Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Powerful Impact People: Toni Dolan - Beth-El Center

Toni Dolan, executive director of the BETH-EL CENTER a Milford Non Profit that  feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, and seeks to prevent homelessness, has her day cut out for her.  Originally an interim director, she became so engaged with the shelter’s mission that she has stayed on for five years.  “You begin to build relationships within the community and through that I began to realize how vital the services are and how well respected the center is. I felt I could make a difference. The whole issue of homelessness, people not having a safe place to lay their heads at night, is a societal curse that doesn’t need to be.”

Today her morning started with a to-do-list of grant writing, administrative tasks, working on raising funds as the chair of ‘clubs and agencies’ for the United Way’s fund raising goals…and then a crisis hit.  A husband and wife with three children knocked at the door. The mother was not working and had just gotten out of hospital and had no health insurance.  It was crunch time.  Toni stopped what she was doing and got some bags of food together after the mother said “I have nothing in my cupboard to feed my family”.

The Beth El Center, supported by the United Way, is not an emergency shelter but they have all the resources to guide people to those shelters that are safer situations for families. “We are called a transition shelter.  A lot of people think of the classic, stand in line at 5pm, get taken in for the night and put out in the morning, type of shelter.”  Beth El is a program that tries to help with all issues including self-sufficiency. 

Toni and the center also work closely with other agencies in a shared capacity. Peggy Pisano, of the Milford Rape Crisis Center and her assault councilors for the families at the shelter. Peggy Kelly of the Milford Family Resource Center and her certified parent educators who work with the mothers exclusively on parenting skills and with children in a shelter.  The Visiting Nurse Association of South Central CT that access clients if needed and help to prevent emergency calls to 911.  And Karen Schur, who works with the Young Parent Program, Milford Hospital, especially for young women who might have become parents before they were ready. 

Toni devotes some time to the soup kitchen, a vital service that serves the greater community. Anyone who needs a nutritious hot lunch, five days a week can come.  There were 18 thousand meals served last year.  The shelter also offers a “no freeze’ shelter in the winter. “We don’t have a great capacity to house them, but at least we get them out of the cold from January to March in an effort to lessen the impact on the city services”.

A large portion of her day is spent fund raising.  This year they may be facing a 5% cutback in the shelter contract.  “United Way has a million dollar goal.  If we don’t get that it’s another cutback from what we can provide”.

Major challenges?  Housing. There is not enough affordable housing in Connecticut.   Compound that with the economy and top it off with the job market.  “We do have clients that are working, but they are working poor because they don’t have jobs that earn them enough.  It takes 23 dollars an hour to afford a modest two family home here. Without the educational level or skills what do you do?  You have to put together 2 or 3 jobs to make it work.” 

What she and the shelter provide is a 90-day program, working with clients one-on-one in supportive services that assist them to self-sufficiency and in not repeating the cycle. “Of late we have evolved into our goal being to end homelessness.” And while that may sound like a lofty goal, she knows that even though a small agency can’t do this alone, they can collaborate with other agencies. Working one person at a time Toni and the Beth El Center can make difference. 

Just like she said she would. 


Best fund raising:  “We have three fund raisers a year.   The biggest is a Spring gala event with dinner, live auctions and a “successful story” told by one of our clients. What has been especially good in the last 2 years is determining what the cost per night is for our clients and asking people to bid on that.   50 dollars. Knowing what their 50 dollars is paying for exactly has helped tremendously. It’s that direct connection to the people you are helping.  


Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes


We’ve all seen it.  The people who fear change speak up immediately because they think they will be hurt by the idea.  They even speak loudly and without regard for the odds or reality sometimes.
The people who benefit from a change usually don't believe it until it they see it, so they sit still.
And that's why change in an organization is difficult.
The trick is to get your board and your volunteers enrolled or enticed into the new idea. The new possibility.  A secret?  Even the very best hearted folks will want to know how this new idea benefits them.  

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