Reprinted from The Union, with permission of the author.
By Marc Matthias
While there is much that divides us, we do have one theme in common and that is our desire to care for fellow citizens who have no home and precious few other resources to sustain them.
We may disagree strongly regarding debt ceilings, government mandated light bulbs and balanced budgets, but we can agree that a significant and growing portion of our population is living in deplorable conditions and desperately needs our help.
Hospitality House is where the entire community — Grass Valley, Nevada City, Penn Valley, Lake Wildwood, Lake of the Pines — can come together in a common concern to help homeless people get back on their feet.
Thus, Hospitality House is not important only to those who are temporarily down on their luck. The success of our organization is vital to the entire community.
Over the six years of its existence, our program has undergone an astonishing growth curve. In late November of 2005, we were a small band of volunteers, allied with four churches, working out of one room in the Unitarian Church in Grass Valley. Our first night of operation that month saw fewer than 10 guests for dinner and an overnight in one of the churches.
At that time we were open only four nights per week. As we closed the 2010 – 2011 season we were operating seven days (and nights) a week, offering three meals, overnight accommodations, showers, clothes washing/drying facilities, personal goals counseling, health/dental checkups and referrals, and advice on accessing county and state services.
The remaining item we offer — hope — is the least quantifiable but probably the single most important life-changing service we contribute.
Our recent acquisition of a 6,500-square-foot building is the culmination of six years of effort by Cindy Maple, our Executive Director and her staff, and by our corps of over 300 volunteers.
Impressive as it is, this effort is only the beginning of a program I see coming in our future. Our vision statement lists “providing pathways to independence” as a number one goal.
That statement goes on to list a number of other goals, among them “providing temporary, overnight housing/shelter.” Note the emphasis on independence. Our guests are to be set on a pathway to independence.
As part of our current program, our guests work in our community, sometimes for money and sometimes for experience as when we provide volunteers to The Center for the Arts.
These men work with Dave Spellman, the Center’s Facilities Manager, performing carpentry, electrical and other maintenance projects (one guest with welding skills built a great outdoor sign) to build their resumes to enhance their employment goals.
Similarly, many of our guests work with the Downtown Merchants Association at the monthly Main St./Mill St. cleanup. In all examples, guests learn job skills of teamwork, punctuality, responsibility, and more.
I have a vision that working from our new facility we will be able to build a more developed jobs program. Our guests need to be busy each day.
They need to be working at real, productive jobs that create wealth that can be used by them to pay at least part of their living expenses.
The corollary effect of this is to benefit their self esteem and sense of worth. We need to build a program that achieves this goal.
While doing that, we need to manage our explosive, sometimes chaotic growth. You must understand that this growth has come at a cost that doesn’t show in the balance sheet or in the profit and loss statement.
Traditionally, our dollar expenditures have been absurdly low considering the size of the program we are administering. We have only one full-time staff member, our executive director; we need more.
We need to stop relying so heavily on volunteer labor to manage many of our operations. In short, we need to grow up as a professional nonprofit organization structured to return the best value for each dollar you donate.
Our board of directors makes this pledge to you: With your support we will grow Hospitality House’s infrastructure to become an organization to meet one of society’s greatest social challenges – homelessness. Now isn’t that a noble goal for a small, rural California county?
Marc Matthias is president of the Hospitality House Board of Directors.