In 2003, four people from various local churches and community organizations came together around a single question: what can be done to address the social issues of Costa Mesa in a way that might truly transform the city? These four—Mark Orphan, Laura Johnson, Lindsy Harris and Crissy Brooks—began looking to community development models around the U.S. and the rest of the world, and eventually articulated a vision for change. This vision was grounded in the belief that the neighbors within low-income communities have ideas and assets that can be leveraged to make a positive impact. From this vision, Mika Community Development Corporation was born. Faithful to its founding verse, Micah 6:8, the Mika team committed to connecting neighbors and churches to opportunities to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
In January 2004, a small team was launched in the Shalimar neighborhood to carry out the Mika vision. Since that time, the Mika team has started 5 Neighborhood Action Committees in Costa Mesa and is currently working with three: Center, Maple, and Shalimar.
Over the last few decades, shifts in the demographics of Costa Mesa have generated challenging social issues, such as a lack of adequate housing, economic poverty of the residents, and pressures on the city’s education system. Thirty-six percent of Costa Mesa residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, and in Mika’s target neighborhoods that number is nearly 100%. Of the Latino households in Costa Mesa, 76.5% had family income categorized as low, very low, or extremely low by the 2010 HUD Income Limits (2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimate). In 4 out of the 5 local elementary schools where Mika’s neighborhood students attend, at least 98% of students are eligible for free or reduced school lunches (California Department of Education DataQuest). Other challenges our neighbors face include language barriers and dependency on local social services. Among people five years and older living in Costa Mesa, 39% spoke a language other than English—74% of which spoke Spanish (2005-2009 ACS 5-Year Estimates). Of the five elementary schools in Mika’s target neighborhoods, 72.8% of students attending these schools are considered English Language Learners. On average, only 36% of English Learners are at or above proficiency level in English-language arts, and only 48% are at or above proficiency level in mathematics. This creates challenges in the classroom, in parent/teacher relationships and ultimately in the academic success of the students.
In addition to these economic disparities that are clearly present in our target neighborhoods, there is also an evident breakdown in healthy relationships within the neighborhoods. We believe that this breakdown contributes to the systemic poverty present in our city. In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert found that low-income persons describe their condition not only in terms of economic and material need, but also in terms of feelings of personal worthlessness, shame, isolation, psychological depression and social despair (Corbett and Fikkert 53). These feelings manifest themselves in broken marriages and families, social isolation, distrust among neighbors and distrust of authorities. According to Bryant Myers, in his book Walking with the Poor, poverty results from “relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable” (Myers 86). These broken relationships help explain why many of the problems associated with low-income neighborhoods—violence, drug use, high school drop-out rates and unemployment—are perpetual even though services and resources have been present for many years.