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Join us as we share the story of how Church of Our Saviour’s largest ministry came into fruition in this three-part series of the History of Our Saviour Center.

It was 1989, and Dorris Dann took on the challenges of building an organization with grace and perseverance, working day and night to ensure its success. She worked alongside the individuals she served, building partnerships in the community that surrounded the Center, and learned how to maneuver her way through the racial, economic and political disparities amid those she served and the board members who served the Center. As the months proceeded, Dorris’s devotion—and the receipt of a FEMA grant—allowed for a dramatic expansion of services to include youth, employment and shelter services.

When the vicarage space of Immanuel Episcopal Church became vacant, a lifelong partnership was created. The physical challenge of transforming the small house at the back of the Immanuel property into a suitable space for the food bank began. The dilapidated building was fumigated and refurbished and became the focus of the Center’s food distribution operation. Dorris, along with Juan Vega, longtime volunteer-turned-employee, oversaw the transition of the new space. Juan’s son, 14-year-old Jose, started coming after school to help his father sort food and fill bags for distribution. Soon over 100 families were coming to the Center one to two times a month for food supplies, and the food pantry became a staple at 4366 Santa Anita Avenue in El Monte.

Dorris Dann (left) with Marguerite Ponce (right) during OSC’s growth spurt.

After Fr. Nick Kouletsis retired, Fr. Denis O’Pray became the rector at Church of Our Saviour. With food distribution stabilized at OSC, Dorris began to focus on other issues plaguing low-income families. Noticing that kids were hanging about the Center after school, Dorris hired Marguerite Ponce to be youth programs manager and Yuhadhi Sundaramoorthy to help bring the Center’s services into the computer age. Marguerite’s first concern was the lack of space needed to provide after-school activities for children, so mobile classroom trailers were brought onsite to allow skill-building in the areas of computer literacy, math and English. Yuhadhi and Marguerite worked together to arrange for a generous donation of computers for the Center.

At the same time, Jose Vega, no longer an after-school volunteer, was hired as a full-time staff member. A makeshift clinic was constructed and a medical doctor began visiting the Center’s families and their children once a week. Vera Cleaver, a 94-year-old retired podiatrist whose family had been active members of COS, worked alongside Dorris and believed in a broader vision of meeting the greater needs of the community. It is because of Vera’s generosity that Dorris’s vision of a continuum of care in the El Monte community was set in stone: when Vera passed away at the age of 104, she bequeathed $4 million for the construction and operation of the Cleaver Family Wellness Clinic.


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