February 3, 2017
When 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.
Mjartan celebrated her eleven year anniversary as Executive Director of Our House on September 1, 2016. She was named “Nonprofit Executive of the Year” in 2011, and Our House was named “Nonprofit Organization of the Year” in 2015. Our House is increasingly recognized as a model program, contributing to national conversations around homelessness, garnering national news coverage, and attracting investments from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and many other out-of-state funders. 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.
Active in our community, Mjartan serves on a variety of boards, is a foster and adoptive parent, and has become very involved in bettering our state’s foster care system. She is married to Dominik Mjartan, CEO of Southern Bancorp Community Partners. Together, they have three children all under the age of three.
She holds bachelor’s degrees in English and Political Science from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a master’s degree in Public Affairs and Political Communications from the University of Ulster in the UK, and a post-graduate diploma from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Mjartan was one of twelve Americans awarded the George J. Mitchell Scholarship for graduate study on the island of Ireland, and, in recognition of her achievements in the field of affordable housing, she was awarded the Fannie Mae Fellowship to attend Harvard’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program. Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:03.2] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:19.1] KC: Thank you Tim, I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get all up in your business. For the next hour, my guest and I will be having a conversation of curiosity and storytelling. You may be asking yourself, what makes this lady qualified to do this. I’ll tell you, experience.
In a minute, you could email, call, tweet, ask me anything. My experience is deep and wide and my advice is free. 40 years ago with just $400, I started Arkansas Flag and Banner. Since then, it’s morphed into flagandbanner.com with sales nearing four million, that’s worth saying again, I started Arkansas Flag and Banner with just $400 and today we have sales nearing four million.
I started by selling flags door to door then went to telemarketing, next mail order and catalog sales and today we rely heavily on the internet. In addition, over the last 40 years, I’ve navigated Flag and Banner through two recessions and two wars. When people find out I’m that woman who owns Arkansas Flag and Banner, they often say, “Oh I have heard about you” and begin asking me business advice.
I amaze even myself with all the knowledge I’ve gained. If you call for advice from me or my guest, you will not be given text book answers or theory but you will be given candid advice from our real world experience. Be prepared for the truth, it’s not always easy to hear.
For instance, you may not want to hear this. In business, there are very few overnight successes. Starting and owning a business takes persistence, perseverance and patience. When I started Arkansas Flag and Banner, I supplemented my income by waitressing.
All while I pedaled my flags door to door. After nine years, did you hear me? Nine years of working a part time job, the company began to grow and solely support me. My first hire was a book keeper, my first expansion was to begin the manufacturing of custom flags. The next decade ushered in desert storm war. Flags were scarce so a screen printing department was hardly built to meet consumer demands.
In addition to sales and manufacturing, Flag and Banner now has a purchasing department, a shipping department, technology department, marketing department, call center and a retail store and I spearheaded each of these developments.
My experience is deep and wide and my advice is free, I hope you’ll take advantage of this unique opportunity by calling or emailing or tweeting me on today’s show. Before we get started taking calls, I want to introduce the people at the table. We have our technician, Tim Bowen who will be taking your calls and pushing the buttons. Say hello Tim..
[0:02:57.0] TB: Hello Tim.
[0:02:58.1] KM: My guest today is Georgia. Georgia, how do you say your last name?
[0:03:02.1] GM: Just Georgia.
[0:03:03.7] KM: You’re not going to make me say that last name?
[0:03:04.3] GM: Okay, I’ll make you say it. Georgia Mjartan.
[0:03:08.0] KM: All right, my guest today is Georgia Mjartan.
[0:03:10.4] GM: Perfect.
[0:03:11.2] KM: Thank you. The executive director of Our House. Little Rock’s primary homeless shelter. 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 Masters 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.
[0:04:54.9] GM: You got it.
[0:04:56.5] KM: It is an honor and a privilege to welcome my friend, Georgia to the table. Hey Georgia.
[0:05:02.6] GM: Hey Kerry.
[0:05:03.6] KM: You must be exhausted?
[0:05:05.3] GM: I feel good.
[0:05:06.2] 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, you’re only 37 years old and you’ve done so much.
[0:05:15.5] GM: You just aged me by a year, I’m 36 Kerry. Don’t say I’m 37 on the radio.
[0:05:21.8] KM: She’s 24 years old.
[0:05:22.7] GM: Yeah, I like that.
[0:05:24.5] KM: You got a ton of education, I’m dying to hear about your Ireland experience, I’ve always want to ask you about that but I never have, of course Our House which is, gosh, talk about a lot to talk about. Before we do, I want you to tell me what this island of Ireland graduate study was and what it did for you and what you learned?
[0:05:41.8] 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?
[0:07:09.7] KM: Tell us what those troubles are.
[0:07:10.4] 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.
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 piece of courts. Get all this, just love on me.
[0:07:46.0] KM: Accolades.
[0:07:46.6] GM: Because I was from Arkansas.
[0:07:48.2] KM: Probably know Boo?.
[0:07:50.1] 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.
[0:07:56.3] KM: You didn’t actually work on the peace accord yourself? You got there afterwards.
[0:08:00.5] GM: I got there five years after. Yeah, and just got to go and do my studies and do some policy work as well.
[0:08:06.0] 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?
[0:08:14.3] 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 nontraditional population.
[0:09:02.9] KM: Very.
[0:09:03.5] GM: A very different group of people that were in my classes for sure.
[0:09:06.9] KM: Yes, from executives for downtown.
[0:09:08.3] GM: Absolutely.
[0:09:08.6] KM: 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.
[0:09:16.6] 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 masters degree in social work.
[0:09:28.6] KM: That’s exactly – I love that. That’s one thing I do love about UALR which I think is now called UA of Little Rock.
[0:09:35.1] GM: So I heard.
[0:09:35.7] KM: I heard they changed that, I heard that last night. Let’s take a break and when we come back, we’re going to talk to Georgia all about Our House, her vision, why they’re so successful.
That was for you Georgia. She’s granted from ear to ear, has anybody ever done that for you? Your husband?
[0:10:06.7] GM: I’ve had some serenading in my life.
[0:10:09.1] KM: I love that. All right, let’s talk about Our House, it is the premier homeless shelter in probably Arkansas.
[0:10:15.5] GM: Here’s what’s so cool, it’s not just a shelter anymore and I really want to say 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.
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.
[0:10:54.3] KM: Near homeless.
[0:10:54.6] 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.
[0:11:45.9] 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.
[0:11:50.1] GM: Jump on down.
[0:11:51.6] KM: Jump on down here, you just got a brand new facility and it is all about education.
[0:11:57.2] GM: That’s right.
[0:11:58.1] KM: I think that’s what you’re talking about right now.
[0:11:59.6] 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.
[0:12:18.4] KM: Because once you become homeless, it’s hard to get out of that cycle. You’re stopping before that ever happens?
[0:12:23.7] GM: Absolutely.
[0:12:24.4] KM: When I went to that facility, six million dollars you spent over the last three years.
[0:12:28.0] GM: On two buildings, that’s right.
[0:12:29.2] KM: On two buildings. When I went to that facility, there is a day care.
[0:12:33.0] GM: An early learning center, right?
[0:12:34.2] KM: Do your children go there?
[0:12:34.9] 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, no.
That’s true, you know, now I know, Lalu is apparently – 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.
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.
[0:13:38.5] KM: If two thirds of the group there, of the children there have homeless parents or their parents live in the shelter or both?
[0:13:47.7] GM: Homeless or near homeless. You know, we have this program where –
[0:13:51.7] KM: They qualify for that?
[0:13:52.8] 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.
[0:14:00.9] KM: Yes please.
[0:14:02.5] GM: These are people who just like so many of us have two or three kids maybe you know, one is in childcare, maybe working two jobs, lost one of those jobs, can’t pay utilities. Now is living in a home you know, stable but without utilities and then winter comes around.
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.
[0:15:06.6] KM: That is five critical things that a single mother has to deal with. Leaving work to pickup their children. There goes your income, what was the other one? You said financial.
[0:15:18.2] GM: Financial management.
[0:15:19.1] 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.
[0:15:33.4] GM: Right.
[0:15:34.2] KM: They’re in trouble.
[0:15:35.0] GM: Absolutely.
[0:15:36.1] KM: In their mid 20’s and then what was the other one? Your utilities are turned off.
[0:15:40.8] GM: Utilities.
[0:15:41.4] KM: You can’t take showers.
[0:15:42.8] GM: Right.
[0:15:42.9] KM: you don’t look presentable.
[0:15:44.5] 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.
[0:15:55.4] 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?
[0:16:02.2] GM: They call us, 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, 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?”
She got hooked up with our case management, with our homeless prevention program.
[0:16:46.1] KM: 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?
[0:16:52.5] 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.
[0:16:57.8] KM: Isn’t that interesting to know.
[0:17:00.0] GM: 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’s no handouts, You know, 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.”
[0:17:21.2] KM: That was what I was going to ask you, do you write her a check for utilities?
[0:17:23.9] 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.
[0:17:40.8] KM: You have 500 people that work for Our House?
[0:17:42.3] GM: Who come to Our House. We have about 80 people in our team believe it or not.
[0:17:46.2] KM: Wow.
[0:17:46.5] GM: It’s a big organization these days.
[0:17:47.5] 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.
[0:18:10.4] GM: 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 old’s to make wise decisions?
And how do we get 14 year old’s over next door and after school program to make wise decisions and how do we get their 40 year old parents to make wise decisions right?
[0:18:45.6] KM: How do you do that?
[0:18:46.8] GM: Well, you know, one of the things that we do in our early learning center is natural consequences. 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, 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. If you –
[0:19:13.0] KM: That’s parenting.
[0:19:15.4] GM: That’s parenting. We also do that for our forty year old’s right?
[0:19:18.8] KM: Because their parents didn’t parent them and say, “There’s consequences, you can’t just eat all day long, specific times.”
[0:19:23.9] GM: Sure.
[0:19:24.0] KM: You have to do homework at a specific time.
[0:19:25.8] GM: Right, you know, in our shelter, there’s 68 rules and.
[0:19:29.8] KM: 68 rules.
[0:19:30.1] GM: 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 you know? We are a shelter.
[0:19:44.5] KM: You break the rule four times, you break one of the 68 rules four times,
[0:19:46.2] GM: any of those rules, four times, four writeups, you're out, four writeups in a month.
[0:19:53.5] KM: Management skills are good. See Tim, you're in trouble, I’m going to start four writeups and you’re out.
[0:19:58.3] TB: Oh no.
[0:20:00.5] KM: Let’s take a break and then I want to come back and talk to Georgia.
[0:21:01.1] KM: Georgia recognized that song on the first few beats. She went, “I know that song. I bet you play that at your parties.”
[0:21:07.9] GM: We like that a little better at Our House.
[0:21:10.0] 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.
[0:21:16.6] GM: Well, I want to say, I get credit for Our House and people say, “Wow, you founded a great organization.”
[0:21:22.2] KM: But you didn’t found it.
[0:21:23.8] 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 Flarady 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, you know, 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 you now, 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.
[0:22:15.3] KM: Good.
[0:22:15.6] GM: I went to my dentist, I’d been at Our House for a few weeks and you know, 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.
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, 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.
[0:23:34.3] KM: Let’s see, September, October, November, December, we had four months.
[0:23:37.4] GM: By the grace of God, we did it.
[0:23:38.5] KM: How much money did you raise?
[0:23:41.2] GM: Here was the miracle and I always call this our Christmas miracle.
[0:23:45.5] KM: Okay.
[0:23:46.1] GM: I said, we had about 10% left to do so we raised some money to get us there but do you know how much it costs to equip a commercial kitchen?
[0:23:54.7] KM: No idea.
[0:23:55.8] GM: 80 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.
[0:24:11.5] KM: Their old kitchen.
[0:24:12.7] GM: Their old kitchen.
[0:24:13.2] KM: You got their old Capital Hotel kitchen.
[0:24:16.0] GM: The old Capital Hotel kitchen is their shelter kitchen. We replaced it, that was 10 years ago, we replaced a few things since then.
[0:24:22.0] KM: I bet that was still a pretty nice kitchen?
[0:24:23.4] GM: It was amazing.
[0:24:25.9] KM: You went form 40 beds to 80 beds, how many beds do you have today?
[0:24:29.1] GM: About 120.
[0:24:30.6] KM: Still not enough?
[0:24:32.1] 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 so 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.
[0:25:12.2] KM: I think that’s changed from the last time I went and did a tour at Our House.
[0:25:15.9] GM: Yeah.
[0:25:16.8] KM: I think you were trying to get more beds, I think you moved more towards the near homeless sounds like.
[0:25:21.4] GM: We have.
[0:25:21.8] KM: That seems smarter too.
[0:25:23.1] GM: We have, a lot of it is just the realization that nobody wants to be in a shelter.
[0:25:29.6] KM: Because you have, what percentage you mean do you think? More women isn’t it?
[0:25:33.9] 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.
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 so we serve single people, we have a reentry program for people who are reentering society from former incarceration.
[0:26:08.5] KM: That’s nice.
[0:26:08.8] GM: That’s kind of new within the last couple of years.
[0:26:11.0] KM: So needed.
[0:26:12.3] GM: Absolutely.
[0:26:12.8] 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.” One of those people do.
[0:26:21.8] 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.
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.”
[0:26:54.9] KM: I love it.
[0:26:56.2] GM: You’re able to stay with your aunt for six months during that time. Let us help you find a felon-friendly job.
[0:27:01.2] 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.
[0:27:27.8] GM: That’s right. It’s all about coaching people toward the success that they want for themselves and their kids.
[0:27:33.9] KM: I love this, I just love it and you keep the families together. Isn’t that unusual?
[0:27:39.7] 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 could 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.
[0:28:06.9] KM: But you have a rule don’t you. That you don’t have a job within a certain amount of time then you can’t stay there. You can’t just come and lay around Our House.
[0:28:13.8] GM: That’s right. People have to have full time employment within two weeks at living at Our House.
[0:28:19.0] 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 is not the job I wanted when I became a flag lady salesman in Dallas, Texas. I did not want to sell flags for living but you never know where it’s going to lead. So your theory is within 10 days you have a job, any job you don’t know where it’s going to lead.
[0:28:39.7] 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 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.
[0:29:30.5] KM: Thank you. 250 that’s good.
[0:29:32.6] GM: 250.
[0:29:33.9] KM: And they also have rules? You teach them finance so they have rules about their bank account.
[0:29:39.3] GM: Savings is a critical component. All of our clients go through our savings program. Here’s another stat okay? 76% of our clients, 76% leave Our House with money and savings. That’s a nest egg. How many people don’t have money in savings?
[0:29:57.9] KM: Me.
[0:29:58.9] GM: And here’s some folks who are literally leaving a homeless shelter with money in the bank, with money in savings, with that nest egg so that they never become homeless again.
[0:30:07.1] KM: Tim you need to go live at Our House. She’s going to teach you how to save money.
[0:30:10.5] TB: I already have a nice house. I can still take the lessons though.
[0:30:14.7] GM: Thank you for getting that. I was about to say that, you can still come over right down the street.
[0:30:18.9] KM: What about teaching financial literacy? Financial literacy I like that, what about teaching that to people because that is a big component to lots of people’s issues.
[0:30:29.2] GM: It is and here’s what I think is really beautiful about Our House. We are able to get into the nitty-gritty of all of these different areas because we have this base of incredibly equipped volunteers. So yes, we have a team of 80 people and they’re amazing and that includes employment coach and Mira Core members. That team includes licensed clinical social workers but you know who teaches our financial literacy classes?
Professional financial advisers from the Little Rock community who are members of our volunteer base. We have 3,000 distinct volunteers who come and serve at Our House each year. 3,000 and of those are these financial professionals who sit and do budgeting one on ones, who stand up in front of a class and do workshops. We have folks from the banking community who come in two classes of opening a savings account, on credit repair, we have people from the restaurant industry who are now doing a job training program, we get folk certifications and surf saves.
So all of these different programs that we don’t have to be the experts in because there are experts like you Kerry. I want you to come out, will you be a volunteer?
[0:31:38.3] KM: I’ve always wanted to come out and rock babies but I don’t think I have a list of people that want to rock babies.
[0:31:41.8] GM: I don’t want you to rock. You know can I say this –
[0:31:42.8] KM: That’s my favorite thing to do, yes.
[0:31:44.4] GM: I’ll make you a deal. You can rock babies for an hour and then afterwards, I want you to go next door to the career center and I want you to teach a soft skills class because that’s the other thing we do.
[0:31:55.7] KM: What does that mean soft skills?
[0:31:56.6] GM: So conflict resolution or how to give good customer service or how to be work appropriate when you’re navigating a raise. All of those are soft skills.
[0:32:09.4] KM: Oh you know I should do that. I should do that, yeah will you help me work on a curriculum.
[0:32:13.1] GM: So you’re committed.
[0:32:13.7] KM: Oh she’s putting me on the spot on the radio, yes I will. Done.
[0:32:17.8] GM: Thank you.
[0:32:18.4] KM: You’re welcome but you’ll have to have one of your people call my people and someone else has to help me with the curriculum so I don’t just get up there and ramble or that guy is going to call like you did a couple of weeks ago and tell, “Say tell that lady to quit talking so much” and I want to give a shout out to him. Thank you for telling me that because he was right. All right I’m going to quit picking on you Tim. Last week we tried to give him a date, Rich Cosgrove is trying to get you dates on the radio.
[0:32:44.8] TB: Try to point it out that I don’t wear any wedding rings?
[0:32:47.2] KM: Yeah and this week, I am trying to get him financial literacy skills. All right this hour is flying by this is going to be our last shout out if anybody wants to call and also before we break, if someone does want to take these classes, do they pay? Because they don’t meet the criteria.
[0:33:02.6] GM: No, everything we do in the career center is open to the community. There is no charge, we help people get their GED, we do financial empowerment, we do health and wellness, cooking classes and we do career support.
[0:33:17.9] KM: And it’s all free. The class schedules are online.
[0:33:20.9] GM: Yes, ourhouseshelter.org.
[0:33:22.4] KM: And they can just see and show up.
[0:33:24.2] GM: Show up, come out.
[0:33:26.7] KM: It’s the most loving group of people. Every time I go out there for a tour which I have done several times. I always am so inspired by everything.
[0:33:47.7] KM: Our House in the middle of the rock, Our House in Downtown Little Rock. All right I’ll quit. You are quoted Georgia saying, we’re less concerned with where you’re coming from than where you’re going.” Having that expectation, nobody can say we’re less concerned about where you are coming from than where you’re going. Having that expectation is not hard to treat people in the way where you see their heart if you wash off all the baggage of the world. It’s really easy to see all the good that everyone has inside of them.” That’s nice.
[0:34:23.7] GM: Thanks.
[0:34:24.3] KM: Someone just emailed me and said, “Does Our House rely strictly on donations or does the organization receive funding?”
[0:34:31.2] GM: I’m so glad someone asked that question. So Our House is predominantly run on private donations. We have about a third of our funds that come from government sources that we have to compete for. This is not just per head dollars. We’re not billing Medicaid. What I mean is we go out and compete for grants from the City of Little Rock for our after school and summer program. We compete for grants from HUD. We compete nationally but the majority about 70% of our funds come from fund raisers.
From people, I want to tell you this, from people writing us $10 checks. I mean people making memorial gifts in honor of their loved ones, from people saying, “You know what? I’m going to tithe some of my faith offerings to an organization that really carries out my faith mission” right? I mean people give for lots of reasons but it’s those private dollars that keep our house afloat.
[0:35:29.6] KM: You have some fabulous people that come down and cook every week too.
[0:35:32.9] GM: Every single night of the year.
[0:35:35.4] KM: Some restaurant cooks.
[0:35:36.7] GM: There is a different group out. So I was actually given a tour today Kerry and I looked at the calendar and what I was so proud to say, I said just do this by memory but I looked at the calendar for the week of the 19th and I said this night someone from out of town who didn’t know the names of all churches but I was trying to get across. I said, “Okay so Sunday night it is an African-American Baptist Church who is buying the dinner, making the dinner and serving it.
The next night it was a Catholic Church. The next night it was the Unitarian Universalists. The next night, it was a Presbyterian Church. The next night it was an Episcopal Church. Then it was the Temple by Night Israel. I mean literary and then there was a company and then it was a corporate group and so to see that we have that level of inter denominational, inter faith support and companies and civic groups and families, I mean that is the community saying collectively we care.
[0:36:29.4] KM: I love that collective group moving towards one human goal. It’s just so gratifying. You have – I know US Pizza is big –
[0:36:40.9] GM: Yeah, a huge supporter.
[0:36:42.3] KM: He fell in love, we did a story on Brave Magazine. He fell in love, he didn’t even have children. He went out there and he fell in love with the kid’s summer program and then I’ve been out there when Brave Restaurant has cooked dinner. I think the chef at the Capital Hotel’s cooked before and it’s amazing. I mean you get a better meal out there than you get at my house. Our house, my house?
[0:37:07.9] GM: Café 42 is coming up.
[0:37:09.8] KM: Oh yeah, I love that. So what do you think is your secret to success? Is it your heart?
[0:37:16.6] GM: A lot of people credit me with the success of Our House and I genuinely, Kerry, genuinely want to say, we have this incredible team of people who one by one have said, “I want to sacrifice financial gain” or “I want to take a risk and put my heart into something that is sticky, that’s hard, that’s emotional and I want to do it because I am committed to lifting others up” and it’s that team of people who makes it possible.
And really, I want to say something about who’s on that team because it’s kind of unique if you don’t mind and I’m going to plug that we have some openings, some job openings. Can I plug job openings on your show?
[0:38:00.5] KM: You could do whatever you want Miss Georgia.
[0:38:02.2] GM: So here’s our team. We have 80 people on our team. Included on those 80 people are 12 Americorps members. These are people who are living at the poverty line, serving people in poverty, many of them have college degrees, some have master’s degrees and they’re doing work that’s meaningful for six months or for a year to serve people at our organization. Another 12 to 15 are Americorps VISTA members, we have openings in there as well. VISTA stands for “Volunteers And Service To America”, that started by JFK and then Johnson implemented it.
An old program, the very first national service anti-poverty program so we have that at Our House and then we also have some traditional job openings right now and all of that is on our website but really, it’s those people who are on our team that bring that heart and bring that passion every day both to give and to get, to teach and to learn.
[0:38:54.1] KM: You know the millennials are awesome.
[0:38:56.1] GM: They are really awesome.
[0:38:57.5] KM: Some people complain about them because they’re not as career driven as some other –
[0:39:02.3] GM: They’re so service driven.
[0:39:04.0] KM: They’re service driven. I have a couple of them. I have three millennials and when I went to their college parent meeting, the guy that got up there and talked about them said, “We don’t know why, we don’t know if it’s cyclical, we don’t know if it’s because of helicopter moms, we don’t know what it is but this generation is more like the greatest generation than any generation we’ve ever seen come through college”.
So when I hear people complain about millennials I just say, “You guys go down to Our House and then you say that” they are a great group of people and I really like the people that I hire today. So is it good to give money to people on the streets? I always wonder about that.
[0:39:44.0] GM: I don’t give money to people on the street but I acknowledge that there are people whose lives include a time where they’re living on the streets and this is what I mean by that Kerry because I think this is really important. It is so important to acknowledge our shared humanity to not drive by and look away. I go to a church that is on Colonel Glenn. I go to Mosaic Church and there’s a group of homeless people who live out there.
You know when I see them they ask me for money and I say, “What is your name?” “Bob” “Oh Bob I’m not going to give you money. I don’t keep money on me. Are you homeless?” I always ask that questions and sometimes they’re not homeless. Sometimes people say, “No” I said, “Okay” sometimes they say, “Yeah I’m homeless. I’m struggling” I say, “Well you know I work over at Our House. Here’s this set up if you are interested go on over there”.
I give information. I acknowledge the humanity. Sometimes that is received as a life raft would be received and I want to tell you a story about when it was received that way. Last week there was a homeless family who had a sign, it was a very pregnant woman, her husband and their three children all in five and under and they had a sign and was standing outside of Target in the Midtown area and a young man drove by and stopped and said, “This is a travesty” he gave them $10.
That young man’s mother is on our board of directors. He immediately picked up the phone and called his mom and said, “Mom, there is a homeless family. This woman is pregnant. They’ve got kids. It’s cold. They’ve got a sign. They’re out there begging. Can you go help them?” today, that dad has two job interviews. The oldest five year old is in school. The other five year and the three year old are in our child care program. The mom has already been to the hospital.
She’s already had been in and out of labor. That family, I hope I didn’t break confidentiality because I’d describe them in detail but I didn’t use their names but what I will say is that family has a home. That family is living in a housing program where they are safe because somebody stopped and listened. He didn’t just hand them $10 but took action, did something.
[0:41:51.3] KM: But not everybody can qualify for Our House. Where do those people go?
[0:41:55.0] GM: So we have this amazing network of other homeless serving agencies where we are able to refer people. When a person doesn’t qualify or more often, it’s not often that they just don’t qualify. It’s usually the case that we don’t have a bed. We start calling down our list and making those connections and we’re going to help someone regardless if we have a bed or not.
[0:42:15.2] KM: There’s a bed for everybody or help for everybody?
[0:42:16.6] GM: There is help for everyone. To say this frankly there are not enough beds. If you count all the homeless people in Central Arkansas and then count all the shelter beds, know there are not enough shelter beds.
[0:42:28.1] KM: But everybody can find a place to get help even if they’ve got no health issues and aren’t some of them dangerous? You wouldn’t want to put those in the families or the young people.
[0:42:39.3] GM: You know Kerry in our community, there are people who are not safe and we go out to eat at a restaurant and someone sitting at the table next to you may have been violent against a family member two hours before. There are people in our community who are safe or not safe, who are all around us and in a situation where you are living with other people obviously you take safety precautions. Our shelter is supervised 24/7.
We do sex offender checks but under one roof, there are people who have felony records. There are people who have experienced domestic violence. There are people who have children all under one roof just like in the real community and our job is to keep all of those people safe.
[0:43:22.6] KM: Well very well said and something I have never really thought of, really never thought about it. It’s everywhere so why would it be different than anywhere else?
[0:43:30.5] GM: It’s everywhere and the big thing I always want people to remember is that when we talk about people who are homeless and we say, “Why are people homeless?” is it because they are drug addicts? Is it because they’re alcoholics? Is it because they are mentally ill? Well think about your family. In your family are there people with alcohol addiction? With drug addiction? People who are experiencing health issues or maybe experienced mental health issues?
Probably and most of our families those people are around but do they all become homeless? No because they have a network of friends and family who are there in their toughest times. The main thing that I see with people who are homeless is that they have the same experiences as the rest of us without the safety net, without the family, without the community to support them and that’s what we in our house have become.
[0:44:16.0] KM: That’s perfect. That is all absolutely true and I told Tim just last week that after I had – wouldn’t that you Tim I said to last week that if it hadn’t been for my – no I don’t think it was you. It was somebody, I think it was Curtis, I said that after I had my first child and my husband and I separated and I was lucky enough to have a mother and father that could start me over but if I hadn’t, I don’t know where we would be, me and my first daughter.
I often think about that and I think that’s why I have a lot of empathy for people because I have walked in those shoes where if I hadn’t had a safety net, I did make some bad decisions and I don’t know where I could have been today if I hadn’t had family. I love you Georgia, let’s see how much time we got. We’ve got a few minutes left. So we talked about what happens to people that don’t meet your criteria, we talked about giving people money on the street and you say not necessarily. Financial literacy I think is a really, really big part.
[0:45:16.6] GM: It is.
[0:45:18.0] KM: And you offer that openly to everybody and I’m going to come down there and start helping with jobs. Job training.
[0:45:25.1] GM: You’re going to volunteer. There is something else I wanted to talk about in terms of engagement while you’re talking about volunteering if that’s okay.
[0:45:32.9] KM: Sure.
[0:45:33.3] GM: So we rely on these 3,000 people to volunteer to serve meals, to rock babies, to come on teach classes but just like we have volunteers who give time we also has this huge need for donations of items and I think a lot of times people think about volunteering and giving money and that’s incredibly valuable and a lot of times people will think I can give clothes which yes, that’s great but more and more we have a need for furniture, we have a need for that twin bed that you had for your child who is now 37, give it to us.
You don’t need your twin bed anymore, for that armoire, for those kinds of furniture pieces or household items because with our homeless prevention program, with our expansion there one of the things that we are finding is that we go into our family’s homes and a family of five may all be sleeping on top of coats because no one has beds or the family maybe eating on the couch every night in front of the TV not because that’s their choice but because they don’t have a dining room table.
And so we are trying to get more people to think of us in terms of all of those donated items not just clothing and very excitingly, we have one resell store which was a training site for our clients, I know and yesterday, we signed the lease on a second store which is three times as big. I think I can say it publically now in North Little Rock. So we will have a resell store in Little Rock and one in North Little Rock as well.
[0:47:03.6] KM: Where’s the one in Little Rock?
[0:47:04.1] GM: So one in Little Rock is at Malcolm and Rodney Parham. If you’re familiar with that area, if you know where Don’s Pharmacy is. A lot of people know that’s got a green awning. There is also a Red Lobster and a Kruger. It’s in that shopping center and the store is called From Our House to Yours.
[0:47:20.9] KM: So people can drop off items there?
[0:47:22.4] GM: It’s a donation center as well as a store. Drop off items, we do pickups, we have a truck, we have an amazing, amazing leader of the store, Justin Robinson who’s our manager but this vision to expand to North Little Rock, I mean we’ll have a location on JFK in just a few short months.
[0:47:38.3] KM: You just got a lot going on. Are you going to adopt? One of your children is a foster child, one of them is adopted, are you going to do another one?
[0:47:45.6] GM: We have fostered three children and have had the privilege of adopting two of them and our other daughter is with her father and we are her godparents. He’s a wonderful dad to her, just a beautiful success story and she’s just doing great and then we have our youngest as well. So we have three, we’re pretty full right now but we’re probably not done.
[0:48:06.8] KM: I would imagine.
[0:48:07.7] GM: Being foster parents has been a life changing, incredibly beautiful, privileged experience that we have had as a family.
[0:48:17.7] KM: Don’t you serve on their board?
[0:48:23.5] GM: I hope that everyone in this community fosters.
[0:48:23.1] KM: Don’t you serve on the foster care systems board?
[0:48:25.8] GM: No, there’s not a single board for the foster care system, I’ve just had the chance to really work with our state’s foster care system. They’re so good about listening to foster parents, literally the director of DHS, Cindy Glasby has said, “Georgia, you’re a foster parent, tell us about your experience?”
[0:48:42.2] KM: You hear a lot of foster parent nightmare stories but you don’t’ hear all the good ones.
[0:48:46.3] GM: It’s true. Here’s the thing. I am a leader of a nonprofit and I recognize that there are times when we did not do things right and what I want is to hear from our clients to get their feedback so we can fix it. I think that those of us who have participated in being foster parents or being adoptive parents.
There are incredibly difficult parts of that, it has not been putting in pie for us by any means, it’s not been all positive but at the end of the day, we are grown people with the equipment and skills to deal with difficulty and the people on the other side are little children who have experienced trauma and neglect.
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.
[0:49:34.5] KM: I love it. We’re going to end on that. Anything, so if they want to contact, they want to go to your website, what’s your website again?
[0:49:39.6] GM: ourhouseshelter.org.
[0:49:41.9] KM: If they want to drop off donations to?
[0:49:44.4] GM: They could do it From Our House to Yours.
[0:49:46.2] KM: Anything else you want to tell Georgia for support?
[0:49:49.2] GM: Kerry, thank you.
[0:49:49.6] KM: You’re so welcome.
[0:49:50.9] GM: I love you.
[0:49:52.1] KM: I love you. Georgia, I have a gift for you, I usually give a cigar but for you, I’m giving a check to Our House. $200.
[0:49:59.6] GM: That is so wonderful, thank you.
[0:50:01.3] KM: You're welcome, and you skewered me, put me on the spot, I’m now going to be a volunteer to Our House.
[0:50:06.7] GM: Love it.
[0:50:07.8] KM: Next week, our guest is going to be the small business development center from UA of Little Tock. They’re going to come out and tell us all about how to start a business and what they can do to support small businesses.
I know that they helped me put together my business plan for buying the Taborian Hall downtown, I would not have been able to do it without the small business development center. They’ll be here next week, they’re great.
Also, if you have a great entrepreneurial story you would like to share, I would love to hear from you, send a brief bio and your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will be in touch. Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me, if you think this program has been about you, you’re right. But it’s also about me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny, my hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy, until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:53:40.30] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Within 48 hours the podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.