Loren Ditmore of City of Refuge mentioned Oak Park’s father

Andrea Gill had been struggling with homelessness for years when she first showed up at the City of Refuge’s Oak Park safe house. After surviving nearly a decade of human trafficking, Gill struggled to stay afloat without a consistent support system nearby. She had not spoken to her adoptive parents in years.

Meeting Rachelle and Loren Ditmore, the co-founders of City of Refuge, changed her life. Gill joined the program during its first year in 2012 and found the confidence to improve her life with the support of the Ditmores. Having the couple as parental figures – especially Loren, the first man she felt completely comfortable with after years of human trafficking and unhealthy relationships – encouraged her to rebuild bridges with her own parents.

Before City of Refuge officially debuted as a nonprofit, the Ditmores regularly opened the beds and couches of their Oak Park home to at-risk young women. They had both been active in nonprofit organizations when they first met, and they said they aspired to imitate God through public service after they married.

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Elliana Ditmore, the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, called her father the “father of the fatherless.”

“The way he loves Rachelle and the way he loves his children is the most honest love I have ever experienced – and when I say children, I don’t just mean his children. The entire community is his children,” Gill said. “He honestly reminds me of Jesus.”

Loren Ditmore brushes off most of the praise he gets from the people he works with. In his eyes, he is just a good neighbor who helps people get their lives on track.

The Ditmores have helped more than 650 homeless women and families secure housing since City of Refuge was founded, with thousands of people stopping by the nonprofit’s Oak Park location each year for meals, parenting classes, children’s activities and a safe place to spend time. Women and children staying in the nonprofit’s safe houses are allowed to live there for up to two years while they seek employment and treatment for mental or physical health. At another location, Toevluchtsstad offers childcare for children while their parents go to school or work.

Loren Ditmore has become a fixture in the community.

“You know you grew up in Oak Park if this was your dad,” a former student of a local after-school program captioned a Facebook photo of Ditmore playing basketball with him and other kids.

A personal drive to serve others

When Ditmore was a child, his own father worked with underserved children as a youth pastor, giving him an early taste for serving those most in need.

“My own heart was drawn to this work, but after being able to be involved with the children and families, I fell in love with this neighborhood,” said Loren Ditmore. “I was shaped by how much I saw my own father love others, but also just love people.”

Ditmore is the father of six children of his own, including Heavenly, whom he and Rachelle took custody of after the girl’s mother was incarcerated while she was in elementary school. Heavenly’s mother, who received help from the Ditmores before she was arrested, quickly called the couple to ask them to take her daughter in – she had no family in the area who could care for Heavenly, and she trusted the Ditmores.

They took Heavenly in without thinking about it.

In part, the women and youth Ditmore works with feel comfortable with him because he personally understands many of the hardships they have survived. He endured a “troublesome” upbringing as a child, with periods of economic uncertainty, family members struggling with substance use and experiences of sexual abuse.

“It was through my own life experience that really shaped who I was and what I wanted to do. When I see these kids here, I see a lot of what I grew up with,” Ditmore said.

Rachelle Ditmore highlighted her husband’s humility as the reason he is a “real father” to everyone he works with: the best fathers, she added, are the ones who make sure their children are fed before they are. are and often never seen.

When the couple was building the nonprofit’s first safe house, Loren Ditmore stayed up working on the building until after 3 a.m.

“I think of stories like that, where he worked tirelessly alone and built for others the kind of house you would want your children to live in,” she said. “Loren enjoys helping people live the life they deserve.”

An unconditional love

Jeanette Diaz joined the Refuge City program about eight years ago as a single mother. She survived human trafficking during her teenage years, and once released, she found herself without housing, work, or a stable source of money. She was terrified at the prospect of being separated from her daughter, which made her afraid to seek help.

City of Refuge allowed Diaz to reinvent a life for herself. In addition to the new resources and education that helped her access housing, employment, and social services, the Ditmores’ lack of judgment and investment in her well-being gave her the motivation to take control of her decisions. She came to see Loren Ditmore as the first father figure she and her young daughter had ever known.

Diaz received assistance from City of Refuge for several years before graduating a few years ago. Today, she and her daughter live in their own apartment and she works at a local nonprofit that supports human trafficking survivors.

Gill’s progress toward self-sufficiency and stability was not linear. Over the course of five years, she was a self-proclaimed “lost daughter” of the Ditmores, leaving and returning to City of Refuge several times before finally graduating. Loren Ditmore welcomed her with “biblical, unconditional love” every time she returned after “falling off.”

When Gill got a job as a construction worker after her first graduation, Ditmore gave her her first tool belt. It had been his property when he worked in the field several years earlier.

Thanks to the Ditmores’ continued support, Gill lives in a home with her son and plans to return to school in the fall.

“The happiest thing is when you’ve known someone for a long time and you see where they started and where they end up,” Lorn Ditmore said. “It makes me so proud to see someone like her being a mother and taking care of her children.”

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Megan Vaz is a summer reporting intern for The Sacramento Bee. She is originally from South Florida and is studying history at Yale University. She has previously reported for the Yale Daily News and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.