Photo by Nanci Hutson.
Originally Published: May 19, 2016 6:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT – Heidi Hart-Laird knows the power of compassion.
Struggling with addiction issues and the temporary loss of custody of her five children four years ago, Heidi witnessed true compassion from staff and volunteers at the Coalition for Compassion and Justice.
CCJ’s 2015 ANNUAL STATISTICS
Clients visits: 33,417; more than 15 percent increase over the prior year
Individual homeless: 671
Individual seniors: 272
Hot meals: 29,199
Pantry bags: 18,515
Pet food: 2,826
Weekend family food: Bags for 333 families in six participating preschools in western Yavapai County
Thrift store: Provided more than $38,000 in household goods through the voucher program
Home repair: 101 homes in six area towns
Diaper drive: 2,895 diapers
Fair Start: 1,349 children were provided backpacks filled with school supplies
Family Christmas: Served 1,290 children and 300 adults
At CCJ’s inaugural luncheon for donors and supporters at the Prescott Resort & Conference Center on May 10, clients, volunteers and staff testified to how this 16-year-old, grassroots, non-profit agency is changing lives.
In Heidi’s case, CCJ’s staff and volunteers not only lifted her up in multiple times of need, but steadfastly embraced her as an Open Door volunteer.
Open Door is at the heart of
CCJ’s mission, providing not only daily meals but assisting with meeting basic needs, including emergency vouchers and weekend food for Head Start students. Open Door also connects people with other agency programs as well as referrals to other local services, including emergency shelter.
Heidi found she was able to connect with the clients because she said she bears her own “battle scars.”
With the support of CCJ, Hart-Laird said she kept “climbing my mountain, and I got to the other side.”
Tom Miller was homeless, camping wherever he could find a spot when he met CCJ Executive Director Paul Mitchell at the Salvation Army’s “Operation Deep Freeze”
emergency shelter this past winter.
A one-time successful food service manager, Miller described a series of setbacks that he said led him to such despair he contemplated suicide.
Then Mitchell offered him a second chance – safe shelter in a donated recreation vehicle housed in a local mobile home park. CCJ calls this fledgling program, “Second Chance Housing,” that to date has repurposed four donated recreation vehicles for homeless individuals and families. A fifth is now being refurbished and Mitchell expects to have three more available by the end of the year.
“CCJ pretty much turned my life around,” Miller said.
Beyond the statistics are real people with real challenges, CCJ leaders said. So the staff and volunteers’ mission is to meet those needs on a person-to-person basis, whether it is serving someone a hot meal, employing someone at the agency thrift store or giving a family books to read to their children at bedtime, they said.
CCJ founder and Special Projects Director Diane Iverson lived the plight of impoverished single mothers: a constant tug-of-war between working enough to keep the children fed, clothed and housed but still having time to help with homework, take them to baseball practice and kiss them goodnight.
“There is a poverty of love and compassion in the world,” Iverson said. “So if you have one person who sees you and cares about you, it can make such a big difference. Every person I work with is a human being, a sacred person in the eyes of God and deserving of respect.”
Twelve year volunteer-turned-staff member Sharon Anderson said she quickly found this work to be contagious. From her start at the Open Door, she was surrounded by staff and volunteers committed to “making a difference in people’s lives and making a difference in our community.”
“They taught me how to be compassionate,” she said.
Operations Director Temmy Bowler shared the story of a mother with four children abandoned by her husband who arrived at the Open Door so frazzled she could not take another step. Then there was a homeless veteran in Chino Valley attacked in his campsite by a bobcat. In both cases, CCJ was able to find them a place to go.
In 2015, CCJ’s Open Door served 2,727 individual clients.
“No one comes to CCJ if they don’t need help,” Bowler said.
To finance this work, CCJ leaders, clients and volunteers asked their guests to consider multi-year pledges. The Margaret T. Morris and JW Kieckhefer Foundation have offered 2-1 match of all fundraising dollars this year up to $175,000.
Mitchell said the appeal was so successful that he is confident the agency will meet the match. The agency received 116 multi-year pledges in amounts enough to meet one-third of the coming year’s budget, Mitchell said.
CCJ’s annual operating budget is about $520,000, 65 percent of which comes from individual donations. The remainder is corporate donors, foundations and other private charity grants.
Disabled client Jeff Steffley was clear CCJ’s mission is all about reaching out to those who need it most.
“Nobody knows what they’re going to be given the next hour, or the next day,” he said.