Hendrix Alumni Find Second Home at Our House
CONWAY, Ark. (July 12, 2016) – Hendrix College alumni have found a second home of sorts serving at Our House, a comprehensive nonprofit program that serves more than 1,800 working homeless clients annually in the Little Rock community.
Founded in 1987, Our House’s mission is to empower homeless and near-homeless families and individuals to succeed in the workforce, in school, and in life through hard work, wise decision-making, and active participation in the community.
Our House has quadrupled in size over the past seven years and gained a statewide reputation, and a growing national reputation, as a model program for lifting struggling families out of poverty. Hendrix alumni have been instrumental in helping Our House achieve this growth.
Hendrix alumni at Our House include:
● Ben Goodwin ’01 – Assistant Director
● Adrienne Dawson ’10 – Youth Worker
● Ruthie Hokans ’13 – CAFSI Case Manager
● Desirae Holmes ’13 – Youth Program Manager
● Prentis Jones ’13 – Youth Programs AmeriCorps
● Mariah Nehus ’13 – Development VISTA
● Kevin Theall ’13 – Career Center VISTA
● Lyndsey Czapansky ’14 – Program Support VISTA
● Blake Tierney ’14 – VISTA Leader
● Hayley Thomson ’15 – Child Development AmeriCorps Member
● Liz Kasper ’15 – Child Development AmeriCorps Member
● Shelby Morrow ’16 – Visual Arts Summer VISTA
Three current Hendrix students and one former Hendrix student also work with Our House, including Sam Higgins ’17 (Community Safety Summer VISTA), Annalise Kellner ’19 (Child Development Summer VISTA), Paige Parham (Executive Assistant), and Grace Thomasson ’18 (Orange Team Lead Summer VISTA).
Ben Goodwin ’01, a mathematics major, has been with Our House for seven years. As Assistant Director for Our House, he’s responsible for fundraising, communications, strategic planning, new program development, program evaluation, and capital projects.
After Hendrix, Goodwin studied at Oxford University for two years on a Rhodes Scholarship and received a second bachelor of arts degree in politics, philosophy, and economics. When he returned to Little Rock, he entered the nonprofit field, working at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Southern Bancorp before joining Our House.
“A key to Our House’s success is that our programs are offered on a single seven-acre ‘learning campus’ similar in some ways to the campus environment at Hendrix. This campus model creates opportunities for informal and impromptu learning that reinforces the content of our formal courses,” he said. “It also creates a community environment of learners each working hard on building a better life for themselves.”
“Some of the work I’m proudest of during my time at Our House is leading the process of expanding our campus and our capacity, including building the new $5 million Children’s Center which opened in 2014 and enabled us to serve so many children and their families,” he said.
“My liberal arts education from Hendrix gave me a diverse set of skills that have made it possible for me to have an impact through my role at Our House, especially math and writing skills,” he said. “It also gave me a sense that I can learn new skills as needed to solve whatever problems we’re facing or take advantage of new opportunities. For instance, when we were building the Children’s Center an opportunity arose to access $1 million in New Markets Tax Credit funding, but to do so required us to negotiate investments from two national investors, set up a new nonprofit subsidiary, create sophisticated pro forma financial projections, and generally learn a tremendous amount about a complex and esoteric financial instrument, all within a six-week time period. Our House has an entrepreneurial culture where challenges like this are met with relish, and I believe that is a big reason why so many Hendrix alums have found fulfillment working on this team. The other big reason of course is the passion for social justice that so many Hendrix students have.”
Goodwin and Our House’s Executive Director, Georgia Mjartan, recently co-wrote a paper, along with Dr. Muthusami Kumaran of the University of Florida and Dr. Charlotte Williams of the Clinton School of Public Service, analyzing Our House’s “two-generation approach”–an emerging model of social services engagement that relies on engaging equally with children, their parents, and the family unit as a whole to break the cycle of poverty. The paper is currently under review by the Journal of Poverty.
Ruthie Hokans ’13, an anthropology major, has been with Our House for two years. When she started, she recruited and managed volunteers and facilitated life skills programming. Now she is a case manager for Central Arkansas Family Stability Institute, a homeless prevention program, where she connects clients with resources in the community and helps them to succeed in the areas of housing, finances, employment and education.
“Being of service to others is something I’m really passionate about, because I believe that not everyone gets equal access to opportunity, so I think that being able to advocate for others and connect them with resources is extremely important,” said Hokans. “Anytime you work with at-risk populations, you’re putting your heart on the line, and that can be really difficult. But ultimately it’s worth it to feel like you’re actually making an impact on your community.”
“Hendrix prepared me by giving me the opportunity to do research projects and summer fellowships with non-profit organizations. Hendrix allowed me to work with professors who were passionate about studying and portraying people, especially women in poverty,” she said. “Hendrix also gave me the skills to think critically and follow ethical guidelines.”
Desirae Holmes ’13, an economics and business major, has been with Our House for three years.
As Youth Program Manager, she runs an out-of-school time program, Our Club, for 90 homeless, near homeless, and formerly homeless youth.
“At Our House, I am blessed to serve my families,” she said. “I am able to provide my youth and families with many resources and opportunities, while in return I continue to understand the importance of perseverance, to learn from their stories, to walk with them as they push through life, to create beautiful and unforgettable memories, and so much more. I have gained irreplaceable moments that will forever be ingrained in my heart.”
“Every day at Our House, specifically in Our Club, is ever changing. I have the opportunity to build relationships with my youth and parents/guardians, serve alongside passionate and intelligent colleagues, solve a variety a problems and challenges, present new programs, activities, and opportunities to the youth, and converse and report to funders, donors, and partners,” she said.
“I was blessed with two Miller Center opportunities that greatly impacted my life and allowed me to realize that I wanted to enter the non-profit field to serve others. The spring break of my junior year, I participated in a service trip to Chicago.. As we spoke with the various nonprofit professionals, I remember being amazed at their passion, enthusiasm, and tenacity for their jobs,” she said. “After that week, I decided to apply for a summer of service fellowship, where I partnered with a local pastor to cultivate a garden in downtown Little Rock. I had a few opportunities to present gardening activities to children from a local school and church summer camp. With those experiences, I felt called to serve marginalized youth in my beloved city.”
Lyndsey Czapansky ’14, an international relations major and history minor, has worked with since August 2015. She recruits and coordinates Our House meal-serving volunteer groups, manages food donations and food drives for the shelter, facilitates Our House alumni support and service group, facilitate projects and pilot programming to further integrate client services.
“My coursework at Hendrix focusing on institutions, development and community politics gave me a huge advantage in thinking holistically about programs, how to frame programs to partners, volunteers and donors, as well as gave be the analytical skills and toolkit to evaluate the work being done in my field,” said Czapansky. “I really feel like Hendrix gave me a skillset that enables me to see my work in the big picture every day: critical competency to see beyond trivial, annoying frustrations that enables me to stay committed to the radical, purposeful work we do every day with people experiencing homelessness in our community.”
“My first experience where I felt ownership over my own learning and began on my own trajectory in my field was an Odyssey grant I received for the summer after my freshman year to travel to southern India to participate in an eco-development project,” she said. “It wasn’t until after I returned that I was really equipped with the theoretical lenses to understand what I had seen over the course of that project: That many international development endeavors ignore or are unconscious of the political ecosystems they operate within. All my work after India – from studying and working in Rwanda, working on Senate campaigns, consulting, and now non-profit programming – has built on that, become nuanced, and branched from that initial encounter with what I was really passionate about – how big, global concepts like development interact with local political dynamics.”
“I really enjoyed my field research experiences in undergrad, and I think part of my motivation in taking my position at Our House was what opportunities there were here to understand programming, organizational structures and the people who navigate them,” she said.
“In the past year, I have been given so many opportunities to be an advocate, a connector to resources, and been given creative freedom to pilot new programs,” she said. “It is a very rare privilege to be given so much opportunity as a young professional just entering the field.”
Blake Tierney ’14, a psychology major and religious studies minor, has worked with Our House for two years. Since February, he has been a VISTA Leader, recruiting and mentoring all National Service members at Our House.
“Using my experience as a Summer VISTA and as a Youth Programs AmeriCorps member, I can support and mentor the 12 VISTAs, 12 AmeriCorps members, and 23 Summer VISTAs at Our House,” said Tierney.
“Serving in my field places me right next to people as they struggle to move toward their goals of building a career, going to school, or saving enough money to have their own bed in their own apartment,” he said. “Hendrix prepared me to look at the world and its issues, communities, and people in a critical yet simultaneously appreciative holistic manner, and it imparted in me a love for questions and nurtured my persistence. Faced with challenging projects and yet surrounded by a supportive culture, I have become more confident, more assertive, and more straightforward. At the same time, seeing the realities of issues in the community around me and hearing stories from clients, I have become more open, more patient, and more compassionate. Thanks to both Our House and Hendrix, it is rare that I shy away from new experiences.”
About Hendrix College
Hendrix College is a private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas. Founded in 1876 and affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884, Hendrix is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges and is nationally recognized in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings for academic quality, community, innovation, and value. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.