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Malibu man leads efforts for orphanage in Mexico.
Malibu’s Michael Vopatek describes it as his “‘Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ moment..”
While on a prosperous fishing trip in Mexico’s Baja California 10 years ago, Vopatek realized his haul was going to get freezer burn. So, armed with plenty of fresh fish and an aim to donate it, he asked the owner of the local La Fonda restaurant if he might have a worthy recipient in mind..
The owner promptly introduced Vopatek to fellow patrons Ted and Renie Faver, the owners of Gabriel House of Mexico..
“Ted, he just dropped his fork on his plate and puts his head down into his hands,” Vopatek recalled. “ ... [He] goes, ‘You know, Michael, God works in mysterious ways,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I agree with that, but what do you mean?’”
“Ted proceeds to tell me, ‘Well, we run an orphanage about an hour south of here for profoundly handicapped orphans and we’ve been struggling lately and for the last two weeks we’ve had to boil chicken bones to feed the kids.’”
And just like that, Vopatek’s heart grew three sizes that day.
It was a “beautiful moment,” Vopatek said, but he wasn’t content to just stop there. For the past 10 years, the 52-year-old chiropractor has returned annually at Christmastime to bring the children toys — or, in one rare instance, a Great Pyrenees dog — which he collects largely from the Malibu community.
“They’ve gotten by on the generosity of Malibu over the last 10 years,” Vopatek said.
Angels in their corner
Regular supporters of the orphanage include Malibu resident Patty Phillips, who said she is active with various child-focused organizations, including Union Rescue Mission.
About five years ago, when her chiropractor mentioned Gabriel House, the tug on her heart strings was immediate.
“Children are victims, and by no fault of their own they end up suffering,” Phillips said. “ ... If we can save one child, then we’ve done something worthwhile.”
Phillips has donated money, as well as clothing, bedding, toys and books to Gabriel House over the past half-decade.
Vopatek said Jakks Pacific has also generously given to the Christmas toy drive for several years.
Vopatek has further given complimentary chiropractic services for both the children and nursing staff at Gabriel House.
“He’s just been off and on dropping in on us for, oh my, I don’t even know how many years,” Ted said.
The impact of Malibu’s goodwill has been profound.
Vopatek said he has seen the orphanage transition from dirt floors, a lone rabbit-antenna TV, limited refrigeration and a small volunteer staff to a much better picture.
“Today [they have] foam playground flooring for the fragile kids, Disney movies on flat screen TVs, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and a full nursing staff (training, employing and empowering many women from a local battered women’s shelter who don’t want to return to their pasts), a full-time medical doctor and much more, including a warm, solar-heated therapy pool with wheelchair ramp to allow some of the kids a chance to exercise and be free from their wheelchairs,” Vopatek wrote in an email to the Surfside.
But those upgrades have come at a cost — and Vopatek and the Favers alike said Gabriel House’s finances have been tight in recent months.
“They are having immense difficulties making payroll for the staff and do not want to close their doors after over two decades of serving this agricultural community and these children of migrant field workers,” Vopatek wrote. “They are sending out a plea for regular, reliable financial donations, large and small, to continue caring for housing these truly helpless children. It is my hope we can create a small miracle by showing our neighbors to the south what our big hearts are capable of and rally enough to keep them going.”
Further, Ted said, personal medical issues have led the Favers toward the realization that they must hand the reins over to their daughter, Marisol Faver Huddleston, and her husband, Scott Huddleston.
“We’re trying to retire slowly,” said Ted, who is 72.
Building their loving home
It was 1991 when the Favers permanently moved to the Baja California area after volunteering with a church in northern Ensenada for several years.
Renie, who has a nursing background, was working with a local doctor to care for malnourished babies.
“My wife kept bringing home babies,” Ted recalled.
The Favers had already raised their own four children, and Ted said “no” to Renie’s requests to keep many of the babies. But, ultimately, the couple just couldn’t turn their backs on children in need.
Soon, they would have many children in their care.
The community is largely made up of farmers who earned low wages, Ted said, and, in some cases, children complicate situations for the families. The Favers quickly found that children with handicaps were particularly vulnerable to being abandoned or ignored.
“A lot of families get overwhelmed,” Ted said.
The first child Ted said “yes” to was 8-year-old Gabriel Raul — who is now in his 30s and whose last name Ted doesn’t know — and that’s how Gabriel House was born. The facility was built in Maneadero, a city in Baja California, Mexico.
Gabriel Raul, who has a form of epilepsy as well as autism, required medication that cost roughly $70 a week, Ted said. His parents worked as goat herders and struggled to make ends meet.
“If they bought the medicine, they couldn’t eat,” Ted said.
Today, Gabriel Raul remains at Gabriel House, along with 25 additional residents of the orphanage.
“Gabriel House is not supposed to be a permanent home for these kids,” Ted said. “[It] turns out that way in some of their situations because the family never gets right [and] they won’t provide a place for the child to thrive.”
Over the years, Ted said more than 270 children have been served by Gabriel House.
Some parents don’t have the means, and others simply lack the compassion to care for a child who may be different.
Vopatek recalled one particularly haunting tale of a drug-addicted woman who gave birth to her daughter while in jail. The baby girl was born with a disease called microcephaly, which manifests in a smaller-than-usual head, Vopatek explained. The woman tried to strangle her daughter, he said, but the guards were able to stop her and save the little girl.
“Where’s a little child like that going to go?” Vopatek said. “Thankfully, Gabriel House is there to take them in.”
Also among those children have been eight who were born with AIDS; six of those children have been adopted, Ted said.
“We’d like to be in a position where we could help more kids,” Ted said, “but right now, we’re just not there. Our absolute primary focus right now is to try to figure out how to raise some more income.”
Gabriel House of Mexico
What: Gabriel House of Mexico is a nonprofit, Christian orphanage that cares for children with deformities and/or disabilities. The facility is located in Maneadero, Baja California, in Mexico. Several in the Malibu community have supported Gabriel House for years through its annual Christmas toy drive and beyond.
For more information ...
To find out more about Gabriel House, visit www.gabrielhouseofmexico.com.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/GabrielHouse.