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Unmasking the Truth in South County

To many, South County may appear to be the land of the affluent, populated by people who live in well-kept tract and custom homes, with well-fed families and at least one, if not two, paychecks coming in.

But the stereotype masks the truth, says Ray Havert, a founder and chairman of Saddleback Community Outreach.

“Many people in south Orange County just don’t realize that we have poor and homeless people right here in our area,” Havert said.

People are continually surprised to learn, he said, “that Saddleback Community Outreach exists or that it helped 1,800 people in south Orange County last fiscal year.”

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Havert, 73, is a semi-retired insurance businessman. About nine years ago, he volunteered for charity work with his local church, and the experience opened his eyes to the need for a bigger organization to serve the poor and homeless of South County.

“It became obvious that one church group just could not meet the need,” Havert said.

And so, after conferring with Jean Forbath, founder of the Costa Mesa-based Share Our Selves, Havert and other volunteers from many faiths and ethnic groups formed Saddleback Community Outreach. The nonprofit charity was incorporated in August, 1989--just as a national downturn in the economy was looming.

Today the national recession is affecting millions of lives. And Havert said hundreds of the newly poor are residents of South County.

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“Many people live from paycheck to paycheck, and when they lose their jobs, they are on the verge of losing their homes,” he said.

One of Saddleback Community Outreach’s goals is to help people hold onto their homes. In other cases, the charity helps those who have already been forced onto the streets.

“Most of the people we help--I would estimate 90%--are mothers with children,” Havert said.

The Salvation Army works with the charity and provides vouchers for necessities like gasoline, utilities, temporary lodging and medical prescriptions.

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Havert, who has been married 51 years and has six children, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, said he was inspired to do charity work by the example of his late father-in-law.

“My father-in-law was a butcher, and in a quiet, unassuming way he’d do many things to help people in need,” Havert said.

In much the same fashion, Havert and about 90 other Saddleback Community Outreach volunteers now work quietly--almost unnoticed--in bringing help to needy people in their area.

“I get far more out of it than I give,” Havert said. “I am a people person, and helping people to help themselves gives me a special feeling inside. And I think all of our volunteers feel that way.”

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Ray Havert, 73

Occupation: Retired businessman

Organization: Saddleback Community Outreach

Address: 23011 Moulton Parkway B-5, Laguna Hills, Calif. 92653. (714) 380-8144.

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