One Teen Challenge chapter rose to the challenge and helped another this week.

With wildfires raging across Southern California, the Kern County office of the international drug and alcohol rehabilitation program reached out and helped its Ventura County counterpart, whose female clients were forced to evacuate as the flames closed in.

Kern County Teen Challenge took in nearly 60 women from Ventura Teen Challenge after one of its buildings burned down and the women had to leave the area. The women were transported to the local center on Wednesday.

“When somebody has a need, we want to meet the need,” said Ruben Heredia, director of Kern County Teen Challenge, located in Bakersfield. “We’re excited that we can meet the need and help them out. We want them to have a place where they can have a safe environment.”

Southern California was ablaze Wednesday with at least five fires, the biggest one the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which by midday had burned at least 65,000 acres, including parts of Ventura, a coastal city of more than 100,000 people 115 miles due south of Bakersfield.

Dona Watson, director of communications for Teen Challenge Southern California, said the Ventura women were evacuated during the middle of the night, and just in time: the building that housed the group's administrative offices, and some of the dorms, caught fire and burned down.

Watson said the Ventura center’s other two buildings were saved by a private team of three firefighters who saw that the buildings were in danger but could be saved.

“They were able to contain the damage to the other two. It was pretty amazing,” she said. “We’re very thankful to the firefighters and we’re very thankful that everyone is safe. That’s the most important thing.”

Heredia said that while no one was hurt in the fire, the women who lived in the affected dorm lost all their belongings.

“They’re devastated,” he said. “A lot of them lost all of their possessions. All they have is the clothes on their backs. We want to shelter them and see them through this ordeal.”

Heredia said he doesn’t know how long the women will be at the Bakersfield center.

“We have to wait and see,” he said. “We’re going to assess the damage and see when it would be safe for them to return. The leadership will come up with a plan and decide.”

Watson said that Teen Challenge Southern California – the umbrella organization in charge of eight centers in southern and central California, including ones in Kern and Fresno counties – is grateful to the Kern County center for taking the women in.

“It’s amazing that they’re helping them out,” she said. “I love how our centers help each other out when need be.”

While they're at the Bakersfield center, Heredia said the women will continue their work in the program. Teen Challenge is a free, faith-based program that gives men and women — not necessarily teens — a safe place to stay for a year as they recover from addiction.

“We will be continuing the program. The fire isn’t going to change that,” he said.

Watson said the burned-down building will be rebuilt, as insurance will cover the damage. However, she said, that’s not the case for the women’s belongings. To help with that, Teen Challenge of Southern California is accepting money donations to pay for clothes, food and other items.

Those who want to donate can go to online to http://bit.ly/2k1oXLG. The Kern County center is also accepting donations at its office at 301. E. Roberts Lane in Bakersfield.

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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