GLENDALE — The small sign outside the new office building where Simon and Elizabeth Kottoor operate homes for abused and neglected children doesn’t identify the place as “Catholic” or even “Christian.”

But everything at Sunshine Residential Homes, Inc. — from how business is conducted to the interior decorations — radiates the Catholic faith. A priest blessed the operation’s first stand-alone building July 26 before opening its doors.

The Kottoors, both social workers, gathered all 220 children in their care — ranging in age from 6 to 18 — for the sprinkling of holy water offered by Fr. Louie Mraz, associate pastor at St. Helen Parish in Glendale. The priest blessed and dedicated the building, praying that the work done inside continue on behalf of children who often have no other advocate.

Simon and Elizabeth fulfill that role. They work tirelessly to aid the forgotten ones much like their role model, the late Mother Teresa. Both are from India — Elizabeth grew up in Calcutta — and interacted with the woman of faith.

She recalls how Mother Teresa opened her first school in Elizabeth’s father’s front yard. The nun also taught in the garage.

“She believed in the respect and dignity of every human being,” recalled Elizabeth, noting her work with the poorest of the poor. “These children [at Sunshine] are poor emotionally.”

The Kottoors work with a 140-member staff to promote self-esteem in the youth placed in one of 22 West Valley homes or shelters. The children stay anywhere from one day to several years until they find a foster home, are adopted or reunited with family.

Meanwhile, the Kottoors provide each child with a safe living environment and professional help to mend emotional scars.

During the recent field trip for the blessing, however, there was no sign of scarring. The only sign visible was the sign of the cross Fr. Mraz showed them how to make as he began the brief prayer service.

He acknowledged Simon and Elizabeth’s dedication to the children and proceeded to bless the youth — largely boys — gathered in the parking lot.

“May God bless you in all things through Christ so that whatever happens in your lives works together for the good,” the priest said.

Fr. Mraz ensured no nook or cranny in the 7,500-square-foot building was left unblessed, including an upstairs storage closet.

Finally, the kids had an opportunity to tour the new $1-million facility where accounting, training and planning take place.

The youth will come to the corporate office to attend meetings, visit siblings or wait for their house manager to do paperwork.

The sounds of children playing, watching a movie on a flat screen, wall-mounted TV or learning a new musical instrument wouldn’t fill the office until the next morning when daily operations commenced. Yet the workplace was already spirit-filled.

Immediately inside sits a wooden sculpture of a child whose entire body rests against the palm of a hand. Near it, a plaque displays a statement adapted from Isaiah 49: “See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name; your walls are ever before me.”

The youth admired the walls decorated with kids’ photos. They ogled over the toys, video games and TVs in Simon’s office and the play areas.

“I like Sunshine because it’s a light that guides me even through my darkest nights, and it gives me courage to be what I can be. And that is a ‘kid,’” 16-year-old Tiffany said two years ago before going to a foster home.

Simon estimated the couple has cared for nearly 10,000 children in its 10 years of operation. They plan to offer yoga and dance classes. Elizabeth will offer cooking and nutrition education in the full-service kitchen, as well as dining etiquette.

The Kottoors have two college-aged sons of their own and intended to have more, but miscarriages prevented that from happening.

“This is God’s answer to having more children,” Elizabeth said. She works with even more youth during the school year as a volunteer catechist at St. Simon and Jude Cathedral.

The couple keeps prayer in their home and work life and encourages it in others. They do not raise the children at Sunshine as Catholic, but expose the youth to prayer at mealtime, offer the opportunity to attend church and foster a spirit of community and respect.

In Elizabeth’s office sits a sculpture of hands folded in prayer, a symbol of namaste, which she described as the Indian way of saying “Your body is the temple of God.”

“Everyone has God in them, so you cannot disrespect anyone because disrespecting them is disrespecting God,” Elizabeth said.

So while God’s name or religion remains absent from the Sunshine Residential Homes’ office sign, it is ever-present in the business environment and work these two Catholic followers do for His children.

Published: August 17, 2006

By: Ambria Hammel
The Catholic Sun