Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Coming Home by Cristina Nelson, IVC New England

by | Jun 8, 2012

Since September, I have been volunteering at Hearth, Inc., a 21-year-old non-profit agency headquartered in Boston’s South End. Hearth’s mission is to end elder homelessness. It works towards this goal by operating affordable supportive housing units. This means that nurses, social workers, home-health aides, and other professionals are involved in the day-to-day lives of Hearth clients. Supportive housing ensures that elders, including frail elders, can age with dignity and with as much independence as possible, regardless of their special medical, emotional, or social needs.

My job is to coordinate the Adopt-a-Room program. Hearth has built a 59-unit development, Hearth at Olmsted Green, for homeless elders in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. The Adopt-a-Room program seeks to furnish and equip each unit.

To that end, my job has been to work collaboratively to raise the $3,000 (x 59 units!) it takes to fully furnish and equip one unit. Hearth’s reputation as a stable and innovative agency has helped in this endeavor. We received a grant from a local bank and have had other major supporters, and my role has been to contact churches, unions, groups, and organizations to urge them to raise the funds to adopt a unit, which has often involved my doing powerpoint presentations. (I guess I should use the past tense, for most of the units have been adopted.) They would raise the $3000 it took to furnish & equip one unit; of that, $2500 went to furniture and $500 to household goods. Some individuals or organizations could only raise the household goods amount, which was totally fine. Once they raised the funds, most donors chose to purchase and deliver the household goods themselves, and to set up a unit.

I was giving a tour when a man walked in and joined us.  He said he had signed a contract to be a resident and would move in in a few weeks.  His name is [Ivar] and he’s from Albania. He told us he once had a family, a house, and a job, but had lost everything and is now living in a shelter.

I took [Ivar] and the tour group to a unit that had been adopted by Hearth’s Board of Directors. It was fully furnished, down to the toothpaste in the bathroom, placemats and mugs in the dining area, and an afghan on the back of the settee. The bed was made up with sheets, matching comforter, and throw, and there were hangers, a laundry basket, and detergent in the closet.

When [Ivar] saw this, he burst into tears! He was overwhelmed by the quality of the units, awed by the array of rooms, and by the fact that volunteers/donors are providing the household goods. It was a very touching moment. He finally had a home.


Want to hear a little more?

Boston news reporter, Carl Stevens, featured this story on his program Carl Stevens’ Journal on WBZ 1030.  To understand Cris’s impact on those she serves at Hearth, you can listen to this short radio clip of a client’s reaction to his new apartment.