Ten Years, Ten Reflections, Thank You!

Headshot of Louise Bourassa

Ten years ago today, I became the executive director of Hope Solutions.  It has been a privilege to serve – and a transformative experience for me personally.  There have been a myriad of astonishing moments.  I wanted to share a few reflections of why this ride, with you, has been so important and extraordinary.

1. Homelessness is horrible, especially if you are a child.  We all agree that not having a home is a bad thing.  No place to be warm and safe; no privacy or dignity. Over the past decade, we have seen, first hand, the devastating and long-term impact of homelessness on children.  Homeless kids have no anchor, no routine, no safety, no place for play dates, to do homework, to rest their heads at the end of the day.  They are traumatized by violence, insecurity, lack of educational opportunity.  They are outcasts, sad, worried about their parents and siblings.  It takes a toll that can last a lifetime.  With your help, we are housing and helping many of these youth – but there are so many more in the shadows.  Homelessness for them does not end with a house – it continues to impact self-esteem, emotional health, the future.  Children should not be homeless.  Not here in this beautiful and bountiful place.

2. Often, all you need to do is ask. In December 2005, Hope Solutions did not have sufficient operating funds to get through the fiscal year. We had spent all our resources buying and rehabbing Garden Park Apartments; and were housing and providing services to 72 people; 40 of whom were children – 27 formerly homeless families now had permanent homes. We had to succeed, for them.  One of our founding board members said, “We must go back to our roots.  Let’s call an interfaith breakfast and ask for support.” And so we did. Within three months, the faith community provided enough funding for operations for the year, plus $25,000.  We never looked back.  Over the next few years, we grew a modest operating reserve to make sure we could keep our commitments to those we serve. Over the years, as if divine providence, a much needed gift would come our way at a crucial moment – from people too generous to imagine.

3. Things happen because people show up.  Whether it be board or committee meetings, fundraising events, community planning, tutoring and summer camps for children, furnishing apartments for families arriving to their first home, offering pro-bono plumbing or painting or legal services, benefit concerts, or just going to more meetings – people show up!  I never fully understood the impact of showing up – but I understand now – because Hope Solutions was built by the people who showed up – BIG time. To all of you who show up – thank you.  You have my utmost admiration.  Because showing up is not easy – and it is essential.

4. Leverage, leverage, leverage.  Housing and Urban Development (HUD) makes you go through some significant hurdles for funding.  One of those is leverage.  At first this may seem like an artificial exhibit of cooperation, but if implemented well, the benefits have a ripple effect.  So, we have learned to leverage resources.  You have housing, we have services.  Let’s combine those to make a community that thrives.  You are a service group, we have things that need doing – let’s combine to create givers and recipients who mutually benefit.  You are a faith community deeply committed to social justice, we have social justice needs for days – let’s join forces to make a better world.  You succeed, we succeed.  Together we make a difference – incrementally maybe, but collectively we change the world, or at least, someone’s world.

5. Diversity is a beautiful thing.  Those of you who know me well, know that I struggle with understanding the ‘politically correct.’  Thanks to some pretty special staff members (you know who you are), I am learning that diversity, not in the politically-correct form, but in a real sense – is beautiful. And I am not talking about race, religion, or class per se, but I am talking about differences in perspective and view.  When you have the privilege of hearing the stories of people who become homeless – or people who are trying to help those who may be homeless, you appreciate the richness of each of our experiences.  This work, this mission, helps us have a greater understanding – of humanity, of privilege, of opportunity, of responsibility.

6. If you do not succeed, try, try again.  Holy, moly, this work is hard.  There are just not enough affordable homes to go around.  The bureaucracy is alarming, the barriers daunting.  But we keep trying.  I remember the failure of not being able to purchase or build another apartment complex a few years back. It was an uncertain time in the economy and we were not successful in a critical goal – to develop another Garden Park Apartments.  It was deeply disappointing.  But, we tried a different approach and were able to serve many more families through leverage and partnership and cooperation.  We were able to respond to critical needs, despite set-backs.  Today, Hope Solutions serves over 950 people in housing with services.  We are able to do so – because we never give up.

7. Values and mission matter.  Over and over again, we turn to our values and mission to make critical decisions.  We have been asked to do more and more in the community – in response to many needs.  If the need is in line with our mission, we do all we can to respond because responsiveness to community needs is one of our values.  Day to day, staff make decisions about the way they perform their jobs based on our values of inclusiveness, compassion, integrity, and accountability.  These simple precepts have guided our work and bonded us in a collective purpose.

8. Faith takes many forms.  Over the years I have had the privilege to attend many places of worship and meet people from different faiths.  Our board members are a diverse representation of beliefs and we enjoy bantering about the different ways religions approach faith.  I have also learned that faith goes beyond religion – it is a belief in something bigger – and a confidence that the seeds we plant today will indeed make a difference tomorrow.  A faith that together, we really can change the trajectory of people’s lives.  And we do.

9. Gratitude is powerful.  As a non-profit leader, I am on the receiving end of generosity that is often overwhelming.  Just this month, we are collecting back packs and school supplies.  Our conference room and back offices are full to the brim.  This kind of generosity happens all year long.  People give – you give – abundantly and with joy.  The gratitude that I feel toward our generous community sometimes moves me to my core.  I read once: “You have not lived until you give to someone who can never repay you.” There’s a whole lot of living going on out there.  We are grateful. Thank you.

10. Goodness is all around.  Ten years into this journey, the thing that I know for sure, is that there is goodness everywhere.  People care, they give, they believe.  Whether staff member, board member, community partner, volunteer, or donor – or the people we serve – every day, all day, we are surrounded by good people doing good work.  Thank you for confirming my faith in humanity – for teaching me that, indeed, life is full of goodness – all around.

– Louise Bourassa, Executive Director