"I think the thing that I most love about the shelter is that the men and women who are staying here have to be job seeking so they are doing what our society says they should be doing," she said. "They are coming here because they realize they've got to find work so that they can start providing for themselves and their families. Every day they have to go out and complete six job searches. If they're not completing their job searches and working on finding a job, they cannot stay at the shelter.
"They have four weeks to find a job. If they're able to find work, then they can stay for a while longer to save some of their first paychecks in order to pay deposits and find someplace to live. We're supporting people who are doing, like I said, what our society says is important -- finding a job, providing for themselves, trying to get really back on their feet. So I think what we're doing here is super important."
Mitcham, a Cartersville resident, has a background in social work, with her most recent job being the service coordinator for Bartow County at Tallatoona Community Action Partnership. In 2002, she earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Georgia. Then she received a master's degree in social work and a master's degree in divinity, both from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in 2006.
"The board decided that there was a need for someone local to deal with the critical financial needs that we had and [former executive director] Margie [Shannon Telfair] was unable to make that commitment," said Diane Harris, incoming board president for the Good Neighbor, adding the nonprofit's executive director position had been open since October. "[Jessica] has everything that we were looking for in that position as executive director.
"She has a degree in social work. She has a degree in seminary and that means that she can talk the talk across all different cultures and everyone represented within those cultures. She has a background in nonprofits. She is aware of the grant writing process. She is familiar with our accounting software. Every checkpoint that we had, she was a high candidate for. So we are thrilled to have her in this role."
Since forming in 1996, the nonprofit has served more than 4,100 people. On average, the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001 assists nearly 345 individuals per year, of whom at least 52 percent are children. While they are housed, Good Neighbor's guests are required to find a job within four weeks, and the shelter's staff helps them establish savings, focus on problem-solving skills and chart out future housing options.
To help keep the shelter operating successfully, Mitcham said it is important to expand the nonprofit's funding resources.
"We have a lot of hard work to make a stronger funding base for the shelter. Currently in our total budget only about 10 [percent or] 11 percent comes from federal funding and the other 90 percent is money that's donated and raised locally in this county," she said, adding the Good Neighbor's annual budget is about $225,000. "That's a huge percentage of kind of insecure funding. So we need to find some more secure grants.
"We've got a lot of churches and individuals that give every single month and every single year to the shelter. I think the shelter ... started and grew while the economy was doing so well and tons of people were giving. Now people who were giving a lot before are struggling. So we've got our work cut out for us here to try [to] build a more firm foundation of funding so a greater percentage of our funding is pretty secure year after year."
To help raise money, the Good Neighbor is planning numerous fundraisers for 2011, some of which are a radiothon in January; Etowah Jazz Festival in February; a possible barber shop chorus concert; a 10K run and rummage sale in the spring; Our Hearts, Their Harbor in August; Roundup, which features a meal prepared by a celebrity chef, in September; and three bucket drives. Missing from the lineup of benefits is The Georgia Barbecue Classic, which used to be the organization's largest fundraiser.
For more information about the Good Neighbor, call 770-607-0610 or visit www.goodneighborshelter.org.