Valentine's Day concert to benefit Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter
by Marie Nesmith
Jan 30, 2012 | 1884 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sarah Harbin sings “The Man I Love” at last year’s Etowah Jazz Society benefit that generated funds for the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter.
DAYTON P. STRICKLAND/The Daily Tribune News, File
Sarah Harbin sings “The Man I Love” at last year’s Etowah Jazz Society benefit that generated funds for the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter. DAYTON P. STRICKLAND/The Daily Tribune News, File
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With the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter serving a record number of people in 2011, the Cartersville nonprofit is encouraging the community to support its efforts by attending the Etowah Jazz Society's "Love Songs From the Movies" on Feb. 14.

Presented by Cartersville Medical Center, the 7 p.m. concert at The Grand Theatre will feature about 19 melodies, two of which will include "On the Street Where You Live" from "My Fair Lady" and "Moon River" from "Breakfast at Tiffany's." For some of their numbers, the musicians will be accompanied by vocalists Rodney O. Banks, Sarah Harbin, Heather Cobbs and Beth Byars.

"Last year was the first time this event happened so this is the second time we're doing it. The Etowah Jazz Society approached the shelter [last year] saying they would be willing to do a concert at no expense to us. So they're donating their performance to the shelter," said Jessica Mitcham, the Good Neighbor's executive director, adding benefits like the upcoming concert are integral to the nonprofit's operations. "Our budget for this year is about $260,000. And we will only get about 5 percent of that as government funding. This year, we're going to get about $12,000 -- that's federal money that's dispersed through the state -- and all the rest of the dollars that support the shelter are raised locally.

"United Way does some of that work for us. We are a United Way partner agency but still the bulk of that -- we will raise over $200,000 as an organization this year to support the shelter. We have some individual donors and some local businesses and churches that give but last year about 25 percent, 26 percent, of our budget was money raised at special events. So events like this are extremely important to us raising the money that we have to have in order for the shelter to be possible in this community."

Since forming in 1996, the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter has served more than 4,600 people. On average, the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001 assists nearly 375 individuals per year. 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.

"[Previously], the most people ever served in a year by the shelter was in 2008. We served 380 people," Mitcham said. "Last year, we served 507 people. So [that was] 25 percent more than have ever been served in a year by the shelter. In 2010, we served 28 children. Last year in 2011, we served 82 children. So that was a 300 percent increase from the prior year. [We] never before had had a month at 100 percent occupancy. In 2011, that happened four times.

"We serve a couple of populations," she said, explaining the factors leading to the increase in the shelter's occupancy data. "We definitely serve individuals and families who really were living paycheck to paycheck and barely being able to afford just the required expenses of daily living. And once they lost their job, then they quickly lost their apartment or where they were renting and ended up needing somewhere to go while they got back on their feet."

While the majority of its guests were previously living paycheck to paycheck, the Good Neighbor also serves individuals participating in the Bartow County Drug Court program.

"That's a partnership that we've worked really hard on in the last year," she said. "Judge Scott Smith oversees that program and it is for men and women who are faced with a five-year or greater sentence related to a non-violent drug crime. So they can be early released from jail, which saves tax payers a mountain of money for people to be early released, come back into the community and be in a very rigorous program where all of our Drug Court guests have to be working. They have to go to five [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings a week. They have to do community service. They're in individual and group counseling. That program lasts about 18 months.

"They are having tremendous success with men and women completing that program in that 18-month time and really getting back on their feet and avoiding those men and women being in jail for five-plus years, depending on what their sentence was. So we're serving men and women in that program that don't have a healthy environment to go back to when they are released from jail."

Formed in 2002, the Etowah Jazz Society consists of about 30 area musicians. In addition to lending their talents for benefits, the nonprofit also generates funds for scholarships and provides financial assistance to the band programs at every high school in Bartow County.

"[Bob Frink], one of our members, was on the board of the homeless shelter last year. They were looking for a fundraiser and he suggested that we do this," said Saunders Jones, a founding member of the Etowah Jazz Society, who will be playing the saxophone at the Feb. 14 benefit. "And we just kind of got together and talked and said, 'Sure, why not.' So last year was such a success, we said, 'Gee whiz, we like playing at The Grand.' The Grand's a great musical venue and we love playing there. So we said, 'Well, let's just do it every year.'

"We're a 501c3, so that's our job. The Etowah Jazz Society raises money and funds two $1,000 scholarships through the Etowah Foundation for musical students every year. And then we give monies to each of the high schools' band programs. Every time we play, we charge money for what we do but we take those monies and [give back to the community]."

For Jones, performing with the Etowah Jazz Society is a "satisfying" endeavor.

"We do it for fun," Jones said. "It's kind of like a bowling team or a softball team but we do it because we like the music. I play in about three other bands that are professional bands in Atlanta and around but [with] those [you] play because you're getting paid to play.

"This is sort of a higher calling, if you will. We like to play and not only have fun playing but we like to play and make money for other things doing it. So it's very satisfying."

Tickets for the Valentine's Day concert are $18 per person and can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 770-386-7343 or visiting The Grand Theatre ticket office, 7 N. Wall St. in Cartersville, Monday through Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. and 12:30 to 5 p.m.