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Former Foster Youths Find New Home in Abandoned Kern County Church

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The church on Oildale Drive and Minner Avenue has stood on the corner since 1954, built after an earthquake damaged the Oildale Church of Christ’s building. Since then, the church has passed through a variety of denominations and congregations until it was abandoned in 2021.

But the Kern County Housing Authority saw another life for the church building, in an often-overlooked area of the county. Oildale, an unincorporated town north of Bakersfield, borders the Kern River Oil Field, one of the largest active oil fields in California. The town was founded in the early 1900s as workers flooded into the area to work the oil rigs. It’s where musicians Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were raised and shaped.

Today, the barren hills of the Kern River Oil Field are still peppered with working rigs. But Oildale, population 36,000, has largely stagnated. Nearly a third of its residents live in poverty, and community leaders grapple with high rates of opioid addiction, dilapidated housing, and commercial vacancies. The church is nestled in a quiet neighborhood of modest homes with overgrown yards and bleached white fences.

The housing authority, a county agency charged with creating affordable housing opportunities, saw potential in the building’s graceful touches and sturdy walls. Its Sunday school classrooms could become studio and one-bedroom units for former foster youth still struggling to get their footing. The chapel, with its stained glass window, soft-lit chandeliers, and walls adorned with hand-written Bible verses, could be converted into a community room. So, over the course of two years, the church was given a second life.

Project Homekey, the state’s multibillion-dollar effort to convert dilapidated motels and commercial properties into supportive housing, and in partnership with Covenant Community Services, the authority purchased the church from Shekinah Ministries in 2022 for $1.5 million. After extensive renovation, the site reopened in January as the Project Cornerstone housing complex.

Today, the hallways smell faintly of fresh paint, and all 19 air-conditioned units are occupied by young residents also getting a fresh start.

About a mile away in a commercial strip, the housing authority is attempting another novel do-over: converting a former doctor’s office — that also had a stint as a tattoo parlor — into 15 units of housing. The project is in a tumbledown section of Oildale, situated between an optical lens store and aquatic pet shop. The storefront being converted had been vacant for years.

“It was really just awful, an eyesore for the whole community,” said Randy Martin, chief executive of Covenant Community Services, a nonprofit community group that will manage the two locations.

The housing authority purchased the storefront for $510,000 in 2022. As renovations began, Martin said, the group dealt with drug addicts breaking in, stealing appliances, and starting fires behind the building.

Still, the project is moving forward. Each unit will have a doorbell and space for a bed and kitchen. The plan includes a front patio where residents can relax and socialize.

Housing at the church complex is open to young people, 18 to 25, who have aged out of the foster care system, along with their spouses and children. The converted doctor’s office is reserved for former foster youths ages 18 to 21. Tenants pay rent as they are able, on a sliding-fee scale, and utilities are covered.

Pelz said the subsidies and upkeep will be covered by a mix of rental income and state and local funding for rental assistance.

A young man opens the window in a tidy apartment.

Al’Lyn Cline, a former foster youth, lives in a small but tidy apartment at Project Cornerstone. It marks the first time in years that he has had his own bathroom.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

When he moved into the converted church on Oildale Drive, Al’Lyn Cline, 22, was the only person living there for about two weeks. After months of construction, the church began to “settle,” and at night he would hear the creaking of the pipes and floorboards.

Cline, a Texas native, bounced around foster homes as a child. Before coming to the church, he stayed at a sober-living home with 12 other men. They shared one refrigerator, cramped bathrooms and limited parking space.

At the church, Cline has a studio that came furnished with a microwave, stove, and fridge. He has his own bathroom for the first time in years. His room — a space that used to hold cassette recordings of weekly sermons — is on the second floor and has a skylight that allows a flood of natural light.

A close-up of boots neatly lined up along an apartment wall.
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NASA is Developing an Electrodynamic Shield to Address Lunar and Martian Dust Challenges


NASA is tirelessly working on addressing the challenges posed by dust on the Moon and Mars. The lunar surface is covered in regolith, a jagged and abrasive material that can cause damage to equipment and pose health risks to astronauts. Additionally, dust accumulation on surfaces like solar panels can lead to decreased power output, creating further complications for manned missions to Mars.

To combat these issues, NASA has developed an innovative solution in the form of an Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS). This shield utilizes transparent electrodes and electric fields to electrically remove dust from surfaces, inspired by a concept developed by NASA in 1967. The technology has been in development since 2004 and is currently being tested by researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The EDS has shown promising results in vacuum chamber tests simulating the space environment, with lunar regolith samples used for testing. The material was successfully ejected from surfaces within seconds, demonstrating the shield’s efficacy in removing dust. Additionally, EDS materials have been embedded on glass panels, test spacesuit fabrics, and even camera lenses onboard the International Space Station and lunar landers.

Dr. Charles Buhler, lead scientist on the project, emphasized the importance of protecting equipment and habitats from dust exposure on lunar missions. The abrasive nature of lunar dust, coupled with its ability to compromise seals and hatches, makes it a significant concern for future missions. The EDS technology shows great promise in mitigating these risks and ensuring the safety of astronauts and machinery on dusty worlds.

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As NASA continues to advance the development of the Electrodynamic Dust Shield, future missions will further test its capabilities in real-world environments. The technology holds great potential in safeguarding against the challenges posed by dust and ensuring the success of manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

For more information on NASA’s groundbreaking technology to combat lunar dust, visit the official NASA website at NASA Technology Helps Guard Against Lunar Dust.

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