Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter, meals, and medical attention for the homeless in the San Fernando and Antelope valleys, wants to build a new facility that would serve as a “bridge” to permanent housing, offer medical services, and serve as a new administrative location — all in one building.

That project had received an initial boost in June last year when famed television host Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy” and his family provided the first donation of $500,000. It led to other private donors, including Beach Body and Shepherd Church in Porter Ranch, adding funds totaling $2 million toward the purchase and renovation of the 23,000-sq. foot property the Hope of the Valley officials had their eyes on: the former Skateland Northridge roller rink, which had been shutdown following the coronavirus outbreak.

It was the second time that Trebek, who died Nov. 8, 2020, from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80, had generously donated to the rescue mission, giving $100,000 last July for a community room for their North Hollywood facility.

But CEO Ken Craft and CFO Rowan Vansleve had more fundraising they needed to do.

Rally to the Valley

The two men had previously run in the Los Angeles Marathon to raise funds for Hope of the Valley. But this year’s race, normally held in March, was postponed until November as the Valley — as well as the state and the nation — continues to recover from the pandemic.

The pair decided to embark on a nine-day run of their own, calling it the “Rally to the Valley.” It began on March 19 in Lancaster in the Antelope Valley and ended on March 27 in Simi Valley, hoping to raise another $200,000 in donations.

“Rowan said, ‘why don’t we run five times the LA marathon (distance)?’” Craft said. “It was first designated to replace our fundraising efforts from the LA Marathon. Then we decided ‘if we’re gonna do this, let’s visit all of our sites.’”

Hope of the Valley, whose administrative offices are located in Pacoima, has 19 different venues from shelters to thrift stores throughout the San Fernando, Antelope and Simi valleys. Over their nine-day trek, covering 125 miles, Craft and Vansleve ran to  their sites in Lancaster, Palmdale, Santa Clarita, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Northridge, and other areas to promote their mission, raise funds, and create attention for the proposed new facility.

“It was a run, but it had a lot of activity woven into the run,” Craft said.

Their efforts received funding from 20-25 corporations, and also private individuals, Craft said. Some corporations sponsored a whole “day” of the run. Individual donors gave money for a designated mile or for the number of miles the two men covered in a day.

Noted actor and director Jon Cryer (right) also participated with Hope of the Valley CEO Ken Craft in a portion of the “Rally to the Valley” fundraiser.

Others Join In

They were joined on the run at various times by others. Film and television actor Jon Cryer, whose credits include “Two and a Half Men” and “Supergirl,” ran three miles and donated $85,000 toward the construction of “tiny home” shelters. LA Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield and John Lee, who are helping secure additional funding from the city of Los Angeles, also ran a portion. 

Perhaps the most uplifting “additional” runner was Matthew Trebek, Alex’s son, who ran 12 miles with Craft and Vansleve in Northridge and who also attended the March 25 announcement with other family members that the new facility would be named “The Trebek Center.”

”With nearly 100,000 homeless men, women and children in LA County, the homeless problem is visible and real,” Craft said, on the Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission’s website. “And it’s growing—by nearly 17% per year (according to the 2019 Homeless Count).

“For the last 10 years Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission has been providing programs and services to help prevent and eliminate poverty, hunger and homelessness throughout the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles County.”

Both Craft and Vansleve reached the finish line at their thrift store in Simi Valley with several of the organization’s board members running alongside.

“We raised $185,000 directly from the run,” Craft said. “When we got to the finish line, somebody came up to me and said, ‘look, we’ll top you off to make sure you meet your goal (of $200,000).’

“It’s amazing when you finally look back and realize, ‘my goodness; we started nine days up in Lancaster and here we are in Simi Valley.’”

He said Hope of the Valley plans to break ground on the Trebek Center on May 15, and hopes to have all renovation and construction completed by November. Barring any unforeseen delays, Craft believes the center will be operational by the end of this year.

“I actually did have doubts [of completing the run] in the beginning because I’d never done anything like this,” the 57-year-old Craft said. “But it’s a reminder that we probably overestimate what we can do in one day, and underestimate what we can do over a long period of time.”