By Susan Smiley-Height Local News Editor, Ocala Star Banner
Open Arms Village has steadily grown from a vision to a full-fledged resource for homeless men. But there is still more organizers hope to do in terms of helping people and growing the program.
The group home at 1839 NE Eighth Ave. operates in coordination with St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. The program, which celebrated its first anniversary in March, currently serves about a dozen clients.
Laurie Whitaker, Open Arms’ new executive director, announced recently that local community leaders Stan and Martha Hanson have made a $50,000 matching donation to the program. Now, Whitaker said, Open Arms needs for others in the community to donate to help them achieve their goals.
To capsulize what all this means, we did a Q&A with Whitaker.
What is the purpose of the Open Arms Village?
Open Arms Village, located at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, is a comprehensive transitional program for homeless men who are ready to leave homelessness behind. Our goal is to help residents gain employment, housing and self-sufficiency.
Services include the basics of food, shelter and clothing, plus GED classes, job training and placement, budgeting classes, legal aid, medical/dental care, and mental health/substance abuse counseling.
Who is served by the organization?
Homeless men who are able to work full-time in order to save money and work towards goals that will eventually lead them to living independently. We are a drug- and alcohol-free facility.
How is the organization funded?
Open Arms Village is funded by private donations (both funding and in-kind donations) and a few foundation grants. Catholic Charities, through Brother’s Keeper and Blessed Trinity, pays the salary for the case manager.
St. Mark’s United Methodist church donates the space for Open Arms Village.
Numerous churches throughout Ocala and Marion County donate funding, mentoring and meals for the residents.
How did the recent donation come about?
Mr. and Mrs. Stan Hanson have supported Open Arms Village from the beginning. A couple of months ago, they came to meet our then new executive director and to review our operation and they said they liked what they saw and recognized how we are different than so many organizations. They said they wanted an increased funding role.
One of our board members met with Mr. and Mrs. Hanson. The discussion centered on our success to date, our commitment to grow Open Arms Village methodically and our pledge to maintain high standards for accepting residents into the program. Mr. and Mrs. Hanson offered the $50,000 match money on the spot.
How can people donate to help?
Donate now and your donation will have double the impact with the match from Stan and Martha Hanson. For every dollar you donate, they will match it.
Open Arms Village is a 501(c)(3) organization and your contribution is tax deductible. You can donate at our website at www.openarmsvillageocala.org or mail a check to Open Arms Village, 1839 NE 8th Road, Ocala, FL 34471-4234.
How will the funding help the organization grow?
The gift from Mr. and Mrs. Hanson, plus the matching funds it generates, will help put us on solid financial footing for the year. The $100,000 total match funds will account for over 60 percent of our annual budget. This will allow us to pay our staff salaries and to procure services we have not been able to procure free of charge from the community.
Finally, this will help us grow methodically — without the financial chaos so many organizations face while they are forced to operate on less than a shoestring budget. All of these things will help us continue to grow Open Arms Village in the right way.
What are the long-range plans for the organization?
Long term, we want to grow the number of residents we serve, we want to expand services available to our residents and we want to improve the quality of jobs and training our residents can earn.
And, at the right time, we want to explore adding services to homeless women.
But, first and foremost, we want to steadily improve our “product” and our place in the community.