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Roxana: Power in compassion 

December 15, 2023

Through her success spearheading Everett’s Faith Family Village, Roxana is living proof that passion and perseverance can create lasting, positive change for the community. 

Most people would assume bringing a shelter village to life couldn’t be accomplished by a single person. Completing an undertaking of this scale is typically the culmination of a team of stakeholders overcoming various obstacles: identifying funding sources; finding an appropriate site; setting up necessary infrastructure like water and electricity; and rallying the community for support. Roxana Boroujerdi is unlike most people. 

Located on the grounds of Everett’s Faith Lutheran Church, Faith Family Village comprises eight Pallet sleeping shelters and two hygiene units that will serve local families experiencing homelessness. The village will also offer supportive services that aim to create paths to employment, education, and permanent housing—alongside facilities and activities that create a safe and fun environment for children living onsite. 

And even with her fair share of personal challenges, none of it would have come to fruition without Roxana. 

“I am 70, I have MS, and I was in a car accident and lost my knee,” she explains. “I have a lot of things that people might consider strikes against me. But with God, all things are possible.” 

The idea for Faith Family Village was born in the throes of the pandemic while Roxana was running the church food bank. When people were no longer able to safely come inside and choose what they needed off the shelf, Faith Lutheran was forced to explore alternative options. The USDA was beginning to form partnerships with organizations to donate food to those in need, and someone from the Everett chapter of Volunteers of America (VOA) pointed them in Roxana’s direction. 

“VOA told the USDA: ‘They should contact the crazy lady down at Faith Food Bank, she’d probably do it,’ she recalls. “So I told them to bring the big rig and we’ll work it out somehow. Little did I know that after a month, we had about 250 cars that came to pick up food—the line stretched [over half a mile] all the way to Value Village.” 

After receiving help from a team of volunteers to distribute to the crowds, Roxana was able to connect with people one-on-one and ask why they came to the food bank. The amount of people that told her they were homeless or couldn’t afford to pay for their rent or food, including families living out of their cars, didn’t sit right with her. So she started researching. 

Roxana discovered Pallet online and saw operational villages in nearby communities. She didn’t hesitate to contact the mayor of Burlington to see the Skagit First Step Center. 

Mayor Sexton offered Roxana a tour, breakfast in the village’s community room (“and they gave me lunch because I stayed too long”), and even extended an invitation to stay overnight and experience sleeping in a shelter.  

Learning about the structure and case management embedded in the village model prompted Roxana to take the idea of starting a new Pallet village at Faith Lutheran to fellow members of the congregation. While first met with opposition, she convinced the church council by taking them to a neighboring site in Edmonds and learning about the realities of hosting a shelter village community. The following council vote granted Roxana approval for building the village. 

Then came the roadblocks.  

Even with no experience navigating complex issues like land use laws and city zoning codes, Roxana tirelessly pushed through every obstacle in her path. First, she played an instrumental role in changing Everett city code to allow children to stay in Pallet shelters. Then she had to coordinate a series of tests to build on the church property—a survey for Indigenous artifacts, studies for noise and water runoff, and a slew of others. She had to obtain funding, which she procured through sources like Washington state senator project grants, sizeable donations from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), human needs grants from the city of Everett, and donations from various community and congregation members. Local businesses like Rodland Toyota, who were already active supporters of the Faith Food Bank, also stepped up to donate supplies and interior furnishings for the shelters. 

At first, Roxana was worried about pursuing funding streams. But she soon realized it was just another duty she could carry out herself to bring the village closer to groundbreaking. 

“It’s a lot,” she says. “When I started, it was a lot of weight. But now that I feel like I have a community of donors that are also invested, that helps a whole lot. And now I’m not so shy in asking people: ‘Can you give me this or that?’” 

One of the most significant obstacles Roxana encountered was raising community support. Many neighbors of Faith Lutheran expressed strong feelings against building a village on the church grounds, citing concerns of attracting criminal activity or encouraging an unsanctioned encampment nearby. One homeowner with property bordering the church attended a community meeting, adamant that the site would never be welcomed. Roxana wasn’t fazed. 

“I gave my talk about how many kids are homeless,” she recounts. “And what happens to those kids’ futures, like not graduating or joining a gang or becoming the next generation of homeless people.” 

The very next day, the neighbor called Roxana and offered $2,000 toward the village. Through his involvement in the village’s progress, he later donated all the materials for an upgraded perimeter fence surrounding the playground. 

“I think God touched his heart and said, ‘No, it’s not right that these kids have to sleep outside,’” she says. 

Faith Family Village will be assisted in operational duties by Interfaith Family Shelter, another site serving families experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County. Roxana says the village will offer services focusing on development for both parents and children: obtaining proper identification; enrollment in financial and rental certification programs; applications for housing vouchers; opportunities to volunteer at the food bank as a reference for future employment; after school tutoring; meals and chore sharing; and even family fun nights to foster a sense of community. They’ll also have interactive learning opportunities like cultivating a fruit and vegetable garden with the direction of local Master Gardeners.  

In the face of so many challenges, Roxana’s sunny outlook and passion eclipses any notion of giving up in the face of adversity. And she has a message for anyone else who wants to provide a glimpse of hope for their unsheltered neighbors, even if it seems unattainable: 

“I would say you should go for your dreams and help all the people that you can,” she says. “Because doing all that brings more joy to you than you can ever imagine. You can do it. You should try. And the thing I’m looking forward to now is spreading family villages everywhere.” 

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