Angie and Jordan Johnson Pull Strings for Our House
By Lauren James
Photo by Daniel Moody
Article by Soiree. Full article here.
This article was published December 01, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
We want to make a wonderful life for the people at Our House
For some, life can throw some crazy curveballs, making it a pretty difficult task to stay in the game. Luckily, there is a place that can be a safe homebase: Our House. For the working homeless, Our House provides a soft bed, a warm meal and a safe environment for children during the workday, after school and during the summer. But to keep the safety net strong, the organization relies on the biggest fundraiser of the year, Tie One On — a beautiful showcase of hand-painted aprons from local artists that event-goers can bid on. This year, Our House Executive Director Georgia Mjartan turned to the ambitious husband-and-wife team Angie and Jordan Johnson to take the lead of this signature event — one of the easiest decisions she said she has had to make.
The Johnsons were at an interesting place in their lives when the call came from Mjartan — it was Aug. 23, the day Jordan left his longtime job at the prestigious advertising, marketing and communications agency CJRW to branch out on his own. Perhaps even more interesting — Angie, who worked with special needs children in the public school system — wasn’t working at the time. “Here we are … I don’t work now and we have three small children and we had no idea what we were doing today, tomorrow or the next week,” Angie says. But despite their overwhelming concerns, it was a mission the two couldn’t pass up. In a way, it really put things in perspective for them. “I was thinking, I’m going through a lot right now, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m really not,” Jordan says. “The people at Our House, that is something that they didn’t ask for, but there was a set of circumstances that got them upside down. My uncertainty was far less than the uncertainty people often face at Our House.” Of course, for Mjartan, the decision for the Johnsons to chair Tie One On was an easy one. Normally, one person takes the reigns of the event, but this year, she had something else in mind. “I thought, here we are at a tremendous moment of growth for our organization on a daily basis,” she says. “We’re serving more than 200 percent more people than just last year — it’s an incredible moment of growth and this is not a year for us to just to maintain; this is a year that that we need not just one person, but two people who are driven, hard-working and really passionate about the mission of Our House.”
The history of Our House dates back to 1987 after a study was conducted concerning increasing problems of homelessness in the area. According to the Our House website, there were two shelters in Little Rock that offered only short-term stays for individuals with no place for families to stay together or have any assistance with long-term planning. That’s where Our House came in. Originally established as a 40-bed emergency shelter in the St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in downtown Little Rock, in 2005 construction was completed on a new 80-bed emergency shelter. But, Our House is more than just a shelter; the organization has always focused on providing vital services and support for homeless families to turn things around and get out of homelessness forever. A job skills training program was created and Our House offered free childcare for parents who were working full-time. Today, Our House is a nonprofit with a broad base of community support. Last year alone, the nonprofit had 3,157 people who volunteered 24,514 hours of service, in addition to 1,421 in-kind and 924 monetary donors, Mjartan says. That means that there are more than 5,000 people who are engaged with Our House on a daily basis, she adds. To keep Our House thriving, the organization hosted several small fundraisers throughout the year, but just seven years ago, the idea for one big event, Tie One On, came to fruition.
This annual event that attracts more than 400 guests is not like your typical fundraising shindig. The stars of the show are the 95 artist-designed aprons, symbolic of the 77,000 meals the shelter serves each year. Walking in to Pavilion in the Park on Saturday, Dec. 5, these hand-painted pieces will decorate the walls like works of art, paired with a variety of themed packages — making the silent auction an impressive one. Additionally, there will be a live auction with big-ticket items like a dream vacation to Walt Disney World, Angie says, along with something that has never been done before: a fashion show featuring the aprons. Falling close to Christmas, the theme of the event is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” something that fits perfectly with the mission of the organization. “We want to make a wonderful life for the people at Our House,” Angie says. Tie One On’s festive environment and reasonable ticket price — $55 a person — make this an appealing party for a wide range of people, Mjartan says. “One of my favorite comments that I get every single year is, ‘Georgia, you and Our House bring in the most diverse group of people that I have ever seen at an event,’” she says. The group includes big-name donors, as well as the younger and older sets, those who have been involved with Our House for years and several who come because they’re friends with an artist of one of the aprons. “It’s just neat to me that we really do have that broad mix,” she says.
Where the Money Goes
And you can be assured that every single dollar of the proceeds will benefit the various functions and programs of Our House. The overall monetary goal of the event is $125,000, Whitney Wellborn, development coordinator for Our House says. By reaching this goal, the nonprofit can keep critical programs like the Out-of-School program for 6- to 17-year-olds alive and well, along with the Child Development Center, the only licensed child development center specifically for homeless children on campus and in the state, Mjartan says. Our House is currently in the process of building a new Children’s Center in Little Rock, which will serve 142 children every day in the two programs. The $4 million center is slated to open May 2014. In addition to food and supplies at the center, Our House has to pay for qualified, licensed teachers who are early childhood and Pre-K educators — a pretty hefty expense. And something else that proceeds from Tie One On goes to help: basic utilities at the shelter. With 80 people who call the shelter their home on any given day, it’s a pretty big operation. Having to cover these basics “doesn’t sound very exciting or transformative, but before a person can work their way out of homelessness, they first have to be in a safe place where it’s warm in the winter, where the lights are on and where they can take a shower,” Mjartan says. The staff has high hopes for reaching their goal at Tie One On. “I think with the leadership of Angie and Jordan, we will exceed our goal and raise more money to grow our programs,” Wellborn says.
Not only do the Johnsons approach raising their three young ones — Patterson, 7, Keeton, 3, and Staley Catherine, 1 — as a united front, but also work and community involvement. “Angie and I kind of approach work, life and everything together. We’re best friends,” Jordan says. When Jordan left CJRW in August, he was a senior vice president and director of public policy, managing accounts like the Clinton Presidential Library. He spent 13 years there, but felt like it was time to branch out and start his own firm — and that’s what he did. He got JPJ Consulting off the ground in no time at all, and you better believe, Angie has been by his side every step of the way. “We have a young family — I just think the time was right for me to try to do something on my own, and we’re having fun thus far,” Jordan says. As partners in everything, they have set a model for themselves when it comes to contributing their time and energy to community causes. “Several years, we got really focused on a mission statement for us — what is important to our family and what we want to teach our children,” Angie says, “and one of those things is giving back and to treat others with the upmost respect.” That’s why Our House has been a cause the couple has been passionate about and why Tie One On is such an important event in their lives. “We want people to know that that ticket is going back and helping people out of homelessness,” Angie says. “With the 77,000 meals Our House serves, children are doing better in school, the employees are doing better at work because they’re being fed, they have a warm place to stay at night and they have a roof over their head. That’s the cause that we want everyone to remember.”
Tie One On
When: 6-9 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 5 Where: Pavilion in the Park Tickets: $55 per person Info: 374-7383, ext. 228, Events@OurHouseShelter.org
Article by Soiree