[How I Work] Making home improvements that serve Atlantans without homes
HomeAid Atlanta takes an unusual approach to helping Atlanta’s homeless population: Their small staff works with a large network of construction companies and building suppliers, as well as a dedicated volunteer corps, to build and improve facilities for nonprofits that directly serve those without homes. Their Director of Community Engagement Jean Hilyard also took an unusual approach to getting the job, advocating for her candidacy while she was already serving as HomeAid Atlanta’s executive director.
My role, the short version: Working with volunteers, donors and nonprofits that serve homeless people, I put together and execute campus improvement projects that benefit nonprofits and their clients.
My role, the long version: Through HomeAid Care Days, I coordinate the volunteer events at homeless service provider locations. This requires logistical coordination of projects, volunteers, and material acquisition. We collaborate with the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and many Atlanta building companies, national retailers, as well as other nonprofits, such the Atlanta Community ToolBank, that (like us) serve nonprofits. I then work hand-in-hand with our volunteers to complete each project. As in many nonprofits, I wear many hats. In addition to Care Days, I manage the annual Essentials and Stock the House drives, the HomeAid CareKit initiative, and the Outreach Committee. Newsletters, very basic IT, and database research and implementation are all part of my job description.
How I got here: After moving to Atlanta in 1999 to complete my MFA in theater management, I worked at local theater companies as an intern, marketing coordinator, and development director. Following a brief stint in the for-profit world, I returned to the sector as annual campaign director at Atlanta Girls’ School. In my next position, office manager at Druid Hills United Methodist Church, I learned about Atlanta’s large homeless and at-risk populations, developed relationships with several individuals experiencing homelessness, and discovered some of the impressive groups working to assist them. In 2012, I started working at HomeAid Atlanta as its executive director and lone employee. Over three years, I restarted major build projects, which had been on the back-burner since the economic downturn, grew the HomeAid Care Day program, and ended up with more work than one executive could handle. At the same time, I needed more time to assist my two children, each of whom has a special need. The HomeAid board knew that a support position was imperative, and I pitched myself for the role. New Executive Director Mandy Crater was open to working together, agreeing that HomeAid would benefit from keeping institutional knowledge available to the organization. That’s how my current position, director of community engagement, was born.
What keeps me up at night: My biggest concern is securing all the needed material donations for Care Days. HomeAid operates on a comparatively small operating budget, so our main project support comes from in-kind donations. Sometimes I'm scrambling for material donations – lumber, flooring, etc. – until the last minute. I also worry about making sure there's enough meaningful work for all the volunteers, but it always ends up being too much – a far better problem than having too little!
What puts me on top of the world: I love when a service provider lets us know how much our projects, Care Days, or supply drives have helped the people they serve! It is wonderful knowing that HomeAid, and my work, have helped people have a dignified place to call home, and the things they need, while they rebuild their lives. Also the best: Completing a Care Day, with all the pieces coming together perfectly.
What I’m working on right now: I am visiting homeless continuum-of-care service providers around Atlanta in search of good one- or two-day HomeAid Care Day projects. We're also gearing up for our Essentials Drive, an Atlanta-area effort to collect diapers, wipes, baby food, and formula for homeless families. (We encourage companies and organizations to participate by holding a drive at their locations!)
One way HomeAid supports me: One amazing perk is the flexibility to work from home when our physical presence is not needed. Because our files are in the cloud, we can do all of our work from home. This can be a life-saver for working mothers. I often think about mothers who risk becoming unemployed to stay home with a sick child. This is a major issue in America today: Some families find themselves at the shelters that HomeAid has built or assisted because childcare issues have lead to job loss. Because so many people live paycheck-to-paycheck, flexible scheduling is a great way employers can help protect people from falling into homelessness, while generating greater employee loyalty and long-term retention rates.
HomeAid Atlanta builds and renovates housing facilities for organizations serving homeless families and individuals in the metro Atlanta area across the entire continuum of care, from emergency shelters to transitional housing, as well as any services that help residents move toward self-sufficiency. Visit their web page for more information, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
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