re taking methamphetamine to stay up at night to protect their stuff. Okay. And then oftentimes, and you would know better than I just a mental illness can set, can be onset at homelessness just because of a high level of anxiety and stress and fear and paranoia. And you don’t have the basic necessities of life. And so to be able to help people at the most basic level. And so by bringing people in, stabilizing them, and then able to trans, you know, transfer them into permanent housing, it’s part of that continuum of care. That is absolutely essential if we’re going to address this humanitarian crisis.
Ken Craft: (19:29)
Yeah. What your, what your bringing out of the inconceivable need to have safety, to have caring, to have some comprehensive services or a lot of comprehensive services. It’s really hard for the ordinary person who’s living their own world, has their own issues, to really let go of their own identity for a few seconds or a few minutes and contemplate what you’re really giving and what these programs are really giving. What, what are the greatest challenges that you currently are facing and where do you need the most help?
Ken Craft: (20:08)
You know historically the greatest challenge had been the city. And what I mean by that is prior to Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2017 declaring a shelter emergency, you could only open a shelter in a building that was zoned C2 or CM, but you could only have 30 people or less, by right. And if you wanted to go more than 30 people, you had to get a conditional use permit. To get a conditional use permit you had to notify all your neighbors within a mile radius, have a public hearing. And people came out. It would say, no, not in my backyard. That historically was one of the biggest challenges was the policy that didn’t allow for shelters to be placed in various locations. But I am so thankful for our city government and thankful that Mayor Eric Garcetti when he declared the shelter emergency. Now that opened it up where the city can put a shelter on any city owned land.
Ken Craft: (21:02)
And, uh, non-profits like Hope in the Valley now we can actually build them, put them in M1, M2 zones, as well as C2, CM and there’s no limit on the size, so that is revolutionary. And people don’t realize that. I mean, and as I said, something in passing earlier, that by the end of this year, we’ll have 1,100 beds in the San Fernando Valley that has never, ever been the case. Normally there are virtually no beds. We would do outreach to the community and say, well, can you see, do you have someplace for me to go, no, but here’s a hot lunch. You know, it’s like, you have to be able to provide people that, that resource. So one of the greatest needs historically has been, you know, just that is making sure that, you know, we could build the facilities.
Ken Craft: (21:49)
Now that’s changed. The city is in favor, okay, the political winds are at our back. And nimbyism, I believe is, is being reduced. Um, primarily because you know, people in Los Angeles, they’re saying this can’t continue, change nothing, nothing changes, Hey, this is not acceptable. You cannot continue to have this number of people that are living in abject poverty on the streets of Los Angeles, one of the wealthiest cities in the world. And so I think people are saying, okay, you know what? We’ve got to do something. Uh, you know, I wrote an article recently, you know, I said, star, it was called Starbucks or Stadiums. And it deal with homelessness. You know, historically we’ve had a stadium model and that is that, you know what, everybody’s going to go to the stadium, which was downtown skid row. Right. And then, but no one wanted it in the suburbs. Nobody wanted it in the valley, nobody, but those days are gone. Okay. Just like Starbucks doesn’t have one massive Starbucks in downtown. Starbucks is everywhere and every community must do their part to address this issue. So the greatest need, as I see it right now is making sure we have enough workers because the time is now, this is our moment in history to do something. And we just need to make sure we have enough qualified staff and the resources to continue to move this forward.
Robert Strock: (23:09)
Yeah, that’s again, so clear, so passionate and so important. I, I want to make an offer and ask you a question at the same time. The offer is that we have a partnership with Airport Marina Counseling Center that is supervising Master’s Interns when they get their hours. And they have volunteered, with a grant from Global Bridge to facilitate homeless programs and give counseling during COVID. It would be on zoom and then after COVID, it would be in person, probably most of the time. And with that offer, that, that’s a standing offer to you. And in addition, are there any other future elements to your program that you feel like you want to add besides that? And maybe you could respond to my offer as well.
Ken Craft: (23:58)
Yeah. First of all, let me respond to the offer and that’s an unequivocal. Yes. We need it and we want it, uh, you know, to be able to have that. And thank you. I mean, that is an, a very generous offer because sometimes what’s kept us from moving forward, um, with some of the intern programs, it’s just been the cost. And so to have someone that, you know, your foundation that would underwrite that huge, that is a huge resource. Um, and as I look forward, you know, one of the things that we really do have a vision for is to move into the permanent housing, um, sector. Um, you know, the fact that we’re 11 years old, uh we’re, we’re still kind of getting our legs underneath us. You know, we’re more of a toddler or a more of a, you know, uh, you know, junior, junior high school. But as we grow into adulthood as an agency, in an organization, you know, we know that that is the end game. Okay, interim housing and all the others, it’s all good. And it’s all necessary. It’s part of the continuum of care, but in anything, whether it’s sports, whether it’s your high . . . you know, what is your home run? What is your touchdown? What does closing the deal? And, uh, in homeless services, it’s getting somebody housed and making sure they stay housed. Uh, that’s the goal.
Robert Strock: (25:13)
Yeah. Well, you’re, you’re leading me very naturally into a question I wanted to ask you, which is, as we’ve discussed, we are looking at a parcel where we’re going to be including regenerative agriculture training for the unsheltered and a shelter, and we’re hoping to make it permanent housing. And whether you see that as being a natural place where a number of homeless agencies and programs like yourself could move from the interim housing to the permanent supportive housing and adding this element of regenerative agriculture, which really serves the planet with quality food. And it even takes in carbon from the air out of the atmosphere. So wondering whether that would make sense for you.
Ken Craft: (26:03)
That is a win, win, win situation. And that’s what we’re always looking at is how can we create, um, solutions that are sustainable, um, for planet, for our members, um, for our staff and for the future. And so I know I’ve had a couple conversations with you, you know, regarding the possibility of that, and then, you know, learning more myself and a lot of it, it really is educating yourself. Uh, it’s amazing how much we don’t hear about that. We need to hear about. And, you know, to be able to have a piece of, you know, a property that could be developed into a community of like-minded people that are working up and out and have their homelessness and be near, you know, but if they’re, if it’s permanent housing, Hey, you’re not homeless anymore. Okay. You are not homeless. And then making sure there’s adequate transportation so that people can get to work, they can rebuild their lives. They’re treating the planet with love and respect. And, uh, you know, I think that is just a win, win, win situation. And if we can make that happen, I, that would be incredible.
Robert Strock: (27:13)
Well, we, we are definitely devoted to it at the Global Bridge. That’s has got about 50% of my lifeblood energy every, every week. Um, so is there, are there any elements of the program of what you’re doing that you don’t feel like you’ve done justice to as far as how you’re running the programs that you, you want to include, or do you feel like you’ve kind of covered what it is that you do?
Ken Craft: (27:37)
I always try to look at our work objectively and that’s not easy when you’re in the midst of it. Um, but so many times I feel like there’s so much more we could do and should do. Um, you know, mentorship is huge. Uh, I mean, if we can truly provide a meaningful mentorship for each of these single moms, each of these individuals, and then, you know, even work with the kids, I think we could expedite the success because people model what they see and we need mentors, and sometimes it’s just a bandwidth issue, uh, you know, and then making sure they do have access to counseling. You know, I mean, that is, they’ve gone through so much trauma. And if the only frame of reference that they have is their, is their past. And so to be able to get them good counseling and mentoring and, uh, you know, and, and, and job training and education, I mean, the building blocks of society that many, um, within our ranks have, unfortunately, uh, most have not had, and those that have, there’s, you know, got sidetracked somewhere along the way. And so I think if we can kind of really get back to the building blocks of a, of a community and a society, um, then we’re really giving people that fighting chance to be successful.
Robert Strock: (29:05)
Well, again, thank you for your, uh, humble assessment of your program. That there’s always room for more expansion. And I, I’m gonna, uh, take the liberty of adjusting what you said earlier a little bit, at least in my mind, which is, you said you were in the Junior High School level ready to move on to a High School or College or whatever. I would say that you’re in a PhD program for the interim housing and you’re, you’re in the longing for permanent supportive housing, because I really, I really, I really think that’s a fair assumption.
Robert Strock: (29:37)
Uh, well, I, I appreciate that the task is great. Um, here in Los Angeles, it was the numbers of homeless people and with the increase every year that’s happening. And then also with the end of the pandemic, um, you know, which we see on the horizon and what is that going to look like? You know, when the moratoriums are lifted. So, you know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball. All I know is that there’s a lot of hurting people and we need to continue to take risks. We must be innovative. We must be, uh, you know, collaborative and, and do all that we can to, to help our brothers and sisters.
Robert Strock: (30:12)
Right. So how can people help your program and be in touch with you besides looking you up on theglobalbridge.org and enter Hope of the Valley? How can they get in touch with you directly?
Ken Craft: (30:25)
You know, I love it when people reach out to me personally, um, you know, when we, the launching of these tiny homes, my goodness, the numbers that it, people that this resonated with, and they wanted to talk about it, they wanted to get behind it. They wanted to see what, how they could help. Uh, so I mean, first of all, biggest: email me. My email address is ken.craft, like arts and crafts, so ken.craft@hopeofthe valley.org. Or they’re going to call me. And I have no problem. My cell phone is (805) 279-3055, and a, you know, great things happen when we can all work together. Or, our main number is (818) 392-0020.
Robert Strock: (31:14)
Well, you’ve revealed so much about yourself in your availability. And I already know from our experience that we’ve had so far, that you are a very, very busy man, and to give people your cell phone, that’s a first, um, and in our show. So I appreciate it so, so much for you to have come here today and thanks for your generosity, thanks for your work. And it’s, uh, it’s just great being with you.
Ken Craft: (31:41)
It’s been a privilege. Thank you very much. Thank you.
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