Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
I grew up in and am originally from California in the San Francisco Bay Area. I moved here eight years ago after marrying John Anderson, who I met on a mission trip with a Florida organization called Food for the Poor (FFP). Six months later when our group got back together here in Florida to do another project for FFP, John, or Jay as most people call him, told me he'd be coming to S.F. for business and asked if he could take me to dinner. We've been together ever since. I got the job after six months of living here. I had good management experience after working for United Airlines for 12 years as the assistant to the general manager and being an operations manager for ramp services. I was one of two women who held that position. After 9/11, I was then offered a job as operations manager for my church. We weren't sure at that time what was going to happen to air travel. St. Bartholomew's is where I had exposure to nonprofits like St. Vincent de Paul, Little Sisters of the Poor and others. I even made tuna fish sandwiches on Fridays for the homeless in San Mateo, California. Who knew that would also lead to Mission House.
What are your primary roles and responsibilities as executive director of Mission House?
At first, I pretty much did everything except case management. I wore many hats. As I started learning more about the possibilities of what we could do and people who could help us, I hired an incredible team of people to make things happen. We've gone from a staff of five to 11 in the seven-and-a-half years I've been there and from helping 36 people off the street to 79 last year. It's all because of the talented and educated staff and the incredible donors who help us accomplish these goals. I always said it doesn't matter if you are a church or a nonprofit, if you don't run it like a business, you won't be here tomorrow. I am responsible to make sure the donations we receive are used to the best of our ability to accomplish the goals of helping those on the street find a home.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love success, which in our field is getting someone a job or an apartment. The gratitude is overwhelming. The people we serve are so grateful for anything that we do to make their lives better. Come cook in the kitchen, and you will hear and see the gratitude of these folks for just a hot meal. We are small and can take the time to listen and hear what people need. Countless times from the patients in our free clinic, to our homeless clients, we hear their gratitude. They tell us they come to Mission House for help because they are not treated like a number, but with respect and dignity. Success is also showing a donor what we do and having them understand the need for their gifts. I have fostered many long-term donors who I am blessed to now call friends.
What’s the biggest misconception about homelessness in the Beaches area?
The biggest misconception is that they are on the streets because they are lazy. Over 50 percent of all homeless people have mental illness. There was some type of trauma in their life that made them unable to get back on their feet when they were down. That's why Mission House is here. We know how to get them back on their feet, whether it be through counseling with our case managers, or help from the Mental Health Resource Center or any one of our partners who we work with. Our goal is to help them regain the life they once had. You would not believe some of our clients’ stories. Many of them never had a chance with the environment they were raised in. It's very sad and makes us realize how truly blessed we are.
How can people help your organization’s efforts this holiday season?
Mission House offers many ways that people can become partners with us. Our Holiday Letter will be coming out shortly, and a donation would of course be greatly appreciated. For $84 a month or $1,000 or more a year, you become part of our Samaritan Circle. We're also building a new endowment so that we will be around as long as we're needed. If someone wishes to volunteer or see more of what we do, our website is the place to go: www.missionhousejax.org. The volunteer application is online, and you can sign up for a tour to see where you'd be most useful.
What do you enjoy most about living on the First Coast?
It took me three years to call Florida home, but now it really is. The weather is amazing. (I’m not so crazy about the two hurricanes I've been through … I'll take an earthquake any day!) The pace is truly slower, and the people are so warm and friendly. I was back in California last year and was saying "Hi" to people on the street … they thought I was crazy! This life is truly a gift, and when I let go of the wheel, everything seemed to fall into place. I thank God for everything I have and the abilities he's given me to help those in need.