One of the boys the Foltzes homeschool is Ashton Harris, 13. They met him while he was attending Washington, where he had trouble focusing, and was struggling to read and write.
His mother, Ernestine Harris, 39, said he has already improved in the year he has been homeschooled by the Foltzes.
“They’re some awesome people. I love them,” Ernestine Harris said. “They make you feel so secure.”
She met the couple when her children — ages 13, 15 and 18 — began telling her the Foltzes let people hang out at The Rec after school and play basketball on the court between The Rec and H.I.S. BridgeBuilders, another Christian nonprofit on the same block. Prior to the Foltzes moving in, Harris would not let her children outside without her supervision.
Ernestine Harris is married, but currently separated. Since she had her first child at 21, and has been struggling to maintain a steady, full-time job and remain in a stable housing situation as she has raised her kids almost entirely by herself.
Recently, she was cleaning homes part time, barely scraping by. She wanted to find another job, but started to feel like her situation was hopeless. She said support from the Foltzes kept her motivated, and just this week she found a full-time job at a warehouse with benefits.
One fall night in 2014, the Foltzes were sitting in their backyard with some of their neighbors when they realized a lot of foot traffic happened on their street. They thought to themselves, “Maybe we should barbecue and offer everyone that passes food.”
People thought they were crazy and started avoiding their street.
Jennifer Foltz stood in her backyard when families she recognized passed by so she could greet them. Slowly, seeds of goodwill blossomed into friendship and trust.
“People would say, ‘Go find the man with the long beard’ or ‘Go knock on that door, they will help you’,” Jennifer Foltz said.
This eventually morphed into a backyard church called The Gate, which has now moved into The Rec.
“It would have been almost impossible for me to fail in life. Some people work harder than me and still can’t get ahead. — Charles Foltz
“There are plenty of churches for people who have it together, who are struggling, who do their whole Sunday best thing,” Charles Foltz said. “That’s not our church.”
At a recent service, at least three people in the crowd were shaking. One woman alternated between dancing and crying. Several middle school-aged children snuck in the back as the service progressed so they could get food when it was over. They get an eclectic mix of drug addicts, prostitutes and families. Sometimes the dining-style booths and metal chairs in the church are full, other times it’s just Jennifer Foltz in the audience.
Charles Foltz called a young woman up to recognize her 16th birthday and said a prayer over her.
They fed the group chili, corn chips and soda.
“It’s more faith in action,” Charles Foltz said. “Like we are going to love you, then we are going to forgive you, then we are going to love you again, and we are going to do it again and again and again because that is what God does to us.”
In 2015, they asked the landlord of God’s Place if they could use the building after the congregation vacated it. He allowed them to, as long as they fixed it up.
They opened up The Rec and eventually got the community to help them do the repairs. One day, they set up a snow cone machine in the front yard.
“Hey, do you want to come inside to our rec center?” Jennifer Foltz would say while standing outside.
It worked. Slowly more children and families started interacting with the couple.
Eventually, they bought several duplexes from the same landlord and now rent them to low-income housing tenants. They always reserve one unit for people who are in dire need of help, and only charge them what they can afford to pay.
In 2015, they met two pregnant women addicted to drugs, and they tried to provide a safe place to stay, food to eat and access to medical care for the women. The coupled adopted one of the babies, who is now 2.