For The Madera Tribune
Lori and Jay Prentice, left and second from left, give pony rides to children on Christmas during the Prentice family’s annual dinner Sunday.
Susan Mackey’s 9 year-old son Kristopher had a heart for the homeless, but was murdered in 2005 by a homeless man in Oakhurst.
In 2009, Lori Prentice started tutoring Susan’s other son — a fourth-grader who didn’t know his ABC’s. Susan was a recluse, so dropping her son off for tutoring was a big deal for her. Despite efforts, there was no connection, no progress, and no hope for the Mackeys.
In 2010, Lori Prentice was making her Thanksgiving dinner, but didn’t feel she wanted to eat it. She had a feeling the food was for someone else.
She found a homeless family in a hotel a few hundred feet from where Kristopher was killed and donated the meal to the homeless family.
Lori then drove her three children four hours away to eat Thanksgiving dinner with their grandparents, and drove straight back up with her husband to prepare their spare room for the homeless family they had fed.
After that, the Prentices started taking in homeless families — veterans with amputated limbs, blind people, seniors experiencing abuse, and people who have been laid off but are years away from benefits.
Lori Prentice eventually wrote a book on her experiences called “The Best Dinner I Never Ate.”
While Lori Prentice does her best to research the people coming into their home, it can be dangerous. “There has been blood spurting in our backyard from a dad who hurt his son,” she recalled.
Lori has had to confront suspected abusers in her driveway after they found out where their family was hiding.
“There is a lot of faith in what we do — with each decision to bring in someone, I pray for protection, then leave it in His hands. I have had to call the sheriff several times..”
In 2011, it snowed, and several families needed the Prentices’ spare room. They opened a hole in their own bedroom wall, put in a door, packed their clothes and moved out of their bedroom to bring in one more homeless person. That person encouraged Lori to publish her journal entries that described their times with those without homes.
Many times, the Prentices take in abused women.
Also in 2011, Susan Mackey’s youngest son, Ken Mackey, made a connection with the Prentices’ miniature horse, after Lori packed the tiny horse, Lacey, into the back of her minivan to go meet him. This started their annual Christmas Day Pony Rides, where the Prentice family has hundreds and hundreds of people in their community giving well-wishes, donations of food, cash for gas cards, gifts and also volunteering to brush ponies and prepare for the event.
The Prentice children, Melanie, Tim and Ginger, play with children who come, and introduce them to the ponies. Jay and Lori give rides even in the rain, as Lori comments, “Rain doesn’t stop Christmas from coming. If something is a little inconvenient, it makes it that much more necessary to reach out.”
This Christmas, several families came throughout the day and a couple of volunteers too.
Lori Prentice works at Ezequiel Tafoya Alvarado Academy in Madera, where she teaches 5th grade. Last year she directed the musical “Aladdin Jr.” for the school, where she spent 90 hours volunteering, bringing the play to the school for the first time.
So many parents attended, there was standing room only, and some parents listened to the play from out in the hall.
“Teaching at a school where there is a lot of support and teachers are trusted to make the best decisions for their kids is amazing. We listen to a story of human kindness or see a kid making some huge difference in the community every day for discussion or a writing prompt.
Lori Prentice has almost two master’s degrees, and is going for another.
She presents to top reading instructors for the California Reading Association in their professional development.
“Getting kids engaged in the community is a passion,” she said. “My students visit nursing homes every year and write up interviews with them. We have been known to swing dance in their rooms since there is a connection with music, and especially love the ones who can’t talk. They give the most tears when we ask them, ‘You look like you were a veteran, blink once for yes and two for no.’ Not a dry eye in the house.”