By Matthew Rodriguez
Now more than ever, children and families rely on Five Acres to help them through the turmoil of life.
“We’ve been around for 133 years,” said Five Acres board chairwoman Susan McGuirl. “We started as an old-fashioned orphanage for boys and girls.”
Five Acres was established in 1888 in Downtown Los Angeles as an orphanage serving children in the local area. In 1921, the organization moved its headquarters to Altadena and spread its influence to the Greater LA area and across six counties. Last year, Five Acres helped 9,000 children and their families.
In honor of the organization’s 100-plus years of work, LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger recognized March 12 as “Five Acres Day” starting in 2018.
“Our motto really is to promote safety, well-being and permanency for children and families,” McGuirl said. “[We] empower and encourage them to find ways to cope in our society and community and also provide support.”
The nonprofit operates on three pillars to help children and families in crisis.
First, Five Acres tries to promote safety for children by providing a safe place or rather an escape from harmful environments.
“Sometimes children need to be taken out of an unsafe environment,” McGuirl said. “Many of these children have been mentally and physically abused.”
At its headquarters, the organization houses 60 to 70 children at its 5-acre residential campus. The children there are either waiting for foster care, adoption or do not have anywhere else to live.
Five Acres provides adoption, mental health and other therapeutic services, in hopes of promoting a greater level of well-being — the second pillar.
“[We make] sure that they have the skills, competencies, confidence and love that supports them in their ventures going forward,” McGuirl said.
The final pillar of Five Acres is permanency, achieved by connecting children with a permanent home and loving family.
“The idea of permanency is finding a permanent home for these children, where they can thrive, grow, be happy and really create that family unit,” McGuirl said.
The permanency continues even after they’re adopted or placed in a new home. Even when a child leaves the facility, they are still given care and services to ensure that the child continues to grow. Also, when a child leaves the facility and no longer qualifies for care, Five Acres provides scholarships to those who earn them. The money can be used to continue their education either in college or vocational schools.
“We don’t abandon them,” McGuirl said.
Just like many other institutions, the pandemic has forced many of Five Acres services to go virtual. According to McGuirl, Five Acres mainly provides their care through telemedicine, but still strives to give the best care possible.
“It’s been extraordinary, the leadership and the staff at Five Acres pivoted right at the very beginning of the pandemic to telemedicine,” McGuirl said.
“We don’t see these needs decreasing. In fact, we see these needs increasing in our society… The pandemic sort of exacerbated those needs.”
If the world was perfect, organizations such as Five Acres would have no reason to exist. However, with the world still striving toward perfection, McGuirl and Five Acres will continue to help the world one child at a time.
“I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future,” McGuirl said. “I think we’re making a difference one child at a time. That’s what we have to continue to focus on. To be able to build the confidence in these children… keep them safe, healthy and enable them to grow into people that they want to be. And enable them to contribute to our society and hopefully pay it forward.”