“Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter is almost entirely locally funded,” said Jessica Mitcham, the Good Neighbor’s executive director, adding last year’s Our Hearts, Their Harbor benefit netted nearly $40,000. “We get about 5 percent of our budget from any government source and all the rest of the funds that support the shelter are raised here in Cartersville and Bartow County.
“Now we just have two really large fundraising events each year and then two smaller ones. We used to have a whole lot more events than that. We’ve tried to scale back and work harder and put more effort into just a couple things. So we have Dancing with the Stars in the spring, and then Our Hearts, Their Harbor is in the early fall. This is the 17th year that we’ve done this event so it’s been around basically since the shelter started. So this is the longstanding fundraiser. ... So events like this are important because that’s how we raise the dollars that make the shelter possible.”
Along with food catered by Ray Thacker, Our Hearts, Their Harbor will feature a silent and live auction. Referring to its longevity, the event’s chairwoman, Beth Bennett, credits the community commitment to the Good Neighbor for its continued success.
“I think that a lot of people really just support the Homeless Shelter and the need for it in our community,” Bennett said. “So many people are just one paycheck away. They say it all the time — I know it’s a cliche — but so many people really are just a day away from being homeless in some cases. We just have a great community that comes out and comes together and takes care of everybody in their community.
“... [Our Hearts, Their Harbor] will be a very nice evening. We held our event [at the Booth Western Art Museum] last year [and] everyone had a great time. Our theme this year will be a masquerade party. So that will bring a little fun to it. ... We [also] have a wide range of items for auction, ranging from condos in Panama City to guns, pottery, jewelry, lots and lots of gift certificates to local businesses for services, whether it’s a massage, nails done, carwash. Just something for everybody — we hope that’s how it goes. It’s been successful the last few years. We’ve raised the bar a little this year. We hope to make a little more money, and we have a good team working on it to hopefully bring it success.”
Since forming in 1996, the Good Neighbor has served more than 5,200 people. While they are housed in the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001, 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.
“Last year we served 601 men, women and children,” Mitcham said. “... That’s a whole lot more people than we’ve ever served. We’ve also watched far more people find jobs in the last year, stay longer, find employment, move into new housing. So a whole lot more guests are getting more successful at accomplishing the big goals, which are finding a job, getting new housing. It’s expensive for us to make that happen for so many people. So events like this are really important for us to raise money to support the cause and also just to get the word out about what we do.
“At the event, we’ll have a video where we show some guest testimonies about things that they accomplish while they’re here. ... I think a lot of people in the community still think everybody lines up every day at the shelter. We deal with lots of drug and alcohol problems and violence issues and we don’t have any of those problems. We really do not. So it’s a good opportunity to show people what really happens here, how long guests stay. I feel like Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter feels like a home and not a big institutional building where people line up outside.”
Known for its established Goals program, the Good Neighbor has recently launched a transitional housing component to its organization. Currently three families — a mother with a 10-month-old, a single mother with four children and a married couple with three children — are taking part in the housing program for a maximum of two years.
“Our budget for this year is $335,000. It has grown this year because we’ve just in the last week or two added a pretty big new program piece,” Mitcham said. “The board of directors has been talking about having some units of transitional housing for years, maybe even a decade. ... So we just opened three units on July 1, and for all three of those, the participants, they have to be working at least 20 hours and then they have to be going to school nine hours a week.
“Our first three participants are all going to be going to North Metro Campus for Chattahoochee Technical College. They’ve all enrolled in programs that take less than two years to complete to get a certificate in a work ready field so that they can get a better wage,” she said, adding to encourage responsible budgeting, residents are required to pay 30 percent of their income in return for participation in the transitional housing offering. “So we’ll be supporting them with housing while they accomplish that, so that, in the end, they can actually get a job to have pay that actually will support their family. So that they don’t continue to battle being right on the brink of homelessness.”
For more information about becoming a sponsor or obtaining tickets to Our Hearts, Their Harbor, which range from $75 to $100, contact the Good Neighbor at 770-607-0610 or Mitcham at firstname.lastname@example.org.