When taking a break from his Lompoc-based paralegal business, Tyler Stuart said he sometimes visits the McDonald’s restaurant on North H Street to grab a quick meal.
It was on those fast-food trips that Stuart said he started notice a lot of seemingly homeless or destitute people sitting on the sidewalk or in the parking lot soliciting money or food from whomever passed by. In an effort to assist some of them, Stuart began engaging them in conversation. He soon discovered that many of them were prime candidates for services that are available within the community but that most were completely unaware of those services or how to go about obtaining them.
It was then, Stuart said, that he decided he had to do something.
Those initial street-side conversations resulted in Options Collaborative, a project founded by Stuart through the Social Good Fund platform. Options Collaborative aims to leverage relationships with other organizations to bring a range of services to Lompoc and Nipomo — communities that Stuart felt were often overlooked — to aid people in need, whether they're homeless, single parents, members of the LGBTQ community or people struggling with identity.
“Options Collaborative was designed to service basically the underserved without any sort of bias or competition or ulterior motives,” Stuart said. “It’s just there to help people.”
The services offered by the organization depend on the population being served. Stuart has teamed with the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness (C3H) to assist homeless and other low-income people, as well as young adults and youth transitioning out of foster care, with food and care referrals, money for home rentals and deposits and even resume and job development.
One of the primary demographics he is looking to impact, however, is the LGBTQ community.
Stuart, a paralegal, offers document assistance to people going through gender transitions and has assisted gay or transitioning teens and young adults who have been kicked out of their homes after coming out to their families.
“Basically, whatever anyone needs, we find a way to help them,” he said.
Lompoc resident Robert Gutierrez, who works with C3H, has partnered with Stuart on service projects in the past. Gutierrez is a volunteer with Options Collaborative and helped Stuart organize an upcoming social event that is believed to be the first of its kind in Lompoc.
The organization will host an "LGBTQ+ ALLY Social" at 6 p.m. Friday in one of the conference rooms at the Lompoc LAUNCHpad, which is located at 1010 North H St. and also home to Stuart’s Lompoc office. The event will be free to attend. Businesses have donated food and drinks, and donations, which Stuart assured will stay within the community, will be accepted. The purpose of the event is to provide an opportunity for local LGBTQ residents to mingle and network.
“This is really needed in the community,” Gutierrez, 26, said of Options Collaborative and its focus on LGBTQ services. “I’ve been here practically my whole life and I’ve not seen a healthy LGBT community group that’s been hosted here in Lompoc. All the groups I’ve seen, they’ve all been out of the city of Lompoc. So for this to happen here in the city, it’s really needed, in my opinion.”
Stuart plans to follow up that event with an LGBTQ sensitivity seminar at 9 a.m. Dec. 13, also in the Lompoc LAUNCHpad.
“There’s no safe spot for the LGBT community to go in Lompoc, not to my knowledge,” Stuart said. “So I’m trying to make that option for them.”
Patty Faulkner, who does outreach with C3H and deals with a lot of homeless people and families, said she has appreciated having Options Collaborative around since its start this spring.
“There’s a lot of resources that people don’t know about it — even for us, doing it as long as we have — so it’s hard for people to find the resources,” she said.
Faulkner said one of the main benefits she sees is the lack of red tape. She said she was recently working to assist a family that was cashed out and in need of money for groceries. She took the issue to Stuart, she said, and he was able to secure gift cards to a pair of local grocery stores so that the family could get what it needed.
“He’s a good benefit, not just for one population but for all vulnerable individuals,” she said, noting that Stuart didn’t need to report to a board or fill out a stack of forms to offer quick help to that particular family.
Stuart said that lack of delay was deliberate.
“Many nonprofits have very strict guidelines, like you have to be homeless, or you have to be military, or you have to be a drug addict or have substance abuse — something,” he said. “With me founding the nonprofit the way I have, I’m able to decide where the funds go and what they’re used for and I don’t have to go through a chain of command.”
Stuart, who has an associate degree in paralegal studies and a bachelor’s in psychology, is currently pursuing a master’s in social work.
His goal is to continue his social work and providing aid to individuals, families and youth that need it. His mindset, he said, is summed up by Options Collaborative in both its name and its mission.
“We want to give people choices,” he said. “They don’t have to stay on the street, they don’t have to stay in their drug addiction, they don’t have to be miserable living as someone they’re not. So we give them the options, by collaborating with other organizations and other people, to be able to help the underserved.
“Overall, I just want to help people,” he added. “That seems so nonchalant, but it seems that people always want something in return. I genuinely want to just help. I’m trying to become a social worker and that’s what I want to do. I want to make a difference and I want to help people.”
For more information on Options Collaborative, call Stuart at 741-3545 or visit options4all.org.