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In this compilation episode, we put Brian Marsh, President & CEO of Goodwill Industries of Arkansas, as well as Georgia Mjartan, former director of Our House in the spotlight.
Brian Marsh has led Goodwill® Industries of Arkansas to more than 40 locations serving the state of Arkansas, and in fiscal year 2018 provided services to 19,247 individuals and placed 6,375 people in employment. Goodwill also opened the Excel Center® at Goodwill, the first adult high school in the state of Arkansas in October of 2017.
Georgia Mjartan was asked to take over Our House, Little Rock’s primary homeless shelter, in 2005, she walked into a flood-damaged building that was even more under water financially. Now, Mjartan had breathed new life into the organization, which serves 1,000 people a year and operates an innovative, 20,000-square foot youth center that has served as a model for homeless shelters and programs in 39 other states.
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Kerry's original interview with Brian Marsh
Kerry's original interview with Georgia Mjartan
[00:00:09] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk taking and the commonalities of successful people. Connect with Kerry through her candid, often funny and always informative weekly blog. There you'll read, learn and may comment about her life as a 21st century wife, mother, daughter and entrepreneur.
[00:00:38] TM: This week on Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, let's get into the spirit of the giving season. We'll revisit Kerry's conversations with two special guests, Georgia Mjartan, the former Executive Director of Our House, the homeless shelter in Little Rock. And Brian Marsh, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Arkansas.
You'll be able to learn how these organizations are solving problems at the root of poverty and homelessness by creating jobs, providing childcare and teaching skills that improve the lives of Arkansans all across our state. It's always helpful to get a little personality sketch of each one of our guests when we do these compilations shows Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. So, let's start with Georgia Mjartan from Our House.
[00:01:23] KM: In 2005, Georgia walked into Our House and began instantly to breathe new life into the organization and its grounds. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. She has been recognized nationally as Southerner of the Year, locally as The Nonprofit Executive of the Year and under her guidance, Our House was named Organization of the Year in 2015.
Her unique approach to homelessness has garnered her national recognition as A Model Program. So much so that other states come for tours of Our House and learned firsthand from Georgia as she passionately shows them around and shares her knowledge, which I have done her tours, and they are passionate.
Georgia’s organizational skills and management styles has attracted investors from as national recognitions of WK Kellogg Foundation and many other state and national funders. From the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she holds bachelor degrees in both English and Political Science, from the University of Ulster in the UK, a master’s degree in Public Affairs and Political Communications. A Post Graduate Diploma from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and was awarded a Fannie May fellowship to attend Harvard’s Senior Executive States and Local Government Program. Georgia was one of only 12 Americans awarded to George J. Mitchel Scholarship for graduate study on the island of Ireland. In addition, Georgia is a wife and on my last count, a mother of three.
[00:03:03] GM: You got it.
[00:03:05] KM: It is an honor and a privilege to welcome my friend, Georgia to the table. Hey, Georgia.
[00:03:11] GM: Hey, Kerry.
[00:03:12] KM: You must be exhausted.
[00:03:14] GM: I feel good.
[00:03:16] KM: See how she is? All right, we’ve got a ton to talk about today. I want to talk about – I mean, there’s your education, I mean, it’s crazy. I’m dying to hear about your Ireland experience, I’ve always want to ask you about that, and I never have. I want you to tell me what this island of Ireland graduate study was and what it did for you and what you learned?
[00:03:35] GM: There was this amazing opportunity where I got to apply for the big three international scholarship so the Rhodes, the Marshall and the Mitchell. And to anyone listening who has kids in college or to young people who are thinking about what graduate school might look like for them, I really encourage people to think beyond the bounds of the United States. Because what an amazing and just mind-opening experience it is to go and get a graduate degree abroad.
There are these big three that colleges usually can only nominate one person to apply and just my deepest gratitude to UALR who funded my undergraduate education through the Donaghey Scholars Program and really lifted me up as their nominee for all three of these opportunities.
I got an automatic rejection letter from the Marshall Scholarship which would have allowed me graduate school anywhere in the British Isles so not Northern Ireland and not Southern Ireland. It was just like, “Nope, sorry” but I made it into the running for the George Mitchell scholarship and the Rhodes scholarship which obviously everyone’s heard of the Rhodes scholarship.
I actually got all the way to the end of that process was offered the Mitchell scholarship and withdrew from the Rhodes scholarship, kind of turn them down because here was this amazing chance to go and study anywhere on the island of Ireland, meaning they’re Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, which was my choice for the interest that it brought to me. And that there was just five years out of the troubles, right?
[00:05:06] KM: Tell us what those trouble are.
[00:05:06] GM: Yeah, just this long history of conflict between the protestants and the Catholics, between the people who supported being unified with England and the United Kingdom and those who wanted to unify with the Republic of Ireland.
So, you know, I took this opportunity, said, “I want to go study in a school right outside of Belfast,” five years after the peace accords, which as an Arkansan, going there was just this incredible thing because Bill Clinton has an amazing reputation in Northern Ireland as the president who helped bring to bear the brokerage of the peace accords. I got all these just lovely –
[00:05:43] KM: Accolades.
[00:05:44] GM: Because I was from Arkansas.
[00:05:45] KM: And you probably know Bill.
[00:05:47] GM: I do. I went to girl scouts of Chelsey, right down the street from here, that’s true. It was just this amazing experience.
[00:05:55] KM: You didn’t actually work on the peace accord yourself? You got there afterwards.
[00:05:59] GM: I did not. I got there five years after. Yeah, and just got to go and do my studies and do some policy work as well.
[00:06:06] KM: It really expanded your horizon. You’re an intellect. You could have gone to school anywhere and you chose to go to UALR right here in Little Rock Arkansas where you were raised. Why is that?
[00:06:13] GM: Best decision I ever made for a lot of reasons. One of them and the reason I can honestly say best decision is because it’s where I met my husband, Dominic Mjartan and the big smile on your face because you know that we’ve been together now for 18 years since we were kids in college. But beyond meeting the love of my life, it’s a place where the people who are teaching from the front of the room are not graduate assistants. They are full faculty members.
They are there because they love the students and they love sharing their knowledge and really working hands-on on projects with the students. It’s not all about research for them. While UALR does amazing research and is embedded in the community helping to studies that relate back to our home community, at the end of the day, it’s a place that loves and cares for its students.
A non-traditional population. A very different group of people that were in my classes, for sure.
[00:07:10] KM: Yes, from executives from downtown like me who went down there on lunch to go learn some new classes. And then all the way down to kids your age, or they’re meeting the love of their life.
[00:07:21] GM: Right. I was 18, you know, going to school with an international student from Slovakia who is also part of the Donaghey Scholars Program and across the way was my mother getting her master’s degree in social work all at the same time. All at the same time.
[00:07:33] KM: Exactly. Exactly. I love that. That’s one thing I do love about UALR which I think is now called UA of Little Rock.
[00:07:40] GM: So I heard.
[00:07:40] TM: Now, let's meet Brian Marsh, our other guest on the program this week. He's from Goodwill Industries.
[00:07:47] KM: You may be thinking, “Isn’t that the place I take my used belongings after spring cleaning?” Yes, it is, but it is so much more. Last year, I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Marsh speak about the efficiencies of Goodwill and knew I had to have him on the radio to tell us more. Their mission since its inception in 1902 has changing lives through education, training and employment. I had no idea.
In 2017, Goodwill opened Arkansas’ first adult high school called Excel Center. In 2018, they provided services to almost 20,000 Arkansans and placed over 6,000 people in employment. In 2019, they held their first class on mental health training. Something we need today that people don’t like to talk about. I love it.
Brian brought his talents to Arkansas from Denver, Colorado in 2013. Since then, he has moved up the success ladder eventually becoming the president and CEO of Goodwill industries with over 40 locations across Arkansas. I really liked listening to Brian, because first and foremost, he’s a businessman who speaks in equitable terms about his goals and accomplishments on some of the toughest social issues we face; lack of education, generational poverty, reintegrating veterans, starting over after incarceration.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to welcome to the table the smart, hardworking and superb leader, Mr. Brian Marsh.
[00:09:18] BM: Thank you very much, Kerry.
[00:09:19] KM: Where were you born?
[00:09:20] BM: I was born in Buchanan, Michigan. My wife and I met in calculus class at Mississippi state. I am a son of an Arkansas native. My mother was born in Batesville. My mother was a migrant worker until she was 13, and they used to go from Arkansas to Michigan following crops.
[00:09:42] KM: A share cropper?
[00:09:43] BM: No. They were migrant workers. They would pick cotton and beans and move all the way to Michigan picking fruit at the end of the season. So they would follow the harvest.
[00:09:53] KM: Oh, they would migrate.
[00:09:53] BM: And they would migrate up and then come back to Arkansas, and they stayed. My grandfather went to work in a factory in Michigan and my dad and mom met. They were from two farm towns close to each other. Graduated high school. My mother made sure that I went to college. My sister and I both had that opportunity. The dad’s family is a hardworking farming family. They had an agricultural trucking company, and the opportunity was to drive a truck. So, he said he would cosign on a truck and my mother put her foot down very soundly and said, “No. I was going to go to college,” and I’m glad she did, because she put me on the track that I’m on today.
[00:10:37] KM: I bet you drove a truck in the summer.
[00:10:39] BM: I learned how to drive a truck at 13. I could drive a tractor much younger than that.
[00:10:46] KM: So, did you grow up in Batesville?
[00:10:48] BM: No. I grew up in Michigan.
[00:10:50] KM: Yeah, I kind of got lost there. So your grandfather is from Michigan?
[00:10:54] BM: My mother is from Batesville. And then she moved to Michigan at 13.
[00:10:56] KM: There you go. Okay. I get it.
[00:10:58] BM: Yes.
[00:10:59] KM: So you never lived in Arkansas.
[00:11:01] BM: Never lived in Arkansas. Always came to Arkansas. Again, when we had the opportunity, my wife and I got married after college at Mississippi State, and we’ve moved around the country and the opportunity to leave – We’re working in Denver when the opportunity came to come to Goodwill of Arkansas.
[00:11:19] KM: Yeah. Let’s talk about you living in Denver. What did you do in Denver, Colorado?
[00:11:22] BM: I ran the emission testing for the State of Colorado.
[00:11:25] KM: How many employees did you have?
[00:11:27] BM: In Colorado, we tested about 1.2 million cars a year. We had 18 stations, and we were about a $30 million operation.
[00:11:37] KM: What’s your degree? MBA?
[00:11:40] BM: Mechanical engineering. I started in engineering out of college, and I had worked at a number of different companies and I was working for a gentleman at Black & Decker in Hampstead, Maryland, and the opportunity came to move that operation to Charlotte. I moved it to Charlotte as the project manager, and when we started the operation in Charlotte –
[00:12:02] KM: How old were you then?
[00:12:04] BM: Oh, goodness! Jonathan was a year old when we moved from Michigan the first time. He’s my youngest. It would have been four. So I would have been –
[00:12:14] KM: 26? 27?
[00:12:15] BM: 32
[00:12:17] KM: 32. So, okay, that’s a good age to move. You moved to Charlotte at 32. I can see how you would get that much responsibility. You’re past 30. Once you get past 30, people start looking at you a little different. All right. So you’ve moved to Charlotte.
[00:12:29] BM: And I was the business team manager for Black & Decker. We did all of the accessories packaging for all of Black & Decker power tools and we did in the Charlotte location, and we would cycle twice a year with a number of people that we had as employees.
[00:12:47] KM: How long did you stay at that job?
[00:12:49] BM: I was there for 2 years.
[00:12:51] KM: And then a job came up in Denver, Colorado?
[00:12:53] BM: No. Then a job came up Dallas, Texas.
[00:12:56] KM: So you’re not afraid to move where the money is.
[00:12:59] BM: Well, actually, I moved where the opportunity is.
[00:13:01] KM: Whatever you want to say.
[00:13:03] BM: I would get phone calls from people who either knew me or knew of me and they would ask me to come and work and they would have an issue. I went to Texas to work for a company that was in telecom right as the telecom crash was happening. It was because they were in dire need of improving their operations.
[00:13:25] KM: So they were breaking up mobile?
[00:13:28] BM: No. We were actually a contract manufacturer making base stations for cellphone towers. So we were a contractor to Motorola, Ericsson and other companies that did the phone systems.
[00:13:41] KM: So your work I think is becoming known across the south. Now, how did you – So you’re in Texas. Now, how long did you stay there?
[00:13:46] BM: We were in Texas for two years.
[00:13:48] KM: So your kids hate you. Let’s just go ahead and say that. You keep moving them around.
[00:13:51] BM: At Black & Decker, we were on the 50 state in 50-year plan, and they hated family meetings. When we would call a family meeting, they’re like, “The moving trucks are coming.”
[00:14:02] KM: Oh!
[00:14:04] BM: So they’ve moved around. My son is – My oldest is an engineer. He works in the Dallas area. My daughter is a medical physicist going through her residency right now in Houston, and my youngest is starting at Euler as data analyst.
[00:14:23] KM: They’ve got your work ethic.
[00:14:24] BM: Yes, they do.
[00:14:25] KM: So, now you’re in Texas, and you get an offer to Denver?
[00:14:30] BM: Then I got an offer to run a lost phone foundry for Bombardier.
[00:14:33] KM: Where is that?
[00:14:34] BM: That is in the mountains in North Carolina. So, we’re between Ashville and Boone, and we lived there for two years. They were in a situation where they needed to repair some relationships, but also the operation needed a lot of help. It was not efficient and it wasn’t effective and they’re having major issues in competing with Yamaha, and with Suzuki and with MerCruiser. So, it was Bombardier.
[00:15:07] KM: So, you’re practically doing business MBA work now even though you’re a mechanical engineer.
[00:15:13] BM: Yes.
[00:15:14] KM: So how long did you stay there?
[00:15:16] BM: We were there about two years, the trend.
[00:15:18] KM: That seems to be the trend.
[00:15:19] BM: And then we moved to Dallas. And then Dallas –
[00:15:22] KM: Back to Texas.
[00:15:22] BM: Back to Texas. I worked for an eyeglass company, and we made – It was SLR. They’re the largest manufacturer of lenses in the world.
[00:15:32] KM: I read this online. How many pair of glasses do they make a day?
[00:15:34] BM: 60,000 pairs of glasses a day in the U.S.
[00:15:37] KM: A day.
[00:15:38] BM: In the U.S.
[00:15:39] KM: That’s a lot of people buying glasses. I have no idea there was even a demand for that.
[00:15:45] BM: Great technology. I went in and I interviewed for a job and I was told by the manager that I wasn’t getting it, but he wanted to offer me another job. I asked, “Okay. Can I see the job description?” He says, “I’m writing it.” He sent me the job description, and it was basically very close to my resume just as requirements.
I did operations development. So, there were over 140 laboratories that would make the lenses, and they picked the worst 10, the worst 10 performers, and I led a cross-functional team in to evaluate why they were not performing any better. Worked with them on developing the plan to turn it around. So, you always go into the worst. You don’t want to be the best and you don’t want to be the worst. If you’re the best, people want to come study you. If you’re the worst, people want to help. So, I was that individual who is from corporate, and I’m here to help.
[00:16:45] KM: You’re a good listener. If you can go to a company – I don’t even know you that well. But if you can go into a company and turn it around, that means you’re a good listener. He’s nodding. It’s radio, Brian.
I went and Googled Goodwill, and is it a charity? Is it a nonprofit? Is it a business?
[00:17:05] BM: Yes, all of those.
[00:17:07] KM: All of those?
[00:17:07] BM: We are a non for profit organization. We’re run like a business. We have to be. In order to provide the mission, we have to be very effective in our business operations. We operate, as you mentioned, over 40 locations across the state. We take gently used goods that are donated to us.
[00:17:27] KM: Gently used.
[00:17:27] BM: And we turn those into opportunities for individuals to get training, education and jobs.
[00:17:34] KM: That is exactly what the founder did in Boston in 1902.
[00:17:38] BM: Yes. Dr. Helms saw the need and the opportunity to provide opportunities for individuals. And so, what he did was it was the power of work. It wasn’t a hand out. It was a hand up. And so, we work at not giving people anything other than the opportunity to make the most of their life and to do what they need to do. So, when you donate, you’re really helping change lives.
[00:18:03] KM: Yes. You’re not just giving somebody a shirt.
[00:18:06] BM: No.
[00:18:06] KM: You’ve giving somebody education.
[00:18:09] BM: Yes, a chance.
[00:18:11] KM: A chance. I read where Reverent Helm originally started in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a Methodist preacher and he took used clothes and he had unemployed women, maybe men too. I don’t know, come and saw and repair these clothes.
[00:18:29] BM: Yes, and furniture.
[00:18:31] KM: Oh, and furniture.
[00:18:32] BM: And then sold that to pay them for the work they were doing.
[00:18:35] KM: That’s exactly what you’re doing today.
[00:18:37] BM: It is. It’s very close to what we’re doing. What people don’t understand is, first of all, 96% of our revenue comes from the sale of donated goods, and the good that are donated in Arkansas are sold and the money stays in Arkansas. So, they go to help people in Arkansas change their life.
[00:18:56] KM: And though they’re not mending clothes, they’re cleaning them up. They’re prepping them. They’re putting them out for sale. They’re pricing them. They’re hanging them on racks. They’re retailing them, which is a different way of doing it a little bit, but it’s basically the same thing.
[00:19:08] BM: We have a thousand employees almost in the State of Arkansas. I had the opportunity to come in as the chief operating officer. Join the organization in 2013 as a chief operating officer, and it was really – We’re a very well-run organization. We are one of the Goodwills that is doing it right, and we went through a great tremendous growth, and that was because when our previous CEO got here, we only had a couple of stores.
[00:19:38] KM: You’re talking about in Arkansas.
[00:19:39] BM: In Arkansas. Here in Arkansas. So, the ground was fertile. So we ended up opening a number of stores in the state. I took the helm officially in November of 2017 as the president and CEO, and we’re focused not as much on opening new stores, as improving our operations. So we’re doing Lean Sigma. We’re doing kaizen events.
[00:20:04] KM: You’re doing what?
[00:20:05] BM: Kaizen events.
[00:20:06] KM: What was the one you said right before that?
[00:20:06] BM: Lean sigma.
[00:20:08] KM: I don’t know what either one of those are.
[00:20:10] BM: That is going in and continuous improvement.
[00:20:13] KM: Lean –
[00:20:13] BM: Lean sigma.
[00:20:14] KM: Sigma.
[00:20:15] BM: So, it’s six Sigma, which is data-based. So, we’re trying to improve things by measuring and ensuring that we’re improving. So, we do kaizen, which is a Japanese word for change for good, and it is done in the Toyota production system. So, Toyota really made a lot of inroads in this with John Deming back in – I think it was the 70s, early 70s, and that’s when Toyota changed from being a very poorly made, very cheap, very high-maintenance.
[00:20:50] KM: Bur affordable.
[00:20:50] BM: But affordable.
[00:20:52] KM: Inexpensive.
[00:20:53] BM: To a high-quality. So has improvement. So, we’re actually doing that now in our backrooms, in our process centers, so that we can be more efficient.
[00:21:03] KM: So you’re not trying to grow. You’re trying to improve.
[00:21:05] BM: We’re growing, but we’re growing deliberately, and we’re very measured. We analyze demographics. We ensure that we can get the donations that will make a store profitable and make it successful so that we can then take those profits and turn them into mission. So all the money we make goes to pay for our employees and then for our mission. Delivery of the mission is so important. So people think nonprofits, they think that it’s charity. It’s not charity. It’s a business operated to deliver to a social need. So that’s what we do.
[00:21:42] KM: How did you find out about this job opening in Arkansas?
[00:21:44] BM: I actually knew the gentleman who is the CEO. From a prior – When we lived in Maryland. So, the opportunity came up to come here as the chief operating officer. Came in, worked with them for four and a half years. Had the opportunity after he left the organization to be the interim CEO. Then was appointed by the board as the president and CEO, and that was in November 17.
[00:22:13] KM: You had to take a cut in pay to come here.
[00:22:15] BM: Yes ma’am.
[00:22:17] KM: Why did you do that?
[00:22:17] BM: Because I know what Goodwill does.
[00:22:19] KM: You were just at that place in your life.
[00:22:21] BM: Yes, you – I made a lot of people a lot of money, shareholders for Black & Decker and SLR and other companies. This is a lot of intrinsic. It is very fulfilling. We had a graduation Saturday of our Excel Center, our adult high school. We had 18 adults across the stage as graduates with their high school diploma. Not a GDE, but a high school diploma issued by the state of Arkansas. These are people whose dream, they dared to dream that they could be a high school graduate.
[00:22:58] KM: From ages of what?
[00:23:00] BM: From ages of – Our students are ages 19 to 64. So, the opportunity – We changed the law, so the Excel Center. In 2015, we worked with legislators to change the law to allow adults in Arkansas to be educated, to gain their high school diploma.
[00:23:20] KM: You mean there was a law that would keep you from that?
[00:23:22] BM: Yes. At 19 you aged out of the public-school system.
[00:23:25] KM: I had no idea.
[00:23:27] BM: Yes.
[00:23:28] KM: And so, you could only get a GDE.
[00:23:29] BM: That was your only option, was a GDE before 2017 when we opened the school. So in 2015, we changed the law. Then we went about waiting for the rules and regulations to be built, and then we applied. I know it’s a terrible thing. We’re a charter school, but we’re only the public charter in the State of Arkansas that gets no public funding at this time. So we operate the school solely on the money earned from selling your donations.
[00:24:02] KM: And you do more with the donations then, sell them in your gift shop. I remember hearing you talk about what you do with some of the stuff you can’t sell.
[00:24:12] BM: We try and ensure that we minimize our waste stream, and that means that we want everything to go to – We want to be a good steward of the donation. So when a donation comes to us, we want to squeeze everything we can out of it. So if we can’t sell it in the store, then we turnaround and work to sell it in our outlets. We have two outlets. One in Rogers and one here on Scott Hamilton in Little Rock.
[00:24:36] KM: I thought you had 40 shows.
[00:24:38] BM: We do, but we only have two outlets. We have 45 locations in the state.
[00:24:42] KM: Those are more like drop off locations and work locations.
[00:24:45] BM: Drop off, worker and retail stores.
[00:24:48] KM: Do they train there?
[00:24:50] BM: They do.
[00:24:50] KM: Okay. Train them.
[00:24:51] BM: And then we have career centers in our newer stores. Our newer footprint stores, our larger stores have a career center where we work with individuals to try and help them gain skills and employment. So we work with them on writing resumes and interview skills and how to fill out an application online.
[00:25:10] KM: What’s the first thing you do when somebody comes to you and says, “I need help.”
[00:25:17] BM: Find out where they are. We have to meet them where they are. So, first, what help do you need? Why do you need that help? What other underlying things are keeping you from being able to achieve your dream? Then we work with them to take those down.
[00:25:34] TM: Okay, on this compilation program, during the season of giving, we've heard the introductions of the personalities of Georgia Mjartan and Brian Marsh. We've heard a little bit about the work Brian does with Goodwill Industries. Now, let's hear about the word Georgia does with Our House.
[00:25:50] KM: Alright, let's talk about our house. It is the premier homeless shelter in probably Arkansas.
[00:25:56] GM: Here’s what’s so cool, it’s not just a shelter anymore. And I really want to say that, that while our roots were in being a place where the homeless could come for housing, we’ve grown over the years to now we are so much more than just shelter. Now we’re a place where, on any given day, 500 people come to us. And interestingly, only a quarter of those people actually live in our shelter or housing programs. The rest of them are folks in the community who say, “I want to come to Our House because I’m on the brink of becoming homeless and they can help me get stabilized, get all of the services I need to stay out of the shelter system.” We call those people near homeless.
[00:26:35] KM: Near homeless.
[00:26:36] GM: These days what we’re all about is moving upstream and just really helping people avoid homelessness by providing free programs for their kids. We have an amazing early learning center for homeless and near homeless children. We have an out of school time programs that serves 90 kids every day after school, all summer long, 10 hours a day, 10 weeks of the summer and then we have a career center. And the career center is open to all of the homeless in our community, those who are willing and able to work. That’s really the heart of Our House folks, who are willing and able to work. People who are in our homeless prevention program, which is called the Central Arkansas Family Stability Institute and then just people from the community who say, “You know what? I’m down here, I’m in the South on Main area, I’m on Roosevelt road, I’m in South end,” they can come out and get services from us to help them not only get a job but be really successful in that job.
[00:27:28] KM: I’ve been to your new facility, you have jumped way on down in my interviews so we’re going to jump all the way down.
[00:27:32] GM: Jump on down.
[00:27:33] KM: Jump on down here, you just got a brand new facility.
[00:27:35] GM: Yeah.
[00:27:37] KM: And it is all about education.
[00:27:39] GM: That’s right. Yes.
[00:27:41] KM: I think that’s what you’re talking about right now.
[00:27:42] GM: Absolutely. Within the last three years, we have, because of the community support, been able to invest six million dollars in educating people who are currently homeless, formerly homeless and those who just want to become empowered to sustain themselves in their children, their own families and never become homeless.
[00:28:03] KM: Because once you become homeless, it’s hard to get out of that cycle. You’re stopping before that ever happens?
[00:28:08] GM: Absolutely.
[00:28:09] KM: And when I went to facility – So, six million dollars you spent over the last three years.
[00:28:11] GM: On two buildings, that’s right.
[00:28:12] KM: On two buildings. When I went to that facility, there is a day care.
[00:28:18] GM: An early learning center, right?
[00:28:19] KM: Do your children go there?
[00:28:19] GM: They do. My three babies go there. And let me tell you – if it’s okay, let me tell you a little bit about that because I don’t want anyone listening to think that my kids just happen to go there because I work there. I had to put my kids on a waiting list because here we have this child development center for 65 kids and the majority of slots are for people who are homeless or near homeless.
But then we’ve got about a third of those slots that are open to the community including staff members like me, and we have to pay, we pay full price. And I know that my children are getting the best education. My three-year-old daughter is in a pre-K classroom where she has a teacher who is absolutely incredible. She is learning French and she’s having those experiences. Yeah, yeah. No. That’s true. Now I know. La Lou is apparently the world. She’s learning French, and she’s learning right next to a little girl who is her best friend who lives in the shelter. What an experience. And I know that because I’m paying for her to be there, that that’s helping make that possible for these kids who live in a shelter or who are near homeless to go for free.
[00:29:27] KM: If the two-thirds of the group there, of the children there, have homeless parents or their parents live in the shelter or both?
[00:29:37] GM: Homeless or near homeless. You know, we have this program where –
[00:29:41] KM: And they qualify for that?
[00:29:42] GM: Yeah, they qualify. For a year, we work with families to help them avoid homelessness. What that looks like Kerry, if I could just paint this picture for you.
[00:29:51] KM: Yes please.
[00:29:52] GM: These are people who, just like so many of us, have two or three kids. Maybe one is in childcare, maybe working two jobs, lost one of those jobs, can’t pay utilities. And so, now is living in a home you know, stable but without utilities and then winter comes around.
And the fact that they’re without utilities is no longer an option for mom and her three kids. She calls the shelter and says, “You know what? I really can’t live here without utilities. I have one job. That I really can’t work two jobs. I don’t have childcare, this is the best I can do.”
Instead of saying, “Okay, we’ll come into our shelter with your three children,” we say, “Come on down and let us help you improve your financial management. Let us work with you to get your utilities turned back on. Let us provide early learning programming for your youngest child. Let’s get those older kids into an after-school program so you don’t have to come out home from work at 2:30 to pick up your 7-year-old.” We really work with all of the elements of that family situation so that they become stable, their utility will turn back on, they don’t lose their home, they don’t get evicted, they never become homeless.
[00:30:59] KM: That is five critical things that a single mother has to deal with. Leaving work to pick up their children. And there goes your income. What was the other one you said? Financial –
[00:31:12] GM: Financial management.
[00:31:13] KM: That’s a big one. I just don’t even know why we don’t teach that in school. I don’t know why we don’t teach financial management and paying your taxes. Because a lot of young people get in trouble with taxes and then are burdened with back taxes and with compounded penalties and interest.
[00:31:27] GM: Right.
[00:31:28] KM: And they’re in trouble in their mid-20s. And then what was the other one? Oh, your utilities are turned off. So, you can’t take showers. And you don’t look presentable.
[00:31:38] GM: Right. There’s no heat. Your kids are not safe in the evening because you’re lighting candles to try to have light. I mean, there are all kinds of dangers that come from the experience of poverty.
[00:31:50] KM: If somebody’s in trouble and living on the edge and just about to fall off of the edge, how do they even know to find you?
[00:31:56] GM: They call us.
[00:31:58] KM: Word of mouth.
[00:31:59] GM: They say to their friend – and I was talking to a woman literally this morning who said, “I recommended Our House to so many of my friends.” And she’s never lived there. She’s never been homeless. This is a mother with two children, a two-year-old and a seven-year-old. The person who told her about Our House was her colleague at work. And she was struggling.
She had two jobs. Her sister passed away. That was a support to her. She was really struggling. She had to quit one of those jobs and that was it. Just quitting that one job, being down to one job rather than two, put her on the brink of homelessness. But her colleague at work said, “Why don’t you call Our House?” And she got hooked up with our case management, with our homeless prevention program.
[00:32:40] KM: And so you have case managers that are assigned to them. And that’s how you qualify whether they’re trying to take advantage of the system or whether they’re really in need?
[00:32:48] GM: You know, no one shows up at the door steps of a shelter and says “help me” if they’re trying to take advantage of the system.
[00:32:52] KM: Isn’t that interesting?
[00:32:53] GM: That’s just true. You know what? That’s true. I cannot think of a single person who showed up trying to take advantage. And maybe part of that is because of the approach of Our House. We are all about working hard and working your way out of this situation. There’re no handouts. We don’t pay people’s rent. When we say come and we will help stabilize you, there’s no part where we say, “Here’s a check for your rent and utilities.”
[00:33:17] KM: That was what I was going to ask you. Do you write her a check for those utilities?
[00:33:19] GM: No, that’s not what we do. No, what we do is we say, “Let’s work with you because you are empowered with a little bit of support to solve this problem on your own.” And we have this amazing, incredibly bright, incredibly hard-working people who come to us every single day, 500 people a day who lift themselves.
[00:33:36] KM: You have 500 that work for Out House?
[00:33:38] GM: Who come to Our House. We have about 80 people in our team believe it or not.
[00:33:41] KM: Wow!
[00:33:41] GM: It’s a big organization these days.
[00:33:43] KM: It really is. Well, your mission statement is, “Our House empowers homeless and near homeless, families and individuals to succeed in the workforce, in school and in life through hard work, wise decision making and active participation in the community.” I think wise decision making sometimes is not taught from generation to generation.
[00:34:06] GM: Right. Right. You know, one thing that we always talk about as a team is that this is not our mission statement just as it applies to our adult clients. We think about this with everyone of our clients. We take what we call the two-generation approach, which means that when we think about how do we empower people to make wise decisions, we are having those conversations in our four-year-old pre-K classroom. How do we get four-year-olds to make wise decisions? And how do we get 14-year-olds over next door and our after-school program to make wise decisions? And how do we get their 40-year-old parents to make wise decisions, right?
[00:34:42] KM: How do you do that?
[00:34:44] GM: Well, you know, one of the things that we do in our early learning center is natural consequences.
[00:34:53] KM: Yeah. Duh?
[00:34:55] GM: You know, you don’t want to eat your lunch, and you get mad and you throw it out. Well, now you don’t have lunch. You know? I mean, just teaching, “Okay, make a wise decision. You’re four-years-old.”
To a 14-year-old, a wise decision is, “You’re going to spend this time on your homework right now, and that’s going to allow you to go do the enrichment programming that happens afterwards. And If you –”
[00:35:16] KM: That’s parenting.
[00:35:17] GM: That’s parenting.
[00:35:18] KM: That’s parenting.
[00:35:19] GM: But we also do that for our four-year-olds, right?
[00:35:21] KM: Because their parents didn’t parent them and say, “There’s consequences. You can’t just eat all day long. You have to eat a specific time. You have to do homework at a specific time.”
[00:35:28] GM: Right. In our shelter, there’s 68 rules.
[00:35:33] KM: 68 rules.
[00:35:33] GM: 68 rules. And here’s the natural consequence. You violate a rule, you get written up, just like at work. You’re told what you did wrong and how to improve it. And you do that four times. And you know what the natural consequence is? You don’t get to live at Our House anymore. You’re evicted. That bed opens up. We are a shelter –
[00:35:48] KM: You break the rule four times – You break one of the 68 rules four times.
[00:35:53] GM: Four times. Any of those rules. Four times, four writeups, you’re out. Four writeups in a month.
[00:35:57] KM: Gosh! These management skills are good.
[00:36:00] TM: Back with more from our guests, Brian Marsh and Georgia Mjartan after the break.
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[00:37:02] KM: Georgia recognized that song on the first few beats. She went, “I know that song. I bet you play that at your parties.
[00:37:09] GM: We like that a little bit at Our House.
[00:37:11] KM: I love that. Tell me what Our House looked like when you took it over? I read a little bit about all this online.
[00:37:18] GM: Well, I want to say, I get credit for Our House. And people say, “Wow, you founded a great organization.”
[00:37:25] KM: But you didn’t find it.
[00:37:26] GM: Our house has been around for 29 years. And the person who founded it, the first executive director, obviously a board, a lot of folks are involved, but there is this amazing man named Joe Flaherty who is still around, who had retired. He was a Master Sargent in the Air Force. And then he was an Executive Director in his retirement and then another Executive Director, founding Our House, when he was twice retired.
Just this amazing person who, when I look at those 68 rules, Joe’s name is written all over them. I mean, I was 25 when I started and was not always as tough as I am today. But I stand on the shoulders of someone who knew that discipline is really what was going to get people ahead. And so, I think that that was the base that I found Our House in.
Now, financially, we were not in good shape. You know, we were at a point where – well, I’ll tell you a story.
[00:38:21] KM: Oh, good.
[00:38:22] GM: I went to my dentist. I’d been at Our House for a few weeks, and I was going to have a procedure done, and she put me on gas. And usually you laugh, I guess, when you’re on gas. But I guess I started crying. And she said, “What’s wrong, honey?” She’s been my dentist since I was seven. I said, “Well, we don’t have any money for toilet paper. There’s no toilet paper in the shelter.” And then because I guess I’m just a born fund raiser, I said, “Could you give us some of your toilet paper? It would really be great if you would give us some of your toilet paper.” And she said, “Honey, I’ll give you $50. You can go buy some toilet paper.” In my mind, I was really thinking, “I would take some toilet paper from my dental clinic back to the shelter.” I mean, that’s really the financial shape we were in.
We had sold a property on Main Street. And we’re supposed to be out. It was our old shelter. It was 40 beds. And we’re consolidating at our location on Roosevelt Road, 302 East Roosevelt Road. We’re building a building. Had a great board who led a capital campaign, but it had just kind of – our money. And so, there we were with folks on Main Street with a building 90% of the way done but not enough money to actually finish it. And Christmas was coming. And I started in September. And my goal was to get the folks into the new shelter by Christmas time. There were 80 beds in the new shelter, 40 in the old shelter. We needed the extra space.
[00:39:46] KM: Let’s see. September, October, November, December. You had four months.
[00:39:49] GM: By the grace of God, we did it. We did it.
[00:39:50] KM: How much money did you raise?
[00:39:51] GM: Here was the miracle. And I always call this our Christmas miracle.
[00:39:57] KM: Okay.
[00:39:57] GM: I said, we had about 10% left to do. We raised some money to get us there. But do you know how much it costs to equip a commercial kitchen?
[00:40:08] KM: No idea.
[00:40:09] GM: About $80,000 to $100,000. It cost a lot of money to equip a full commercial, licensed kitchen. And that’s what we were doing. This amazing man walked in. He was doing the kitchen for the Capital Hotel, and the Capital Hotel donated their entire kitchen to us.
[00:40:29] KM: Their old kitchen.
[00:40:29] GM: Their old kitchen.
[00:40:31] KM: You got the old Capital Hotel kitchen.
[00:40:32] GM: The old Capital Hotel kitchen is the shelter kitchen. We replaced it. That was 10 years ago. We replaced a few things since then.
[00:40:39] KM: But I bet that was still a pretty nice kitchen?
[00:40:40] GM: It was amazing.
[00:40:42] KM: You went form 40 beds to 80 beds. How many beds do you have today?
[00:40:46] GM: About 120.
[00:40:47] KM: And still not enough?
[00:40:49] GM: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. It’s true that we turn away about 200 people a month. And that’s terrible. But it has also been the impetus for us to start our homeless prevention programs. Some of those folks who were calling, if we had a bed, we might put them in a bed. But instead we say, “Hey, don’t come in and grab a homeless bed. Come in today and meet with a case manager and get on our homeless prevention program.” And through that, we were able to help prevent them from becoming homeless. We are able to refer folks to other shelters. And we just have expanded in our services knowing that, while we could continue to build shelter beds, that’s not a real solution long-term.
[00:41:33] KM: I think that’s changed from the last time I went and did a tour at Our House.
[00:41:36] GM: Yeah.
[00:41:36] KM: I think you were trying to get more beds. I think you moved more towards the near homeless sounds like. That seems smarter, too.
[00:41:43] GM: We have. And a lot of it is just the realization that nobody wants to be in a shelter.
[00:41:50] KM: Because you have – what percentage of men do you think? It’s more women, isn’t it?
[00:41:54] GM: Yeah, in our housing, in our shelter, we have 40 beds for men and 40 beds for women and children. And then we also have 13 units of family housing. And that’s mostly mothers and their kids. Although, we do have some married couples and some single fathers with their children.
But in the remainder of our programs, it’s pretty balanced. I mean, our career center is men and women. It’s also single people. A lot of times people think that we’re just about families. We serve single people. We have a re-entry program for people who are re-entering society from former incarceration.
[00:42:30] KM: Oh, that’s nice.
[00:42:30] GM: Yeah. That’s kind of new within the last couple of years.
[00:42:33] KM: And so, needed.
[00:42:33] GM: Absolutely.
[00:42:35] KM: Because a lot of times – I don’t know if this is true. But I see on TV that they just kind of set them on the side of the street and go, “Here’s the money you had in your pocket. Hope you have some family.” What do those people do?
[00:42:43] GM: Right. I mean, the experience can often times be, “Good luck. You’ve served your time. But now you’re going to serve it again because no one will hire you and no one will rent to you. Good luck and good luck.” And you wonder why our reservation rates are what they are.
And so, we want to be part of that solution as well. And again, this all stems from the heart of Our House being about homeless people. What we realized was, “What happens to those folks who can’t get jobs? Who can’t get into housing?” Well, they come into the shelter system. Now we say, “Hey, we want to grab you before you come into the shelter system.”
[00:43:16] KM: I love it.
[00:43:17] GM: You’re able to stay with your aunt for six months during that time. Let us help you find a felon-friendly job.
[00:43:24] KM: You know, it’s very similar to what I do at Arkansas Flag and Banner to young people. A lot of people come to me young to come to work, and they don’t know to wear clean clothes to work. They don’t know to cover your food before you put it in the microwave. They don’t know to go pay their traffic ticket so they don’t end up in jail. Be proactive about a few financial and life skills and it will just smooth things out for you.
[00:43:49] GM: That’s right. That’s right. It’s all about coaching people toward the success that they want for themselves and their kids.
[00:43:56] KM: I love this. I just love it. And you keep the families together. Isn’t that unusual?
[00:44:01] GM: It is. You know, I think everyone wants to keep families together. But we have a unique housing program and that we are able to provide for families no matter what that family looks like. And I should say, Kerry, we are a long-term program. Folks can live at Our House for up to two years. And so, for that mother and father who comes to us with four children, it’s going to take them a while to get out of that situation of homelessness. Four children is a big expense.
[00:44:30] KM: But you have a rule don’t you. That you don’t have a job within a certain amount of time, you can’t stay there. You can’t just come and lay around Our House.
[00:44:37] GM: That’s right. People have to have full time employment within two weeks at living at Our House.
[00:44:42] KM: When people tell me they cannot find a job, I say that’s BS. There’s always a job. It may not be the job you want, which selling flags was not the job I wanted when I became a flag lady salesman in Dallas, Texas. I did not want to sell flags for a living. But you never know where it’s going to lead. Your theory is, within 10 days you have a job, any job. You don’t know where it’s going to lead.
[00:45:02] GM: Right, within two weeks you need to have a job, any job. It needs to be 32 hours a week or more. And we track all of these expectations in the form of outcomes. 72% of our adults find and maintain full-time jobs. 72%. These are people who have all kinds of issues that have caused them to be homeless, whose address is a homeless shelter, and yet 72% of them are finding full time jobs. That’s amazing.
[00:45:30] KM: That’s amazing.
[00:45:32] GM: And, Kerry, I would say credit to employers like you who give people a chance no matter what their address, no matter what they look like, no matter what their background, thank you. Because it’s because of the 250 employers in Central Arkansas like you that our clients are able to work their way out of homelessness.
[00:45:54] TM: Finding answers, helping people. That's what our show today is all about, focusing on Georgia Mjartan from Our House, and our other guest on the program, Goodwill Industries’ Brian Marsh.
[00:46:08] KM: You have decided at this point in time in your life, it's about paying it forward. I totally get it. I totally get it. It's not your 30s when you're raising a family.
[00:46:18] BM: No.
[00:46:19] KM: But it's later. We've talked about what's the first thing you do when someone comes to you at Goodwill. And you said you meet them where they are.
[00:46:29] BM: We meet them where they are. We try and determine what is their current state both physical, financial, emotional. What are they really looking for? And then we work to help them achieve.
[00:46:43] KM: How do people get in touch with Goodwill if they need help?
[00:46:46] BM: Most of the time it’s through friends, because nobody knows what Goodwill does. It’s someone who had the opportunity of having the conversations that we have in the past, but also have been through a program or have been touched by Goodwill. If you go to Goodwill, if you call Goodwill, if you go to our website, you have the opportunity to make that connection and then reach out –
[00:47:12] KM: So, you can go to your website.
[00:47:13] BM: Yes, ma’am.
[00:47:14] KM: So, they can go to your website, browse the website. See if there’s anything they want. Because you have programs for getting your high school education. You have programs for people that want to get back into society after being a veteran, for veterans, for reintegration. So, how do you work with those people?
[00:47:38] BM: It depends. Right now, we’re working with a group that is working to build a veteran’s village in the Pine Bluff area. And in that, we’re working to provide those same sort of programs that we provide in the TEO program with soft skills.
As you mentioned at the beginning, the mental health aspects and to help to engage. What we try and do is remove the barriers. But in order to remove the barriers, we really have to build a relationship. Because you have to know. You have to communicate. So, it’s building that communication that allows us to move forward.
[00:48:15] KM: What do you do every day? How many hours do you work on a week?
[00:48:20] BM: We just had this conversation, and I’m going to hold that close to the vest in case my wife is listening. But, no. It’s more than 40. It’s a full week.
[00:48:32] KM: It’s probably 24/7. It probably never really leaves you.
[00:48:35] BM: It’s a lot, but we have great people and –
[00:48:38] KM: So, what does your day look like? You get to work. Because I know you’re not teaching them. You’re not teaching the classes. You’re management. You’re managing it. You’re making it lean. What was the word you used, lean sigma?
[00:48:49] BM: Kaizen.
[00:48:49] KM: And kaizen.
[00:48:50] BM: Yes.
[00:48:51] KM: So, what do you do when you get to work every day?
[00:48:53] BM: I start my day by trying to, one, ensure that my list is there. I try and build a list of what I had either from the day before the things I didn’t accomplish, the things that had come in on email. I try to clear up my email queue so that it is as minimal as possible, because I know I’ll be getting a number of emails during the day.
I sit down and usually spend some time with the other executive staff. Our CFO is in there early also. So, she and I get a little bit of time before the majority of the people come in to talk about how our day is going? How is the business is running? Then it is spent engaging with both public/private partners in trying to determine what is needed, it’s opportunities.
We have over 300,000 Arkansans over the age of 25 without a high school diploma. In the State of Arkansas, over 300,000 adults without a high school diploma.
[00:49:56] KM: Wow!
[00:49:58] BM: We can’t help that many individuals without having more schools. So, it is how do we expand? Right now, we have a school for 125 students. We would like to see five schools for 350 students spread across the state in the next 9 years.
[00:50:16] KM: Those people become – The 6,000 people that you place in employment last year, over 6,000, they become tax payers.
[00:50:22] BM: Yes.
[00:50:23] KM: One of the girls that I watched a video of said that Goodwill gave her confidence. She had no confidence.
[00:50:31] BM: It’s amazing in the lives we touch. And it happens daily. The miracles, the life-changing experiences happen on a daily basis.
[00:50:40] KM: And most of your money, I believe, 90% of it, comes from your thrift shops, your resale shops, and it’s something like 90%.
[00:50:52] BM: 96%.
[00:50:53] KM: 96%.
[00:50:53] BM: And As we were discussing before, we do everything we can to squeeze everything we can out of that. All the money we can.
[00:51:00] KM: Oh, yeah. We never did finish that. What do you do? How do you squeeze the money? I remember kind of hearing you talk about this. Take stuff apart? Sell parts?
[00:51:08] BM: Yes. If things don’t sell in the store – So, in our 30+ stores across the state, then we take them to our two outlet centers and we try and sell it by the pound. So then if it doesn’t sell by the pound, then we break it down into components. And that may be shoes, paired in single shoes. Yes, we have a vendor for single shoes.
[00:51:33] KM: What?
[00:51:34] BM: They buy the – A Gaylord, which is a 4x4x4 box. They’ll buy those full of single shoes. They’re shipped to third-world countries, and people sort them to try and match up shoes that are similar. Because someone would rather have two shoes that are kind of alike than no shoes. We squeeze everything we can. We cut the cords off of electrical equipment, and we have a vendor that buys the cords.
[00:52:00] KM: Strips it out for copper, I guess?
[00:52:02] BM: Yes, and we take apart computer systems and components with that. So, we do everything we can to try and minimize our waste stream. So, what goes to landfill, so that we can maximize our opportunity and be good shepherds of the donations.
[00:52:19] KM: Brian, can I just tell your wife that I love you?
[00:52:24] BM: I appreciate that.
[00:52:26] KM: You’re welcome. Thank you so much for coming on.
[00:52:28] BM: Well, thank you for having me. I greatly appreciate it.
[00:52:29] KM: I hope everybody can hear you. I have a gift for you. It is a desk set. I couldn’t figure out. It’s a U.S. flag and an Arkansas flag for your desk.
[00:52:37] BM: Excellent. Thank you.
[00:52:38] KM: I read about you and I thought, “Well, do I give him one from Colorado? Do I give him one from Carolina? Do I give him one from Texas?” So, you’re just getting Arkansas.
[00:52:46] BM: I’m an Arkansan.
[00:52:47] KM: You really are.
[00:52:47] BM: Yes.
[00:52:48] KM: You love it here?
[00:52:49] BM: Yes, I do. We left Colorado. When we left Colorado, we told people we’re coming to Arkansas. They said, “You’re going to leave this?” And It’s beautiful. My question was, “Have you ever been to Arkansas?” Most of them, “No, I haven’t.” And I said, “If you go, you’ll know why Arkansas is a natural state.”
[00:53:12] TM: That's Brian Marsh from Goodwill Industries. One more word of inspiration from Georgia Mjartan of Our House.
[00:53:17] GM: We are grown people with the equipment and skills to deal with difficulty. And so, if we as adults say, “It's too hard. It's too difficult. The system's broken. Therefore, I'm checking out.” That is wrong and unfair.
[00:53:30] KM: If they want to contact, they want to go to your website, what's your website again?
[00:53:34] GM: Ourhouseshelter.org. Kerry, thank you.
[00:53:37] KM: You're so welcome.
[00:53:38] GM: I love you.
[00:53:39] KM: I love you. And you scurred me, put me on the spot. I'm now going to be a volunteer at Our House.
[00:53:45] GM: Love it.
[00:53:46] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you'd like to sponsor this show or any show, contact me, Gray. That's email@example.com.