For years, Pastor Paul Bains has advocated for the most vulnerable members of the community. His impact reaches far beyond the congregation of St. Samuel Church in East Palo Alto, where he's served as pastor since 1999.
Bains is the founder and CEO of Project WeHope, which supports unhoused and marginalized communities in a variety of ways, including providing emergency and transitional housing at its shelter; free healthy food to those experiencing food insecurity through Family Harvest; mobile showers and laundry machines through Dignity on Wheels; the first RV safe-parking program in San Mateo County; and more.
"Faith and my family are the main reasons why I do what I do," explained the Palo Alto native and recipient of the 2022 outstanding professional Tall Tree award.
Seeing WeHope clients become healthy, employed and housed "gets me up in the morning," Bains said. "That inspires me, to see the transformation that occurs in individual lives."
To combat homelessness long term, of course, people need access to housing stock. With that in mind, Bains founded a new nonprofit real estate development endeavor — United Hope Builders — which aims to provide both local jobs at its East Palo Alto modular home factory and affordable, high-quality housing for low-income residents.
"When we get this first project done out of our factory, I'm just going to be so excited to see that family move in, to improve the quality of life for them. That changes the trajectory of that whole family," he said, noting that United Hope Builders recently received its use permit from the city of East Palo Alto.
Bains also serves as a police chaplain for East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park police departments and has worked with many other Bay Area organizations, including Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto Community Foundation and LifeMoves, to name a few.
Although his work keeps him extremely busy, Bains said he and his wife, Cheryl, catch just about every Golden State Warriors game and love to spend time with their three children. He credits his family, including his own parents and siblings, with inspiring him to lead a productive life of service.
His father, also a pastor, "came from Texas with two quarters in his pocket and found two jobs the day he got here," Bains said, and his mother worked at Stanford University as a cook and nurse.
He recalled them often offering up their living room for those in need of shelter. His parents, he said, raised all of their eight children to have "an entrepreneurial spirit and a spirit to serve other people."
Bains said he was shocked and humbled to receive a Tall Tree Award. The outpouring of congratulations has been a bit overwhelming, he admitted.
"To receive this is kind of mind-blowing to me," he said. "We don't do it for rewards, obviously; we do it to help people — to create on-ramps for a more healthy life."
To Bains, the successes of Project WeHope and his other endeavors are a true community effort. "This is not about me; it's about the team," he said. "I have a firm belief that none of us is as strong as all of us. That's just my philosophy on life."
Read more stories on the 2020 and 2022 Tall Tree Award honorees:
• Dr. Sara Cody: Making the tough decisions
• Dr. Yvonne "Bonnie" Maldonado: 'Constantly adapting'
• Cammie Vail: Paying it forward
• Hal Mickelson: Steering the future of Palo Alto's past
• Roger Smith: Finding justice for murder victims' families
• Palo Alto Players: The art of lifting a community's spirit
• Peninsula Open Space Trust: Committed to conservation
• Premier Properties: Taking care of businesses
• Homewood Suites: Opening it doors to nonprofits, people in need