Robert Ernst

Robert Ernst serves on Carpinteria Community Church’s Freedom Warming Center outreach team.

This holiday season, as we reflect on events and actions from this past year and we make resolutions for the new one, CVN will be spotlighting individuals in the Carpinteria Valley community who have shown extraordinary generosity of spirit and service in 2019.     

Originally from Youngston, Ohio, software engineer Robert Ernst and his wife Nadia have lived in Carpinteria since 1996. The Ernsts have two sons, Samuel, 22, and Adam, 19, and attend Carpinteria Community Church (CCC) where Robert serves on CCC’s Freedom Warming Center (FWC) outreach team.

CCC’s Freedom Warming Center (and several other community organizations) host the Freedom Warming Center outreach program which provides the homeless with a safe and warm place to sleep on cold and rainy nights. In addition to providing a place to escape the weather, CCC’s team provides a warm meal and a snack lunch to guests.

For warming centers to be activated (opened), weather conditions must meet the required threshold: 35 degrees or less or 50 percent or more chance of rain (as predicted at least 48 hours before any given date).

Robert was recommended by CCC Pastor Jarrett Johnson because he is one of several key members of the church’s FWC team, including Alice Chafee (retired team leader), Sandy and Barbara Smith (first to come, last to leave), Mike and Val Carmel (lunch preparation) and Carol Nichols (gourmet cook). In addition, other church members regularly help in the kitchen on activation nights.

What is your role for the Freedom Warming Center?

My primary responsiby is monitoring the FWC hotline and notifying the team when the center will be open. I locate a volunteer cook and serving staff. I also ensure our cupboards are stocked. We keep an inventory of paper plates, forks, knives, etc. As well as salad dressings, snacks, etc.

What motivated you to get involved?

My inspiration for getting involved was Alice Chaffee. I observed how much good she had accomplished and how much happiness she brought to others. She just radiates love and joy. Alice has chosen to retire and will be relocating soon, closer to her family. Pastor Jarrett offered me the opportunity to join the team as the FWC contact person.

Was there a specific event in your life that led you to this specific cause?

Some years back I was looking for a used small microwave. I found an ad for a Sharp ½-pint microwave (something a small child could use) in the Independent. The owner was staying in one of the low-rent hotels near lower State Street where itinerants live. The room was quite tiny, perhaps 10 ft x 10 ft and all his possessions were there, including a tiny microwave he used to cook his meals. I asked him why he was selling it. He said that he needed the money to buy food. It struck me that if I bought the microwave, he couldn’t buy anything that required heating. I felt bad and tried to give him some cash and leave, but he insisted I take the microwave.

His dignity prevented him from accepting charity. It made me realize that a lot of the people that are in this situation are decent people who have just fallen on hard times (in his case it was a medical condition). I think of that man when I see someone who is out on the street. I know that some of the people that spend the night with us are there due to physical problems, and they have no family to support them. So, they wind up on the street.

What’s special about this organization?

What’s special about CCC’s outreach program is that everyone who participates does so out of love. They enjoy what they’re doing. It gives us some comfort to know that at least for one or two evenings our guests will have a hot meal and a safe and dry place to sleep.

Why do you think it’s important for people give back to their community?

I don’t think of what I’m doing as giving back to the community so much as becoming part of it. I think of a community as an extended family. When I was growing up it wasn’t unusual for my mother’s siblings to help each other out with a task, canning vegetables, cleaning my grandmother’s house, etc. Kids helped too, that was just what we did as a family. I looked forward to it because I knew I’d be spending time with my cousins, and there’d probably be some form of family dinner afterward. That’s probably how people once thought of barn-raisings. Once people were done, they’d have a community picnic. In the same way, our kitchen staff enjoys socializing with one-another and with our guests. That’s what community is all about.

How has volunteering with this organization impacted your life?

The primary way in which volunteering has impacted me is how I view and interact with homeless people when I see them on the street. Once you know someone’s name it’s very hard to look the other way when you’re leaving the grocery store or pulling out of a parking lot. Nowadays I’m more likely to say “hello” to them and ask them how they are doing. Occasionally, I offer them a bit of cash, as often as not they will decline.

Do you volunteer with any other organizations?

Outside of the team at Carpinteria Community Church I also assist Cindy Rief with her Challengers baseball team. The Challengers program is a sports league for special needs students. Cindy Rief is a special needs teacher who serves as the team’s coach. Cindy probably volunteers more than 10 hours a week during baseball season between the Challengers team and assisting with other Little League activities. She’s a gift to the local community.

Do you have any wishes for the new year?

I would love to have some visitors attend our Sunday service that starts at 9:30 a.m. Visitors will be treated to chocolate from Robataille’s Candies, as well as coffee and cookies after the service. 

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