When walking through the Thurman Brisben Center and experiencing the outstretched hands and open hearts of the Center’s devoted staff and volunteers, you will hear words that describe transformation. The place is alive and growing. Just look at these children and families, said a volunteer while watching children playing on the Brisben playground. A former resident asserted, after traveling from shelter to shelter for years, it was the Brisben Center and the caring staff that helped me to learn to live – to thrive – not just survive. And, a nationally recognized leader summed it up by saying, I had no idea the Brisben Center is doing so much to end homelessness.
As Executive Director of the Thurman Brisben Center, I am overjoyed and honored to provide the leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and focus on measurable outcomes that are transforming the Center and delivering on its primary mission of providing emergency housing and restorative supports to end homelessness. Importantly, ending homelessness and improving individual, family and community wellbeing require resolving systems of poverty through housing, employment, nutrition, transportation, health care, and recreation. When I walked through the doors of the Center in January 2018, I knew that to achieve the mission of providing temporary housing and hand-up supports with the six hundred people we would serve, we must focus on increasing the vitality and viability of both the staff and the building, and to assess and improve the effectiveness of Center operations and its programs. Now with a year of transformative progress and a strong foundation in three primary areas – building and operations, resident nutrition, and economic development – the Brisben Center and its mission are positioned for robust, measurable success in 2019 and beyond.
First, to strengthen its 16,000 square foot building, provide work space for staff and volunteer community partner organizations, sustain 80 spaces of temporary shelter, and positively impact its energy needs, the Brisben Center is blessed by the Sunshine Lady Foundation and Washington Redskins Foundation Loads of Love with substantial funds for capital improvements. We have completed the Loads of Love project in our resident laundry room and will continue with replacing aging HVAC units with high efficiency models, install LED lighting inside and outside the building, weatherproofing windows and doors, repairing the walk-in cooler and freezer, maintaining the fire protection system, upgrading the security system, repairing broken concrete, and creating sorely needed office and meeting spaces within the building footprint.
Second, motivated by nutritional and related health challenges among children and adult residents of the Brisben Center, coupled with my experience in developing regional projects for improving food security, the Brisben Center Nutrition Coalition was formed. With the dedicated assistance of some amazing Coalition partners, including the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Dr. Yum Project, Katora Coffee, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Kaiser Permanente, and additional partners, a nutritional program with measurable results has been developed for implementation at the Brisben Center in early 2019. We will teach families with children to select, prepare, eat and store healthy foods that improve their wellbeing and equip them with a variety of tools and techniques for a lifetime of good nutrition and health.
Third, the Brisben Center is enhancing its already successful case-managed, job-engaging, economic development work with its residents by implementing a nationally proven Mobility Mentoring® program in 2019. The poverty-resolving Mobility Mentoring approach will match thirty trained, volunteer coach-navigators with thirty Center residents. The relationships will continue for one or more years after residents depart the Brisben Center. With helpful coaching, they will set S.M.A.R.T. goals in the interrelated areas of housing, financial management, career, education, and family wellbeing. Additionally, the Brisben Center will administer the Your Money, Your Goals financial management program developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We are very excited to be the first to launch Mobility Mentoring in the Fredericksburg region. It is being made possible by the generosity of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, Community Foundation of the Rappahannock, Neuberger-Schwartz Foundation, and EMPath/Mobility Mentoring. The addition of this program and its one-to-one coaching/mentoring will lead to measurable economic success among our under-employed and unemployed residents.
For over thirty years, the Brisben Center, has been the 24/7, 365 go-to source for homeless services in the Greater Fredericksburg area. With strong community support, the Brisben Center faithfully provided emergency housing for more than 6,000 persons over the past thirteen years, served 95,000 nutritious meals last year, yielded significant increases in employment and income among its residents, sustainably re-housed hundreds, and demonstrated that it remains a viable refuge for those who have desperately needed a temporary place to call home and rebuild their lives. The Brisben Center was built by love and it continues building with love as its residents reach for a rung on the ladder of success.
I am delighted and honored to serve as Executive Director of the Thurman Brisben Center, focusing with an entrepreneurial spirit on measurable outcomes working to sustainably end homelessness and resolve poverty.
It takes a community to achieve success. Thank you for walking with us on the journey.
Wrote the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: Walker, there is no path. The path is made by walking. In Spanish: Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.