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story.lead_photo.caption Our House Executive Director Ben Goodwin (left) and Our House founding board President Henry Tuck discuss the growth of the organization over its 30 years during a lunch Tuesday at the organization’s anniversary celebration. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

A little over a month after he took the helm as the new executive director of the Little Rock homeless shelter Our House, Ben Goodwin told a group of supporters Tuesday that the founding vision of the organization remains unfilled.

"Homelessness has not been eliminated in our community. Far from it, in fact," Goodwin said. "We can all see with our own eyes that homelessness remains a consistent problem in Little Rock. And yet, we only see the tip of the iceberg."

Our House was established 30 years ago under founding director Joe Flaherty. Each year, more than 1,600 people are given a long-term, temporary home and receive assistance and training through the organization's programming that helps families build new lives and prevent future homelessness.

The program has become a leading national model that is touted for its success in leading the homeless to jobs and homes. Still, Goodwin said, overwhelming community needs remain and Our House is vital to answering those needs.

"As we go about our daily lives, we only see a fraction of the adults who are willing and able to work, but who can't meet the needs of their children and themselves," Goodwin said. "We see almost none of the hundreds of children who have experienced the trauma of not knowing where they'll live from one week to the next or what school they'll attend from one week to the next. In the spirit of our founders, we are studying these issues in our community and determining how we will respond."

Goodwin, who was unanimously appointed by the board in mid-September to fill the shoes of departing longtime executive director Georgia Mjartan, announced the board of directors is working with him and the staff to develop a strategic plan for the next five years.

He said four objectives are guiding the process:

• Measuring the organization's impact,

• Growing the community of support,

• Preserving the shelter's positive culture, and

• Maintaining the deep respect for Our House clients.

"We are convinced in the power of measurable impacts," Our House lead case manager Chris Ramsey said. "We help our families because we're willing to take a hard, honest look at ourselves by analyzing the hard data. We don't just accept the grant money and say, 'We'll do whatever.' We get our data and we analyze it. We spend time four, five times a year trying to figure out how we can improve it. And if we know we can do better, we do better."

Goodwin added that while the group will measure the impacts of their programs -- such as helping clients get jobs, save money, move into housing and succeed in school -- the board and staff are committed to measuring the needs that the organization is unable to fill.

"In this month of November, we're tracking the number and details of everyone who knocks on our door, but for whom we have to say, 'We actually don't have a bed for you today,' " Goodwin said. "We want to find out more about the needs in the community. I've been having conversations with our partners in our community to learn more about this unmet need and what role Our House can play to meet that and to serve even more people."

Future growth and renovation must be grounded "in evidence that it's working and changing people's lives," Goodwin said.

Our House client Lindsey Fizer told the group that the shelter not only saved her life, but also affected the future for her two small children. About two years ago, Fizer went to Our House after escaping a bad marriage. Since that time she has maintained employment, built a significant savings account and has moved into her own home. Fizer and her children continue to participate in the shelter's classes and events.

"I couldn't have made a better decision. Everyone has shown me so much love," Fizer said. "No one could look at my face and tell that I lived in a homeless shelter. I didn't feel homeless, because that's how Our House made you feel. You feel like family."

Goodwin pointed to Fizer as an example of the ripple effects Our House can have for generations to come.

"It's truly staggering. It was a great honor for me to be chosen as executive director for Our House, but I know that it comes with tremendous responsibility. I am in charge of ensuring that this wonderful thing that began 30 years ago has grown and strengthened through the contributions of thousands of people endures," Goodwin said.

"I have a responsibility to be sure, but I also have to prepare for the thousands of people who will knock on our doors in the coming years for our help; that our programs will continue to grow and strengthen so that we make the most of each opportunity we have to change a life for the better. And that our community will benefit by the contribution of thousands of people like Lindsey, who have so much to contribute, so much to teach us, but who just need a little help, a little encouragement and a hand up to achieve their dreams."

Photo by Benjamin Krain
Our House staff members Elanie French and Arnie Shilling plant one of 30 trees across the Our House campus Tuesday during the organization’s 30th anniversary event. The trees represent a symbolic and literal investment in the next 30 years of Our House’s work providing a pathway out of homelessness for central Arkansas families and individuals.

State Desk on 11/08/2017

Print Headline: Shelter's new director lays out five-year goal

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