All of Us Together
Project HOME was born in the winter of 1989, when a crew of good-hearted volunteers with practically no resources opened a temporary shelter for some of the most fragile and vulnerable men living on the streets. What unfolded over the next few months defied the usual script. “Really, it was the guys who helped keep that place running,” remembers Joan McConnon, our co-founder and Associate Executive Director. “We learned early on that it wasn’t ‘us’ taking care of ‘them,’ but all of us together forming a community who worked together to make it happen.”
Almost three decades later, Project HOME has grown into a large and highly professional nonprofit organization, spread out over nineteen residences and sites. The ethos of “all of us working together” still holds. In recent years, we have witnessed a blossoming of resident empowerment and leadership.
We treasure our highly skilled and committed staff who on a daily basis keep our organization strong and effective. But our residents and former residents often bring unique gifts – hard edge of experiences, deep empathy and understanding, a fierce and hard-earned hope that our lives can change. They model perseverance and determination which can be the catalysts for transformation – both personal and societal. In fact, a good number of residents do become staff.
We are always seeking to create a climate in which every member of our community is able to offer his or her gifts to help us achieve our mission. We are especially committed to ensuring that residents’ voices are heard, and that their passion, insight, and skills can be put to work. Several residents sit on our Board of Trustees and are members of Board committees. A group of residents are part of a core team in our current strategic planning process. In recent years, numerous residents have become certified peer specialists and are able to add invaluable support to fellow residents making progress their lives.
Examples of resident empowerment are numerous and continue to grow. Residents take on leadership roles in our Advocacy Committee, our Arts program, and our Speakers Bureau. Residents are on the organizing committee for the annual Homeless Memorial Day gathering in December. Residents attend zoning hearings that impact Project HOME’s residential developments. Numerous residents volunteer or work at our Hub of Hope drop-in center in Suburban Station. For years, residents have been quietly running a “Double Trouble” 12-step weekly support group for persons in recovery from both addiction and mental illness.
An important area of resident leadership is our organization-wide Mission Nurture Initiative. Residents and staff work together to bring to fruition ideas and proposals to foster continued grounding in our core values even as we grow and expand. Residents help us identify the key components of a “beloved community” and help envision what that can look like in Project HOME. Some residents are working to develop a 24-hour “warm line” to offer support for persons struggling with their recovery. One resident-led team developed a vision for welcoming and orienting incoming residents, including a Welcome HOME basket and a guide book to local resources and tips for success. (See the companion article, “Making It Happen,” for more examples of resident leadership.)
The Resident Advisory Board (RAB), convened by staff person by Karen Orrick [LINK], has been instrumental in fostering empowerment and leadership among residents. Open to all Project HOME residents as well as resident alumni, the RAB is tasked with key roles in our community: They advise our Executive Leadership and our Board of Trustees on a range of organizational and community issues, reviewing proposed policies, making recommendations, or assessing parts of our mission that need attention. In all, they play a strategic role in how Project HOME lives out our vision: “None of us are home until all of us are home.”
RAB members also ensure that resident concerns are heard and acted on. One important function of the RAB is developing Tenant Councils for each of our residences. These councils work to ensure that site-specific property issues –repairs, accessibility, and such – are resolved; they also develop community-building activities and events at the site.
One of the highlights of the year for many residents is the annual RAB leadership retreat, a weekend of sharing and community building with the goal of supporting and empowering each other we well as learning practical leadership skills.
Chris Williams, who lives at our Connolly House residence, co-chairs the RAB. He has played many roles at Project HOME, including Speakers Bureau, employment in our Facilities Management department, tenant council, and is currently consulting on the strategic plan. “One of the ways Project HOME values the dignity of residents is by proving respectful, open spaces where we can share our opinions and talents.” He also talks about the importance of “natural” leadership. “I take a genuine interest in people’s well-being. I choose to be involved in the lives of other residents and serve them when I can, even in small ways.”
By contributing their skills, energy, and leadership, residents and resident alumni demonstrate that we can only achieve our mission when it is truly “all of us together.” More importantly, those who have known life at the harshest margins of our society can invite all of us to an authentic experience of human community.