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Saturday, July 21, 2007 | The brouhaha over the Heartland Foundation has been blown out of proportion and does not accurately represent the entire story.

I know because I remember when the building at 1068 Broadway had been vacant for two years and was an eyesore, infested with rats and mold. The property was in foreclosure and considered to be “financially distressed.” The city of El Cajon was facing considerable financial loss. You can read this for yourself from the minutes of the City Council meeting.

Buddy Wilkerson, then the Executive Director of the Heartland Foundation stepped up to the plate with a plan. Heartland’s Project Destination was looking for a place to provide job training in partnership with local colleges and private industry. Project Destination helps people find a pathway to a job or career whether a graduate needing a certificate or a mother wanting to get off welfare. The motion was carried by majority vote.

The building at 1068 Broadway needed extensive renovation and hundreds of thousands of dollars before it could even be occupied. The city of El Cajon worked unselfishly with the Heartland Foundation to make this worthy project a reality.

Today the Heartland Building has been transformed to a buzz of productive activity. Students from EMSTA (emergency medical technician’s training) toss a sponge football in the parking lot. Accountants from a start-up business eat lunch in the shade. A Veteran’s group, a non-profit low-income housing assistance program, small business start-up companies and an Arts and Culture Board all call 1068 Broadway home. Read what Congressman Duncan Hunter, El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis and others have to say about Project Destination.

After the Cedar Fire, Heartland provided aid to hundreds of victims. No one at the non-profit Heartland has ever made a dime in profit. To the contrary, thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in this project.

The city of El Cajon has reason to be proud of what they have accomplished.

There is no downside to this. The economy of El Cajon is enhanced — by providing job training and placement for local residents to local companies. Literally thousands of individuals and their families have been aided personally and professionally by Project Destination.

And in the end the city of El Cajon gets a building that is worth, I would guess, twice what it was worth in 1999.

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