Visionary Speech at the 2023 CTC Breakfast

written and shared by Carolyn Hammond, President and CEO

Good morning! Thank you for being here!

Although we’ve held this Cherish the Children of God breakfast for more than 20 years I’m humbled that so many of you return year after year.

This event was created to inspire you about the choices we make with your financial investment in Volunteers of America. I hope to make good on that intention again this morning.

So, thank you whether this is your first, or fifth or 21st breakfast with us! By being here, you give us hope and inspiration.  As I look around, I see that we have the most generous allies in this community – friends who care deeply about each other and our neighbors in need.

A special thank you to all of our Cherish the Children and Evergreen donors, and others who financially invest to make a difference. Your gifts give us the ability to plan for the future and pivot when necessary to meet the ever-changing, ever-growing needs of our community.

Since 1935 the special Volunteers of America ministry has extended God’s love across north Louisiana. What first began as a maternity home on Texas Avenue has extended well beyond those walls to offering 40 programs touching the lives of more than 8,000 courageous children, teens, families, veterans, seniors, and individuals living with disabilities.

The men, women, and children who walk through our doors are coming to us with a lot.
A lot of trauma and life experiences that, honestly, you and I may never begin to comprehend. But, they come to us ready for a chance to start over. And because of YOU and the investment you make — they get that chance.

I stand before you as President and CEO, but also as a wife and mother sharing your concern for those hurting in our community.

And people are hurting.
• Our waiting list for services increases every day.
• We are in the midst of a nationwide mental health crisis.
• There is a large demand for safe, affordable housing and
• The need for increased wrap-around services in schools has never been greater.

As I prepared my remarks for today, I remembered how inspired I was by Demarcus, a Booker T. Washington High School senior. He spoke recently at an event for our Communities In Schools or CIS program.

Demarcus lost his mother when he was just five years old leaving him without that rudder that a loving mom provides. He told us that as a freshman, he made some bad choices – fighting and skipping school – often finding himself in trouble.

What struck me was how his face lights up when he talks about Miss Winn, the CIS site coordinator. Demarcus told us that their relationship is less like a student and site coordinator and more like a mother and son.

I tell you about Demarcus because he credits the CIS program for changing his life. Because someone special like Miss Winn cared, paid attention, and listened to him… he’s making different choices. I know it wasn’t overnight, but Demarcus has grown as a young man soon ready to graduate from high school. I hope it puts a smile on your face to learn he’s now mentoring younger boys at his school as the President of Boys to Men, a club created to encourage young men to do better in life.

What it takes annually to place Communities In Schools in one location with one site coordinator is $110,000. I’ve personally witnessed the invaluable return on investment when a life, like Demarcus’ is changed forever.

That’s the goal of CIS – to work with students like Demarcus to reduce the risk of dropping out. Today, CIS is located inside 12 Caddo Parish schools with plans to expand in the fall and beyond. The good news: last year, 99% of all CIS students stayed in school! Through the LightHouse, our afterschool and summer program, and CIS, we are able to reach nearly 6,000 children. The reality: Of the 34,000 Caddo Parish students, 74% of those live in poverty and every child can benefit from the LightHouse and CIS.

Shortly, in the video, you’ll meet two special young women both of whom are coincidently named Jasmine. One is a high school student and the other is in our Level Up program. We began Level Up in 2020 to move homeless youth ages 18-24 into permanent supportive housing quickly. While at the same time addressing their basic needs — AND helping them move past the unthinkable trauma they’ve experienced. Catherine, a Level Up graduate who was once a homeless high school student, captured the success of this program when she recently shared the vast difference our staff have made in her life. She said they not only showed her how to maintain a home, but most importantly they taught her what it means to be a family.

I’m proud our 375 staff are so well equipped to walk alongside the men, women and children in our programs.

Glendale is one of our caring direct support professionals and every day nearly 130 people like Glendale support individuals living with disabilities handling everything from personal hygiene – to prepping meals – to managing their finances. Glendale works with Michael two days a week and she is just a small portion of the way we touch Michael’s life. At the core of what we do is to get people into safe housing and connected to care that supports them spiritually, mentally and physically.

To me, it’s like building a house. We can paint the walls and decorate, but if we do not lay a solid foundation and build a steady frame, first the house will collapse. That’s why in addition to Glendale’s support, Michael lives at our Greenwood Lodge residential facility and every Tuesday, Michael goes to Visions of Hope, our day program for adults living with a chronic mental illness.

There, he is able to feel a true connection to others and create an unbreakable bond through their shared lived experiences. Thanks to our hard-working staff and the generosity of people like you, Michael has a safe place to call home, and essential one-on-one care.

That’s what sets us apart.

Our work touches the mind, body, heart – and ultimately the spirit – of those we serve – combining our special ministry and deep compassion with highly effective, quality programs and services.

I was recently asked, “What keeps you up at night?”

For me, it’s all we can’t do.
• It’s the students we are not able to serve, because we don’t yet have the financial or volunteer capacity.
• It’s the senior adults who can’t find safe housing to age in place with dignity and respect.
• It’s the youth and adults in our community who are suffering with their mental health.

THEY are why today matters so much.

While Volunteers of America is fortunate to receive funding from the federal government each year, the amount received does not cover what it truly takes to deliver our important, life-changing programs.

This year it will take $2.5 million to close that funding gap to fully fund our mission.

In past years, you’ve been inspired to close that funding gap. I humbly thank you for that!
And when you make a multi-year commitment, we will continue to place dollars where they are needed most.

Your generosity allows us to say yes to Demarcus, both Jasmine’s, to Michael and to thousands more.

Thank you for your partnership. Thank you for caring.

I hope you’ll please remember this after you leave here today:
When you change a life, you make our whole community better.

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