We’ve all pondered the question “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Maybe you’d quit your job with a grand touché to your boss or purchase that racy sports car you’ve always ogled. Cindy Cantle, assistant to County Supervisor Steve Bennett, says that if she won the lottery, she would open a free dental clinic. How’s that for refreshing?
As part of her job with the county, Cindy sits on the Ventura Social Services Task Force (VSSTF), a community organization focused on ending homelessness in Ventura County. And through the task force, Cindy is Chairperson of the Homeless Prevention Committee, a group dedicated to keeping families that are at risk of homelessness in their homes.
Sitting with Cindy in the cozy kitchen of her white, cedar-shingled home in Ojai, it is clear she loves what she does. The mother of two grown boys, married to her husband, Peter, for 33 years, couldn’t be more likable. Her passion is contagious, her energy is endless, and her sweet smile, infectious.
It all started when, through the VSSTF, she learned that more than half the cases of homelessness can be prevented by helping people with homes stay in those homes. Upon this revelation, Cindy eyes were opened and her commitment to the cause cemented. Over the past three years, the Ventura Homeless Prevention Fund (VHPF) has helped 145 households avoid homelessness through one-time financial assistance coupled with guidance from skilled caseworkers.
Sometimes it’s $235 to help someone cover a few bills, other times it’s closer to $1,000 to help with a mortgage payment. Cindy tells the story of a client whose child was hit by a car, forcing her to miss work as she stayed home to care for him.
Through assistance from the VHPF, she got help with her rent until she was able to return to work. As Cindy explains, “It’s like a bridge to help you get through this time.” Through this assistance, families avoid the trauma of losing their homes and avoid the devastation of having their credit tarnished. “It just makes so much sense,” she says. Her eyes light up as she explains that more than 90% of people who have gotten assistance are still in their homes.
For many, there is a stark divide between our professional work and volunteer work, but for Cindy it all appears to blend seamlessly. She works on issues related to health care and foster children, dedicates time to the Oak View Park Resource Center and the Ojai Valley Defense Fund, and serves on the board of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. Yet she is the antithesis of the stereotypical, burned out community servant. If anything, she is energized by what she does.
It works well for her because through her job, she gets to work on the issues closest to her heart. “Everyone should have access to good health care, a home, and a good education,” she says, noting that the three issues are tightly intertwined. “How can we let medical bills bankrupt a family? That’s just not right.”
Now back to that free dental clinic. In her work to prevent homelessness, Cindy considers even the smallest details. She believes everyone should have access to dental care, and explains that it’s often hard for clients to get a job if they have extensive dental problems—particularly cosmetic ones.
While the clients helped through the VHPF might feel lucky, Cindy, too, feels lucky. When she looks around the table at the VSSTF, she says, “I’m there for work. The ones who are there volunteering are truly awe-inspiring.” She feels lucky to have a job she loves; to have, in Steve Bennett, a supportive boss; and to be in a position where she can facilitate change.
As for those who work with Cindy, they feel blessed as well. Karl B. Keller, who has worked with Cindy on the VHPF, says she stands out because, “She has an attitude of being genuinely interested in positive things.” Deborah Schreiber, secretary of the VSSTF, says, “She’s such an interesting combination of tough and gentle...a lovely blend of very warm and very efficient.”
When asked what gets her out of bed each morning, Cindy says: “Trying to figure out how to make things happen is fun.” Though seeing clients in distress occasionally keeps her up at night, she loves the challenge of trying to find a solution. “My job is really connecting people...and linking them with the resources available,” she explains humbly.
She still worries that there are no year-round emergency shelters, and thinks often about the youth coming out of the foster care system. But Cindy Cantle will keep plugging away, seven days a week, both on the job and off, with a smile on her face.