April marks 7 years for me as Executive Director here at Benjamin's House…WOW!
When I began here we were just 4 years old as a nonprofit and still fairly “new” in the community. We had 7 employees and a budget of approximately $250,000.
As we often say when we look back...where did the time go? While it seems like I just started a few short years ago, I know where my time has gone…
My time has been spent understanding poverty and the many facets that contribute to a person’s life choices and ultimately their homelessness.
My time has been spent learning about trauma and how people are fragile and can be so damaged that it takes a lot of work to pick up the pieces and start over.
My time has been spent seeing mothers reunified with their children, seeing a young man receive his one-year sobriety pin, and seeing a family find a home that is safe and warm.
My time has been spent learning how to lead a team of devoted employees who are committed to helping make a difference in so many lives.
My time has been spent getting to know the people of our community and that we have some of the most generous and kind people living amongst us.
My time has been spent working with a dedicated board of directors who volunteer their time to make sure that we are following our mission and growing to meet the needs of all those we serve.
My time has been spent doing fundraisers and events to help raise awareness of our organization and bring our community together for a cause.
My time has been spent seeing success and failure. Having good days and bad. Wanting to give up and never wanting to fail.
Today we have had our doors open for 11 years. We have grown to a staff of 11 employees and our budget has gone up to $500,000 with added programs and additional assistance.
I am humbled by what we, the board, my staff, the community, and myself, have built and I am so proud to be a part of this amazing organization creating kindness in our community!
From day to day there are things that many of us take for granted, I myself am just as guilty as the next person. As the case worker for our Continued Care Program, I have the pleasure of working with individuals who are looking to resolve personal issues in order to help them become self-sufficient and avoid repeat homelessness. This week when I was meeting with a participant we were discussing their personal budget, and ensuring that all of their bills are getting paid. As we looked at their budget, the participant says, with a smile on their face, “I never knew it would be exciting to get a bill in the mail and pay it”. A task most people dread was a task that this individual was proud of and now enjoys. Paying a bill gives them a sense of ownership and excitement. This really put things into a new perspective for me. As I pay my bills each month I am now grateful for what I have and don’t see this as a pain but rather something I GET to do because I am lucky to have a home and I am taking care of my family and myself.
Author, Rebecca Johnston, Continued Care Program Case Manager
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love gathering with family and friends and enjoying time together...talking, laughing and the feeling of comfort of being with those I love.
I remember as a teenager going to help serve food at a soup kitchen in downtown Minneapolis one Thanksgiving. I remember the many faces of those who were there to enjoy a warm meal and thinking "these people are homeless" and that made them strange and different than me. I remember my sisters and mother and I leaving after our two hour shift and talking about how good it made us feel to help those "poor" people as we went home to our cozy house and extravegent meal with our extended family. I don't remember talking in length about the people we served and if we were thinking about what made them feel good. I remember the impact of that day lasted until the next day when I was then consumed with plans for the upcoming Christmas holiday and thoughts of "those people" were far from my mind.
As I recall this memory, I think of the many residents currently living at the shelter and wonder who thinks of them? While we have many volunteers who bring in meals and gifts is this a fleeting memory just as mine was so many years ago? While giving to those in need is so very important are we doing it just to feel good for ourselves or are we doing it to ensure those we serve feel loved and important?
Having served as the director at the shelter for over six years now, my mindset has shifted and my understanding of the "homeless" is more clear. I have learned it is not "those poor people" but that the individuals we see come through our doors are no different than you or me. They have children and parents, they have hopes and dreams, they are looking to be a part of our community. I have learned that volunteering my time to do something for someone in need does feel good for me but that I need to be thinking about what makes those we serve feel good as well. Taking the time to ask questions and truly engage, taking the time to make connections and understand that so many people just want to know that someone cares...the same things I want to feel. I have also learned that the needs of our residents continue well beyond this time of year. Their need for acceptance and love go beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas and these needs should not be forgotten once the season of giving is over.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my family and friends, my health and my home. I am thankful for my job, for the amazing resource the shelter offers and for the amazing support of our community. I am also thankful for the opportunity to share my stories with others about the work we do and hope that it makes an impact. I hope to create new understandings so we can all work together for a better community and a better life for everyone!
Author, Lori Zahrbock, Executive Director
As a staff member at Benjamin's House I find myself appreciating that I am able to help my kids in their understanding of the homeless population. Sometimes when I am working my family may stop by and and my children are able to meet the residents and realize that being homeless doesn't make people any different then you or me, the only difference is where we call home. They get to see that there are people from all different backgrounds and circumstances. By my kids seeing me get up and go to work to help people, they themselves are introduced to kindness, empathy, and the goodwill of mankind. I am proud of where I work, and the wonderful people I get to work with. I think it's important to have our youth reach out and volunteer and be a part of their community, the fortunate and unfortunate alike. People don't often think about how their job as a parent affects your children but it does. My kids see where I work and what I do and I explain to them why I am thankful that I get the opportunity to make a difference and how they can too!
Author, Staci Hilden, Program Assistant
Some nights it is hard to sleep. Some weeks last forever. Some days we feel helpless.
Sometimes the stories we hear and the emotional outbursts we see can be so overwhelming it is difficult to comprehend. Listening as a man tells about how he was drugged and trafficked for money by his family members. Listening to a small child cry as they tell you about watching their mother being choked by their father. Listening to a woman talk about the continued sexual assault she suffered from age 12-14. These are a few of the hundreds of stories we hear. Every story is unique and individual and shockingly sad.
Hearing these stories can make you angry. Where was someone to protect them when they were children? How can a parent or trusted adult do such horrific things? Why would someone want to hurt someone so helpless?
We will never claim to understand the trauma and pain so many of our residents suffer. We will never tell someone to pull up their boot straps and move on. We will never treat someone poorly because they react inappropriately. Everyone has a story we know nothing about.
I have been at Benjamin’s House for over 6 years and I have now been here longer than any Executive Director to date. Recently, someone asked me what has made my experience different from those before me…what made it stick for me?
My response...realizing that I need to help. I need to be part of the solution for those who have not been as fortunate as me. Realizing that I was blessed with parents who loved and protected me as a child so I wouldn’t suffer from these traumas many of our residents have experienced. Realizing that I grew up not worrying about whether I would eat that day or have a safe place to sleep that night. Realizing that the world is so much bigger than I ever imagined. Everyone has small traumas throughout our childhoods and even as adults. However, studies show that there are 10 dominant traumas that can truly impact a child throughout their development and into adulthood. These experiences can include things like physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, and household violence. These traumas are so extreme that they change the way a child thinks and understands the world and consequently then it affects how they learn to react.
Homelessness is a trauma. When someone realizes they may not have a safe place to sleep at night it can cause great fear and anxiety. By providing shelter we are able to relieve some of that traumatic fear and anxiety. By providing shelter we are able to allow for a time to feel safe and protected. By providing shelter we are showing a fellow human being kindness and care.
At Benjamin’s House, we are more than a place to lay your head. We are more than a place to get a warm meal. We are a haven of safety, recovery, and compassion and we are here because we can help.
Author, Lori Zahrbock, Executive Director
The Benji House Blog is made up of various experiences and insights from the staff and volunteers at the shelter. It is our hope that personal tales of what we all see and feel will help our community and world be a understand and allow compassion for those who need us the most.