I Walked Away From My Executive Corporate Job to Build Tiny Homes for the Homeless Because I Once Was Homeless

Home is where the heart is – Home sweet home – Home is where love grows – What if I don’t have a home – What if the streets are my home – If home is where the heart is – Then my home is anxiety – Then my home is unsafe – Then my home is despair – What if my bed is the ground – What if my belongings are all that I can carry around – Home sweet home – Home terrified home – Home dangerous home – What if you don’t see my despair – What if you don’t see my decline – If home is where love grows – Then I have no roots – Then I have no blooms – Then I have no progress – Home is where the heart is – Home sweet home – Home is where love grows

This is a poem that came to me in the middle of the night a couple of months ago helping to define why I feel so passionate about my work over the past few months. I have been building DE Serves, a new nonprofit organization focused on helping to rehabilitate homeless individuals and restore their ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

This organization speaks true to my heart and calling as I was once homeless 32 years ago when I was an 18 year old senior in high school. I was raised by a single mother  who had four children by the time she had reached her 23rd birthday. She had my older sister at the age of 17, my brother at 19, me when she was 21, and my youngest brother when she was 23. Our father was not present most of my childhood, and since my mother only received her GED, she barely made minimum wage doing  housekeeping or bookkeeping jobs. As you can imagine, we struggled to make ends meet and our little family was evicted from one house rental or apartment after another. By the time my siblings and I reached the age of 16, our mother had found reasons to run us out of the house. Finding myself no longer welcome in my mother’s apartment, I reached out to a friend who took me in and helped connect me with supportive programs and services helping me graduate from high school, purchase my first car for $300, and begin my first job in the real estate industry as a receptionist at F.C. Tucker. I jumped head-first into becoming an adult at a time in life when many of my friends were just trying to find their place in life. I enrolled in college classes and moved into a studio apartment of my very own. Growing up I loved learning and consistently received high marks throughout my education. I had always felt safe and secure in an educational setting, knowing this was where I could excel. However, I found myself overwhelmed taking on so much at such a young age. College-level classes, a full-time job, bills and living expenses were taking a toll on me, so I dropped out of college after my first semester with a dismal performance. 

In such a scary time in life, I found success in my career. After 4 years in supporting administrative roles in real estate, I transitioned into a career in property management. Working my way up from an administrative assistant, I took over the responsibilities to become the assistant property manager of a 350 unit government subsidized apartment complex, and eventually, the property manager at the age of 25. Coming from a low income background, I appreciated the opportunity to work with low to no income individuals who were seeking to improve their situation, but just needed a helping hand to assist them on their journey. There were many young mothers, as well as young adults, who found themselves down on their luck and the subsidized housing was a true blessing to them. I often wondered if my family could have been the benefactors of this type of help and where my mother would have ended up had this opportunity been presented to her. That was not how my story played out, but I was in a great position as property manager to help others with their self-improvement goals and I took every opportunity afforded to connect them to additional services and resources that would help them along their way.

As I matured and grew more interested in opportunities to improve my career my love for learning and improving myself took me back to college in the evenings. I earned my associates degree in two years and my bachelors degree in another two years, giving myself a steady educational foundation to continue pursuing my career aspirations. My career evolved further and I was fortunate enough to transition over to the human resources industry, which began in the college graduate placement office helping employers and graduates connect. This led to a recruitment consulting role helping executives actively recruit top talent within their organizations, finally bringing me to my most recent employment opportunity of 13 years where I was hired by Bill Warren, the “Father of Online Recruiting.” In this role, I  assisted Bill in growing DirectEmployers Association from around 80 Member companies to over 900 member companies. DirectEmployers Association is a human resources trade association providing technology and resources to human resources professionals, similar to Indeed.com and LinkedIn. Over my 13 years with DirectEmployers Association, I was honored to work very closely with many of our partner organizations including the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Google, Facebook, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and countless others. One of the biggest things I learned, that has left an impression on me, is the fact that there remains a talent gap of skilled workers, and employers continue to struggle finding a solution to this day.

After spending the last 10 years traveling across the United States attending trade shows and conferences as the Vice President of Marketing for DirectEmployers Association, I saw the homeless population increasing in big and small cities across the country. I began boxing up my leftovers from the business dinners I was privileged to attend and as I would walk back to my hotel I would pass the leftovers to the homeless. I learned about young adults who were abandoned by their families, whose life stories mirror my own, and veterans who didn’t want to ask for help because they had been trained to protect and serve, not accept handouts. Seeking to make a difference for these homeless and armed with the knowledge of the talent gap, I began to research the opportunities available to transition the homeless back into the workforce.

I discovered there are many organizations having great success with creating tiny home villages, especially in the Pacific Northwestern region of the United States. After diving in, I found the key to success to be a community center facility that provides programs for rehabilitation, apprenticeships, and training to the homeless with the sheer goal of transitioning these individuals back into the workforce.

Some of these communities include Opportunity Village in Eugene, OR; Quixote Village in Olympia, WA; Dignity Village in Portland, OR; Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin in Racine, WI and the Beloved Community in Denver, CO.

The first of these communities was developed in 2001 and has enjoyed 18 years of continued success, so much so that they are now developing their 5th new community to help another community with their homeless population.

These communities, values, and mission weighed heavily on my heart so much that I know I could truly make a difference. After compiling my research,  I created a proposal for DirectEmployers Association to provide the financial and operational support for a new nonprofit charitable organization headquartered in Indianapolis. This organization would work to create a tiny home community serving those individuals who often just need a small bit of assistance to help them out of their situation. DE Serves began in August 2018 and we have been working towards our first community but we need your help to make this a reality. Not only is this organization my passion, it represents my ability to pay homage to those that helped in my journey, and in a way, I hope to do that for others. I walked away from my executive corporate job as a vice president to follow my purpose to help the homeless and I’ve never been happier and felt more fulfilled in what I am doing for the community!