Annual Meeting Executive Director Remarks – 2019

We were so pleased to see many of you at our annual meeting this year held at Westminster Presbyterian Church. We also enjoyed the casual conversation at the Coffee Chat with Kim, our Executive Director, the following weekend. Here is the message shared with us by Kim Eppehimer.

Thank you so much for being here this morning, and as always – thank you to our amazing board of directors, staff, supporters and those we serve every day. Friendship House lives to serve you as much as you serve us.

2018 was a good and challenging year for Friendship House.

We served almost 5,000 people through our empowerment centers, winter ministry, our clothing bank and housing program last year.

5,000 people, just in New Castle County.

This number is not decreasing. Year after year, we continue to meet new people finding themselves in a place of homelessness or displacement and need help navigating their way out. This includes individuals striving for a life where they can find joy, hope, and pride. All things they lost before coming to our doors.

The empowerment centers, which we have three (Wilmington, Newark and Middletown), continue to fill the gaps of services by taking time to hear people’s stories and assist each client with problem solving, getting access to other agencies, offering available resources and most importantly treating each person like they matter – staff don’t look at the person as the problem, and instead address the issues that appear as road blocks.

In Wilmington our staff include Lashea, Patty, Josh, Paul and Carey. I am grateful for their dedication. And, as we weathered our way through this past winter, this team was the only reason Bill, Marc and I survived. They stayed late and came in early with every Code Purple. They are creative in problem solving, and passionate about who they serve.

In Newark we have Josh and Mindy, who both realize the needs in Newark vary and meet those needs every day with a hot meal, hot coffee, and compassionate hearts. People come to Newark for the community just as much as they come for much needed resources. It is a joy to witness.

In Middletown we have Rashita, who also serves as our volunteer coordinator. Rashita has leaned in with such determination by reaching out to other organizations to learn who and how they serve. She has made herself known at the community level, to nearby churches, and because of her keen ability to find volunteers, we have been able to increase the days and hours which we are open there. And all of this – from Wilmington to Newark to Middletown, is Marc – the heart, grace and sanity behind our centers.

We also have empowerment ministries in additional locations throughout the county meeting the needs of local communities. This includes a partnership with the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church food outreach program which offers free food every Wednesday. We have Bill there with several volunteers taking our services to them.

Our clothing bank continues to give clothing to more than 5,000 people every year. We work with over 150 agencies to ensure every person has access to free, good quality clothing. We have almost 1,000 volunteers come to us at our Clothing Bank! Which is great because we still get almost 200,000 pounds of donated clothing every year to sort, hang and size!

More than a clothing distribution center and a great place to host volunteers, our Clothing Bank has a job training program for women who would otherwise struggle finding employment. While with us they learn job skills, have time to search for a job appropriate for them, and find a supportive and caring community.

We had a transition at our Clothing Bank last year when Kathy resigned. Fortunately for us, we had Robin ready in the wings to quickly learn the warehouse management with the support of Eileen, who has been a steady presence there through it all. Together they made sure we didn’t miss a step and have worked hard to make sure volunteers and trainees get a wonderful experience.

Our Transitional Housing ministry is serving 120 people annually. Our housing program continues to find ways to morph as the needs of our community deepen. Typically, we would get residents after at least 90 days of recovery time who were ready to immediately find employment. Now, however, with such little intensive rehab available, those looking to fight an addiction have to work harder than ever. We play a part in that fight by giving a place to stay while they spend additional time in out-patient therapy. Although this requires more resources and time from us, it is a needed step in the process. This has lengthened the average time residents stay in our first stage of housing.

We have had many tragic stories this year in housing, and we have had some magnificent success stories. Men and women who have overcome many hurdles are now living in a way they can say they worked hard for – lives they are proud of!

We helped a mother with two young kids who came to us from a terrible domestic violence situation work through her and her kids’ trauma. After two years with us, she has found the strength within to trust others again, and is even willing to find joy in her life. She let us love her during a time when she felt nothing but pain.

We continue to house a gentleman who we first met at Saturday winter sanctuary a few years ago. He had such drive and determination he overcame his addiction, homelessness and despair. Now, seeking his undergrad degree and working at least two jobs, he lives in our housing and can only make it work because we are able to support him along with an amazing community of people who care.

Our graduate program also continues to play a vital role. We had a graduate lose everything she owned in an apartment fire. Everything she owned gone. Thank God she was not home when it happened because she probably would have died. She came back and lived with us for several months as she saved once again in order to afford another apartment. Her journey was made possible because of the support she received from the Friendship House community.

The saints in our housing ministry include Paul, who is our newly appointed director of men’s housing, Mary Anne, Shawn, Heidi, Genell, Silas and Ronnie, along with many part time staff who help with weekend and overnight shifts. Overseeing it all is Marcy, our Director of Housing, who continues to bring such love, grace, and hope to every person she meets. Unfortunately, Gordon passed away earlier this year. He worked for us for many years at Andrew’s Place.

2018 was the first full year of having me as our new executive director. The feedback we receive tells us we are managing this transition well. Bill Perkins, who was our Executive Director for almost 30 years, remains a very active member of our staff team, and he remains an invaluable friend and mentor to me. I often say I think someone should do a case study on our organization because it is rare to find examples where a new leader can follow the equivalent of a founder, let alone one who remains involved with the organization. This is largely due to Bill’s selfless call to step aside as leader and allow someone else to step in with such acceptance. It also helps that I have Roxane who is constantly picking up the pieces for us every day! She is an amazing example of what determination, pride and compassion can do for a person. She is a gift to me and to our organization.

What does our future look like? It is clear the need still exists for Friendship House’s unique ability to meet people where they are and fill in the gaps of services county wide. We are continuing to see the loss of our once middle class. For so many, the American dream of 2.5 children and white picket fences is a thing of the past. For most families, their dreams now include being able to pay their rent and their utilities in the same month.

Our friends experiencing homelessness still struggle to find housing and, more importantly, maintain it because belief still continues housing alone is the solution. Those in an addiction and recovery are fighting a daily internal struggle that is met by external stigma and defamation.

Friendship House is needed and I am humbled to see the support we get from our community who agrees. We are here because you believe in us. 95% of our funding comes from the community. The other 5% comes from our resident and client program payments.

What makes Friendship House unique? If I asked everybody in this room to answer this question I can almost guarantee you a different answer each time. Each of us has different reasons as to why we support, work for, or seek assistance from Friendship House. The multitude of answers about why Friendship House matters is exactly what makes us unique. We are able to be what you need us to be, when you need us to be there. Not many organizations can say the same. We also have the ability and desire to walk with anyone as long as they want or need us to. We are not looking for quick fixes.

One of my favorite things about Friendship House is that we are a courageous organization. For one, we take risks and go where other organizations do not. We are willing to get dirty and be gritty. And we are not scared to be vulnerable with each other. We believe in order to be the most use we need to crawl into the ditch with those who need us and walk with them out of that ditch when they are ready. We try to find a path that will lead to the best outcomes. Often the only outcome we are looking for is that the person we are working with is better than we first met them. Sometimes, that outcome is to just live for another day.

Being courageous does not always mean we do it right every time. As long as we are working hard and keep God the focal point of our mission and our services, as long as we feel we did our personal best every day, we can say we did not fail. Even if it means we didn’t find housing for the couple who has a husband on house arrest and a daughter with a chronic illness. Even though we still have 300 individuals come to us every year for Code Purple. Even though we have a wait list of people praying they get a bed at one of our houses. Still, we have not failed because we have not given up. Our work is hard. We can’t fix every person’s situation. What we can do is treat each person with dignity, grace, and love. That, my friends, is courage. And that is all we need to reach success. Because this is what relational ministry is about.

We have a lot of goals over the next several years to meet the cry of help. We intend to increase our base pay to our staff. We are looking to open a fourth empowerment center located in Millcreek to serve Stanton, Richardson Park, Millcreek and Pike Creek. We are looking for resources to serve Bear and New Castle residents. We have a plan to improve our job training program at the clothing bank. We are considering housing options in Newark. We need to continue to build an internal infrastructure that provides succession planning. When I think about the goals we have and the needs that exist, I sometimes wonder how will we do this? And then I look around me and see the amazing and supportive community which makes the Friendship House family. When I see what volunteering does for people who come to serve dinner at housing, work our centers or the Clothing Bank, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or crack 120 eggs – the stories you share, the people we serve, the staff who make the magic happen; that is where I find strength and joy to keep me going.

Martin Luther King, Jr. told us, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace.”

And, as we are told by Peter, “Love each other as if your life depended on it. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless, cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all can get in on it.”

It takes one person to change someone’s life. Maybe that person will be you. I invite you to be part of what Friendship House will do this year.

Thank you.

– Kim Eppehimer (Executive Director)

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