Mitcham follows 'calling' to help those in need
by Marie Nesmith
May 01, 2011 | 1715 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For Jessica Mitcham, juggling motherhood and a full-time job is a fulfilling endeavor that never provides a dull moment. Along with raising two children younger than 4 with her husband, Ty, she is settling in nicely as the executive director of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter.

Joining the Cartersville nonprofit in December 2010, Mitcham is tasked with overseeing its operations and fundraising efforts. About $180,000 of the shelter's $225,000 budget is raised annually through local special events.

Since forming in 1996, the Good Neighbor 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.

Occupation: Executive director of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter

City of residence: Cartersville

Age: 31

Family: Married to Ty Mitcham, associate broker with George F. Willlis Realty, for seven years; we have a 3-year-old son, Asa, and an 18-month-old daughter, Emily Rose.

Education: Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Georgia, Masters of Social Work from Baylor University, Masters of Divinity from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University.

Q: When did you become the executive director of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter and why did you want to be a part of this organization?

A: On Dec. 6, 2010; because I feel like my calling in life is to help Christians find meaningful ways to help and come alongside people who are struggling; I believe the shelter is an amazing place where individuals and families are able to really get the support they need to make a new start.

Q: What is the shelter's current situation as far as number of guests and the factors that led to their homelessness?

A: Winters are generally a very busy time and this winter was even busier than in the past. January 2011 was the first time in the entire 16-year history of the shelter that we were full to 100 percent capacity every day in the month. In March, we were still at 93 percent capacity for the month. We are able to accommodate a maximum capacity of 23 people at the shelter, and we are home to single men and women as well as families.

Our guests become homeless for many different reasons ... in the difficult economic times we are facing, certainly a significant number lose employment and then are unable to pay for their home or apartment and become homeless. We are also seeing a large number of men and women who are homeless because the stress on families right now is so profound that families are breaking apart and someone ends up needing some place to go. Drug and alcohol abuse are also significant factors.

Q: What are the shelter's most pressing needs or challenges?

Our most pressing challenge for our guests is transportation. We have so many guests who arrive without a vehicle and are trying to find and then maintain employment while walking or riding a bicycle to work. For the shelter, we are working hard to raise the funds to continue to support the shelter during these tough times. So far things are going well in 2011, but it will be hard work all the way to the end of the year. We also create a monthly Needs List, which we email out to everyone on our mailing list and post on our website. Anyone interested in getting a copy can contact the shelter at 770-607-0610 to get the monthly list with current needs.

Q: Does it surprise you to learn people are still unaware that there is a homeless issue in Bartow County or that the Good Neighbor exists?

A: I am not surprised people are still unaware mostly because our location does not 'give itself away' -- there isn't a big sign on the facility ... I say all the time that countless Bartow residents have driven by the shelter literally thousands of times and not realized they drove by.

Current statistics from the Department of Community Affairs state that on the night of Jan. 23, 2011, there were between 100 and 500 homeless individuals in Bartow County. Now that is certainly a pretty significant range, but even if we take the low end, this is a significant number of men, women and children who would be or were sleeping outside in tents, in cars or in shelters.

Q: What are your goals for the Good Neighbor?

A: We are doing a lot of work to try to 'get the word out' about the shelter. We are starting a quarterly open house called 'Knowing Your Neighbor,' and the first will be held on Wednesday, May 11, at noon at the shelter. We will have a free lunch, a tour of the shelter, and information about events and ways to get involved. We also just mailed out our first quarterly newsletter in April and will be putting the next one in the mail in July. We have several special events coming up. ... We are starting a large fruit and vegetable garden at the shelter in the next couple weeks and having lots of volunteers involved. The Big Chicken Barbershop Chorus from Marietta will perform on June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Clarence Brown [Conference] Center to benefit the shelter and you can buy $15 tickets at the shelter, at Jax Supply, or at Stiles Collision. We will have our annual dinner and silent auction, called Our Hearts, Their Harbor, in August. We will also be working hard to have lots of events to create awareness during Homeless Awareness Week, which is the first full week of November.

Q: Since working at the Good Neighbor, have you witnessed any success stories and what has it been like to be a part of that?

A: I have told this story several times, but a woman exited the shelter on Christmas Eve who had taken a position as hotel manager at a hotel here in Bartow County. Every time I think about her I remember that could be any one of us, for someone with a resume strong enough to get a position as a hotel manager to be at the shelter trying to start over.

We work with a lot of guests who are in Drug Court here in Bartow and are being tremendously successful finding employment, making progress in staying clean from drugs and alcohol, and really starting a new life substance free. It is an amazing thing to watch men and women finally break free from destructive choices and patterns in their lives and begin to see what they can do with their lives and dream about what they want to accomplish and become.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: Passionate, driven, caring.

Q: What is your favorite restaurant/meal?

A: When you have two children under the age of 4, you enjoy places that are fast and loud ... Mexican wins.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I love to read and bake cookies.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

A: 'The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet' -- Frederick Buechner.

Q: Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow County?

A: Downtown on the square on the first Saturday nights of each month during the summer when the DDA hosts their downtown concert series.