In 2008, my wife Ali and I (Mark Kaiser) developed a habit of opening our home on Fridays for lunch. We invited the homeless population of our small town (Itu, Brazil) to come and quickly formed a strong bond with our disenfranchised friends. Upon requests, we found ways to support a few individuals to take part in residential drug rehab treatments. But to our dismay, we saw our friends return from treatment centers without a place to live while they rebuilt their lives, so they returned to the streets.
It crushed me to think that the support I was offering to my friends had become a ´dead end street.´ I figured that anyone who would do the work of maintaining sobriety and pursuing employment should have the opportunity to rebuild their lives. So in 2011, we began our organization under the name Associação Crescimento Limpo, (CL), also now supported by our American 501c3 named CL- Changing Lives.
With the support of our local community members, friends, and church, we were able to open three small housing units where we could house eight single men and a monitor and support them as they restructured their lives. The need for this intervention quickly outgrew our resources, and in 2014 we transitioned to a larger downtown residential space and developed a more complete support staff.
In our new downtown location, we were (are) able to house up to twenty five individuals, including men, women, and families. We maintain a licensed social worker and psychologist on staff as well as four monitors to assist house residents in their ongoing needs.
CL provides each resident with a bed, a locking closet, all meals, hygiene products, and access to wrap-around social services. We assist in continuing education, resume preparation, and financial planning with our residents. Our residents take part in a financial re-education where they ´pay rent' to themselves while at CL. Each resident is asked to open a savings account in their own name where they will deposit 30% of their income on a monthly basis for the duration of their stay at CL. This helps our residents to learn to live on less than what they earn and to accrue a savings that will facilitate their eventual departure towards independence.
While CL had its beginnings working with individuals coming to us from backgrounds of homelessness closely tied to chemical abuse, as soon as our housing services became available, we found our client base broadening. We have served victims of domestic violence, political refugees, individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities, and many families with children.
During the early years of CL´s existence, we realized that just sitting down to talk alone wasn't getting at the deeper issues that often needed to be worked through in the lives of our friends. We need to work shoulder to shoulder with residents. So, I identified an empty lot, found the owner, and asked for permission to use the lot to build a therapeutic garden. Learning of our story and progress, the landowner agreed and made the space available to us free of charge! We found gardening to be an area in which any of our prospective residents could come alongside us and embrace a working rhythm. Having this structure in place, we were able to work on skills like punctuality, respect in the workplace, authority, work ethic, honesty, etc. This allowed for much deeper therapeutic conversations and gave us access to areas of our friends lives that often caused derailments so that those areas could receive the needed attention. The garden space developed over time into our garden café, the Caféla, which has employed many of our house residents and currently maintains a staff of 12 individuals. The land owner worked in our favor this last year to help us purchase the property which had become so essential to our mission, giving more permanence to this place of dignified work and recovery!
Today, our work projects have been further developed, and they include a garden café, a carpentry shop, and a small farm. We work towards sustainability in each of these ventures; our farm provides produce for use at our café and for purchase by local grocers, our café operates based on sales to the general public, and our carpentry shop is sustained via custom-built projects for clients.
We have had the privilege of seeing our friends rebuild their lives as they embrace a dignified partnership with us, and we are very thankful to say that the road to recovery which once appeared to be a dead-end street is now full of new life and opportunity!
A big part of our philosophy at Crescimento Limpo is that all of the incoming residents to our halfway house come to us as partners. We are sought out for the housing and support services that we provide, but each new resident brings his own set of strengths to our table. CL residents help maintain the house and gardens in order, and we use this exchange of mutual support to affirm the dignity and capacity of each resident.
Wayne's story shows this exchange, and how his recovery served to launch a whole new initiative within Crescimento Limpo; our restaurant the "Caféla".
Please take a moment to watch Wayne's testimony.
Through Wayne's willingness to work alongside us in building the Caféla, MANY CL residents have been employed. Employing residents has allowed us a far greater reach into the lives of each contracted individual. And as Wyne's story makes clear, we all have a lot to gain from working together!
Thank you for bringing your support to this grand collective as well!
Our work with recovery has led to the formation of many friendships and a diversity of experiences that is impossible (and would probably be inappropriate) to fully describe. Some stories unfold as you might expect based on first encounters, while others proceed wildly different than initial expectations! José's story is one of those fantastic surprises.
We have accompanied José since the begining of our recovery ministry in Brazil. Durring most of the years in which we've known him as a friend, he had no interest in getting off drugs or pursunig a new life. He was a wildcard- charming and fun when sober, but unpredictable and at times violent when under the influence. But even in his darkest times, God was working on him.
After ten years of life on the streets and in adiction, José seemingly "flipped a switch". He checked himself into rehab, completed treatment, and then came to live with us.
We recognized a long road ahead for José in order to pursue goals of literacy, professional training, and healthy life skills. So we made him a proposition; to start a carpentry shop with us as a way to develop working skills and allow us to support his personal development and adult education. José agreed and we've lived two years of adventure with him since 2020. José learns by experience (not always recomendable) so we have accompanied two years of expiramental rebuilding. One of the tenants of recovery is to be cautious of people, places and habits connected to your self-destructive past. But José does not learn from theoritical concepts. So he continued with relationships from his street life, perceiving over time how those relationships effect him and subsequently putting that learning into practice for the good of his recovery. His professional development also involved transition from his lifelong practice of "winging it" towards the incremental practice of discipline and measure. We will make no business plan recommendations for entrepreneurial carpenters, but we have seen the miracle of a new life formed. I am so thankful for the time that I have been given with my friend, José. Please take the time to see his testimonial video! And thank you, to all of you, who have given financially to make this work possible! You have blessed us both.
Everything is changing, always. At least in the details. The work of Crescimento Limpo has tradicionaly served single Brazilian men coming from backgrounds of homelessnes and chemical addiction. For the last two years we have seen the demand for our services shift to Venezuelan refugees, and in the last six months shift again to Brazilian and Venezuelan families with children. Today the CL house (downtown location) serves 22 residents, 11 of whom are children. This has been a huge change for us and we are still learning and adapting as fast as we can manage to serve well these dear and highly vulnerable friends in our care.
The most recent of these families came to us this last Sunday. The father, Jefferson, had lost his job and been unable to make rent, so they were left to the streets. With what money they had they got a bus and set off to the city of Jefferson's mother, but the money was not enough to complete the trip. Saturday they were left to sleep in the buss station of our city, Itu.
Sunday morning we serve breakfast to the homeless from our café and they were brought along by the other homeless men and women who come regularly. A vollunteer told me afterwords that he overherd one of our guests telling Jefferson and his family, "What I can offer you is this- to bring you here. These are good people, now it's up to you." Jefferson shared his story with me over coffee while his exhausted family ate and rested. Their four boys, ages six, four, two and seven months played some and slept some... worn out by the night on the street. They joined me to church that morning where they were able to meet more of our CL staff and we were able to make arangements for their entrence into the CL house that same afternoon.
After a good nights sleep they were a different family on Monday morning, with all of the uncontainable energy that you would hope to see in four healthy young boys! We are currently working on school enrolment as well as meeting their needs for clothing, etc, AND raising funds to purchase an additional refrigerator to help keep the needed food onhand for our growing family!
I am very proud to be able to provide for this family, and am so thankful that God and our community of supporters has allowed for this opportunity! Everything is always changing, at least in the details. But the essence of what God has given us remains; we are able to care for the vulnerable amongst us and walk alongside them towards hope. Thank you for helping us to live out this mission to whomever God may bring our way!
What a privledge it is to get to see lives and whole families restored first hand! Working with CL has allowed me just that priveledge, as the story of Leon and his families resettlement in Brazil demonstrates-
In the last two years Crescimento Limpo has experienced a highly increased demand for support from friends arriving Venezuela as refugees. Leon came to live with us at the CL halfway house in 2019 with the first group of Venezuelans that we received. From day one he had one urgent mission- he would work hard and save money to bring his wife, daughter and sister-in-law to live with him here in Itu. He got a job at a local hotel and soon made good on his promise. He brought his wife Eucaris, daughter Kendall, and sister-inlaw Keyder. The first picture here is of their family, finally together again, worshipping with us at church one Sunday morning.
This moment was especially impactful to me because his daughter Kendall was the same age as my son Liam, and I couldn't have imagined being separated from my baby for so long without the means to keep my family together. They lived with us at the halfway house until they were able to secure an apartment and move out. We helped Keyder get enrolled in school and we were able to hire Eucaris at CL's café, the Caféla, ensuring that we would be able to continue to support and disciple them after they moved on to their new residence.
Recently Eucaris came to talk to us, brokenhearted. She told us that her brother Carlos and his family were needing to leave Venezuela for Brazil as well, but that she didn't have the means to bring them or to offer them housing in Itu. We told Eucaris, "of course you do! You work for CL; an organization that exists to help with exactly these life transitions! Your work opens enables us to keep our doors open to receive men and women needing housing during life crisis!"
So we accompanied Carlos' journey. Between the Brazilian border and Itu, he would have to go through documentation process and wait for the dates for their flight from Manaus to Sao Paulo. This meant twenty days in the large city of Manaus where he, his wife and their one year old child would be on the streets. We contacted the Church of Christ in Manaus and explained their situation. Immediately, one of the church members went to pick them up and keep them at their home for 20 days! Because of the church acting as the body of Christ throughout our country, Carlos' family was never left unsupported or unaccompanied.
Carlos, Grecia (wife), and Fabricio (1.5 year old child) arrived to our house two weeks ago, and they were eagerly welcomed by their family and our staff! Carlos is currently working with us at the CL Farm, in our garden and grounds maintenance. He is being mentored by myself and Rogerio, our monitor of 8 years. Fabricio, who was underweight when he arrived to Itu, is already looking chunkier and healthier! We are honored to be a piece of their journey of restoration.
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