Jim Vargas is not your average deacon.
As a kid growing up in the South Bronx, Deacon Jim always felt a call to serve. In fact, he considered entering the Catholic priesthood until he met his wife. But after working for over 30 years as an executive for companies like The Copley Press, Inc., and Citibank, he realized it was time to serve again. In 2006, he became ordained as a deacon at Mary, Star of the Sea in La Jolla, where he worked full-time for four years until he was called to serve again, in a different way.
“God never lets go of you really,” he said. “And at the heart of what a deacon is, is being of service; especially in taking care of the poor."
In 2015, Deacon Jim was named the president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, the largest homeless services provider in Southern California. And while the organization may assist 2,000 individuals on any given night, Deacon Jim’s mission is much smaller: getting one person off the streets at a time.
“Individuals who are on the street don’t have a voice of their own,” he said. “They need someone to walk the journey with them."
Father Joe’s Villages provides a number of different kinds of support for the homeless, from serving meals to restorative dentistry to culinary arts programs. While those alone are helping to lower the amount of men, women, and children living on the streets in San Diego (Deacon Jim says there are currently at 8,600), he’s most excited to tackle the issue of affordable housing by creating 2,000 affordable housing units through their Turn-Key Initiative.
That plan starts when Father Joe’s Villages breaks ground this year on a 14-story, 407-unit affordable housing building in downtown’s East Village on 14th and Commercial street. And it continues with the organization’s plan to acquire motels, “breast life back into them,” and turn them into permanent housing. Deacon Jim hopes to close on an 83-unit model in the South Bay area soon to have it up and running by the end of 2019.
“We’re blessed enough to help anyone who is living on the streets with anything they need,” he said. “Anything to get them off the streets and become self-sustaining. Our work is in breaking the homeless cycle one life at a time."
In managing all the projects under his responsibility as his role as CEO, Deacon Jim still serves at Mary, Star of the Sea and serves on dozens of boards throughout the city. It may seem like a hefty workload to some, but he’ll tell you, he’s “blessed, not busy.” And it’s safe to say that he’s got his priorities straight.
“It’s not that I’m the president of Father Joe’s Villages who happens to be a deacon,” he said. “I’m a deacon and my ministry is Father Joe’s Villages.”
For more information about Father Joe’s Villages, visit my.neighbor.org.