In 2013 my wife Mary and I admitted that we were not as young when The Open Shelter opened in 1983. That was not what you would call an amazing discovery. It was more like the confession that lovers make when they believe that something important needs to be protected and continued but they recognize that hey may not have what it takes to continue providing the energy or focus it will take to keep the object of their love on track and stable.
My wife and I have been blessed by the support and commitment of the contributors and Board members who have stood beside us as we took stands against the political correctness posture of local governmental and philanthropic leadership as we struggled to honestly represent the needs and hopes of our homeless neighbors. But that doesn’t change the fact that being stripped of government funding, having to lay off dozens of good employees, having our building bulldozed, being institutionally and personally maligned and being accused of being unnecessary had taken a toll on us and the Board.
And so we determined to face the fact that many new programs and service providers had come into existence in the decades since we first opened, which did raise the possibility that questioning the value of our continued existence was a legitimate pursuit.
We identified three possibilities:
1) Admit that The Open Shelter was no longer necessary and prepare to close while trying to redirect the incredible generosity of so many meal groups, volunteers and material assistance efforts.
2) Find an agency which is similar to The Open Shelter and negotiate a merger, transferring the volunteer involvement to that place and stipulating that Solomon Dean and Harry Yeprem are offered positions, out of respect for their twenty plus years of exceptional service on behalf of our homeless and marginally housed neighbors.
3) Find a way to survive because The Open Shelter is genuinely unique and serves an essential role in the continuum of care on the streets of Columbus.
We talked to other service providers, board members, volunteers and guests. All of the feedback was that we have an important and unique role in this community’s continuum of care and need to preserve the style and commitment of our pastor care emphasis and alliances for the long haul. And so, we begin earnestly seeking the people who would carry the agency into the future, providing both CHANGE & SAMENESS.
Just as we believe that God brought us to The Open Shelter, we also believe that Sheli Mathias was sent to us. She brings a faith, a spirit and an appreciation for the attitude and the efforts of The Open Shelter which we believe can carry our work into the future. She also brings her unique gifts as offerings to our most vulnerable neighbors and is prepared to defend CHANGE & SAMENESS on this covered piece of the sidewalk.
These four offerings have been and will continue to be the unique and significant elements of our contribution to this community:
1) We are committed to staying as close to the streets as possible, serving those who are feeling left behind.
2) We strive to be inclusive of all persons who feel that we can be their ally – for as long as they feel that need.
3) We emphasize a pastoral care concern for mutuality in community and individual stability and nurture.
4) We deliberately structure opportunities for shared resources to maximize their impact and utility, recognizing that uniformed duplication of efforts is not the best use of resources or talents.
We are keenly aware that none of the work of The Open Shelter would be possible if it weren’t for the efforts of our donors and volunteers. These are the people whose gifts, resources and talents enable us to serve. The Open Shelter is, in fact, the conduit for the caring and generosity of those who believe in, support and participate in the intention and style of this agency.
That makes it really important to reassure the community that our commitment to them and our most vulnerable neighbors is not changing, even while leadership roles are evolving.
Our staff development reflects that commitment. And our re-energized and expanded Board reflects the fact that our mission is being advanced and guarded well. Our Board wants those of you who have stood beside us for so long to know that the tradition and values which The Open Shelter represents continue to be our guides into the future. But we know that in order to survive we have to catch the eye of new donors and volunteers who can come to understand the values and styles which make The Open Shelter worth supporting.
And so, CHANGE & SAMENESS is making it’s eye-catching visual debut now. The CHANGE is obvious; a re-designed logo, letterhead, business cards, educational material and website. The SAMENESS is that we still do not spend your money on glitzy stuff. Our entire marketing do-over is a gift from and old friend and a new Board member.
We are so grateful for all the generosity of the past. We are so excited about all the opportunities of the future. We hope you join us in this commitment to service.