A Different Kind of ‘Return on Investment’

Irit-Umani2016 Mid-Year Report by Irit Umani, Executive Director

The other day I was at my computer answering e-mails, when I heard loud sobbing sound, almost wailing, coming from the small Chapel that is next to my office. I moved there to see what was happening and how I could help.

I found our dedicated volunteer Dom and our intern Sarah sitting by a neighbor who was on the floor, in a fetal position, crying uncontrollably. I positioned myself on the floor next to him and offered some soothing words, water, lower-paced breathing … as he was saying, between sobs: “I want to go to Jesus. He is the love of my life. I just want to go to Jesus now.”

I suggested that we are all in love with Jesus, and that the time to go to Him is in God’s hands. At one point this beautiful young man had his head in my lap, as I was caressing his head and singing to him:

“All good, all God. Holy, holy.

All in my mind, in my heart, in my soul.

All good, all God. Holy, holy.”

It is a chant that I use when my mind is in an unhealthy state. I sang the chant to him repeatedly for few minutes. He reached out to hold my hand and slowly calmed down. Some of the details of his life story that he was able to share between wails were so intense and heartbreaking, it would have made each of us sob, wail and want to go to Jesus now, too.

This neighbor’s crisis was enhanced by his use of some damaging substance. I chose to be present with his pain, rather than judge his poor choice. Once this neighbor calmed down, we made sure that he met with a mental health case worker, whom we called to come to Trinity Center while the crisis was unfolding.

This is the time for my mid-year report. In a mid-year report, one shares statistics and “return on investment.” I remember when the term ROI was first adopted from the business world and introduced as a requirement from government funders for non-profits.

I hated it then, and I hate it now. It reduces the relational aspect of our work with suffering human beings to “how many clients we move from point A to point B.” It reduced our work of social justice and social care to numbers of required outcomes. In order to meet the requirements and receive government funding, everyone became a “client” who is either making progress — or removed from services.

Well, at Trinity Center we serve neighbors rather than clients, and we are committed to cultivate compassion as an integral aspect of our accomplishments. Yes, in the next few paragraphs, I’ll share with you some statistics, as is expected in a mid-year report. But can anyone quantify the “return on investment,” the experience of grace and love, that I shared with this young man? I don’t think so.

Our beloved neighbors, even if at a time challenging, are well aware that Trinity Center does not have a housing program. Indeed they come for the meals, for assistance with ID documents, for case management and sometimes to receive mail. But mostly they come again and again for the experience of being welcomed, respected, loved and cared for within a community where they feel a sense of belonging.

We are in community and in communion with them. I am proud of how many brothers and sisters we serve each year and of the services that we offer. But especially I am proud of how we serve. It is the unquantifiable quality of compassion-in-action that keeps me so excited and fulfilled in the role of Executive Director of this very special organization.

On the down-to-earth aspects of our work, here are some numbers from the first six months of 2016:

450 received a check to DPS (Department of Public Safety) for a Texas picture ID/driver’s license.

233 received a check, sent to their respective state, for a birth certificate.

57 received financial assistance for medication co-pay.

32 received Greyhound bus tickets to travel to other states/cities.

Of 68 people on our case management:

9 applied and now receive benefits (Food Stamps, SSI/SSDI).

64 completed Coordinated Assessment (without which a person cannot obtain subsidized housing in Austin).

14 moved from streets to shelter, and 23(!) are now housed.

1,388 weekly, 324 daily, 35 monthly local bus passes were given.

20,484 meals were served.

A total of 349 volunteers, serving a total of 3,116 hours, enabled Trinity Center to operate with a small staff and on a small budget. Our volunteer hours breakdown as follow: weekdays – 46 volunteers for 2,207 hours; 50 mother-daughter team volunteers for 150 hours; 253 Trinity Streets volunteers on Sundays for 759 hours.

We owe you, one and all. We are in deep gratitude to our individual donors and to foundations that support our work, to our volunteers and, of course, to St. David’s Episcopal Church. As deeply, we are grateful to the brothers and sisters who trust us and see us as part of their community, and whose generously reciprocated love and care are my preferred “Return On Investment.”

Be blessed and bless,

Irit Umani

Executive Director