Seventeen United Way loaned executives embarked on a two-day journey earlier this week to explore the world of poverty in the Columbus community.
The participants, who traveled on a Columbus State University bus, included leaders from such companies as TSYS, Aflac, Synovous, Columbus Water Works, Liberty Utilities and Anthem.
Altogether they are responsible for raising 70 percent of the 2017 United Way goal. The campaign kicks off 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the loaned executives toured several United Way agencies for a better understanding of services available in the community. Agencies they visited Wednesday included Open Door Community House, Homeless Resource Network, Mercy Med and Feeding the Valley.
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“Open Door has been serving this community since 1935,” said the agency’s Executive Director Kim Jenkins as the group visited the Second Avenue facility. “We have always served along this corridor. ... All of our programs are designed to help people who live in poverty, and/or experiencing homelessness, truly be able to move beyond that.”
Jenkins recommended the group read a book called “Toxic Charity,” which focuses on ways to effectively address poverty. She said it provides a model that Open Door has used for several years.
“It’s an investment of time, it’s an investment of personal energy, as you build relationships with people, versus being more of a handout kind of program,” she explained.
Following that introduction, the executives broke into two groups and toured the grounds with Jenkins and India Smith, Circles of Columbus coordinator, serving as their guides. Stops along the way included Matthew’s Promise Academy, the agency’s after school and full-day summer program; a new music room with instruments to develop young talent; a homeless showering program and a transitional home for women.
Ralph King, community marketing manager for Liberty Utilities, said he has volunteered for a social service agency in the past. He was particularly impressed with the homeless showering facility, which included six shower rooms, hygiene items, towels, washcloths, along with employment counseling.
“I’ve always been concerned because I travel Second Avenue and I see them,” he said of homeless people in the area. “I’m just thankful that this is available for people who have no other means. I’ve often wondered what they did to cleanse themselves and get themselves prepared for interviews and things of that nature.
“This is Jesus in action right here,” he added. “That’s what I love about it.”
After the Open Door tour, the group walked over to the Homeless Resource Network, where they were greeted by Executive Director Liz Dillard.
“Unfortunately our community is experiencing more poverty than we have in the past; we’re going in the wrong direction with that,” she said. And poverty is the best indicator of homelessness. So I really appreciate you doing this work, raising these funds and working in the community, because it does make a difference.”
Dillard said homelessness affects all walks of life, and she’s had people with master’s degrees come to her program.
“In our office, we see people who have experienced incredible trauma,” she said. “The trauma of becoming homeless is real and true. ... Most people have had multiple other traumas — the trauma of divorce that caused them to lose their home, or their job loss, or their mental health, or the abuse they suffered as a child and were never really able to recover from.”
The Homeless Resource Network is not a shelter, Dillard explained, but a resource for people who need services. In addition to publishing a “Street Beat” pocket-sized guide to emergency services, the organization also offers referrals, telephone and mail services, storage, assistance obtaining identification and other services.
James Jordan was one of the loaned executives on the tour. He works for a nonprofit organization called Operation Hope, which is working with Synovous to bring free financial counseling to Columbus. After visiting the United Way agencies, Jordan said he was pleased with work being done in the community.
“My biggest surprise is how closely related all the nonprofits are in Columbus,” he said. “They all rely on each other. They often refer to each other, they just really have a close partnership, and United Way is the glue that holds them all together.”
- Ms. Matt Bell, Muscogee County Schools
- Ms. Jessica Burnett, Muscogee County Schools
- Ms. Becky Butts, Columbus Water Works
- Ms. Meagan Corcoran, Columbus State University
- Ms. Monica Echols, Community Volunteer
- Ms. Bronwyn Hughes, Synovus
- Ms. Dawn Jenkins, Muscogee County Schools
- Mr. James Jordan, Operation HOPE
- Mr. Ralph King, Liberty Utilities
- Ms. Tina Lamb, Aflac
- Ms. Cortney Laughlin, Brookstone Schools
- Mr. Andy Norris, Synovus
- Mr. Nixon Patterson, Columbus Consolidated Government
- Mr. Kevin Peoples, Columbus Technical College
- Mr. Alan Ross, Anthem
- Mr. Playol Shipply, TSYS
- Ms. Lauren Vance, Columbus Consolidated Government
- Ms. Erica Walker, TSYS