With a theme of Housing to Recovery: Building Community, Building Lives, the 2012 Zarrow Mental Health Symposium and Mental Health America Annual Conference brought people together for conversations around housing, collaboration, research, and advocacy.
In September, I had the pleasure of traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the 2012 Zarrow Mental Health Symposium and Mental Health America Annual Conference. With a theme of Housing to Recovery: Building Community, Building Lives, the event brought together individuals and organizations from across the United States for conversations around housing, collaboration, research, and advocacy.
In addition to hosting the conference, The Zarrow Group of Foundations also held an opening night reception honoring local donors committed to a community campaign to end homelessness in Tulsa.
The “Building Tulsa, Building Lives” capital campaign is a $30 million dollar initiative with the goal of ending chronic homelessness in Tulsa. Spearheaded by Judy Kishner of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation and Gail Richards with the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, the campaign has resulted in 425 new housing units for people who are chronically homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
At the opening night funders’ reception, Bill Major, executive director of the Zarrow Foundations, kicked off the evening with a thank you to the incredible collaborative efforts of local philanthropy as well as volunteers and city government. Judy and Gail then shared the stories of their respective foundations and their family’s commitment to ending homelessness in Tulsa, focusing in particular on those dealing with mental health issues.
And, because Houston has an active Funders Together chapter that began in October 2011, I was able to share details about the collaborative work around ending homelessness that is happening in our community. We have been able to create a diverse group of collaborators with representatives from the United Way, corporations, private philanthropy, and public funders. Using other FTEH chapters as a model, particularly Los Angeles, we are beginning to look at collaborative funding opportunities and ways to shift the current model of homelessness in our city toward a more effective systems approach.
We have already begun to see a change in the way our community is addressing our current homeless system. Specifically, our collaborative efforts have had an impact on our local Continuum of Care as that group creates our community plan.
It was clear that everyone at the reception was invested in solving the issue of homelessness. Even more stirring was that mental health was often cited as a personal call to action for many in the room. I was moved by how many conversations began with, “I am committed to this because mental illness has touched my life through family, friends, etc.”
What is always striking to me about nonprofit work, and particularly the philanthropic sector, is the dual commitment of those who work in it. We are in this field because we are passionate about the issues, or feel that our skills can make a difference. But it is also because we, ourselves, can relate to the struggles of the clients who visit the organizations we support.
Tulsa is blessed with a tightly knit philanthropic community that is committed to working together toward ending homelessness. Thank you, Zarrow Foundations, for your leadership and guidance. You are a beacon in your community. By focusing your attention on homeless individuals, and those at risk of being homeless, you are helping them find a way to rebuild their lives. There is no greater calling.
Amanda Cloud is the Senior Program Officer at The Simmons Foundation. The mission of the Simmons Foundation is to partner with organizations that strengthen women, youth and families while building an educated, tolerant and resilient community.