A Story of Advocacy: Willie, The Jorns, & Ellerman Homes

In February, we introduced you to our friend Willie through his Meet the Need. You all generously donated to buy Willie a pair of work boots and a bus pass so he could get back and forth to work. 

His job was made possible by the creativity and generosity of a few people who joined our Advocacy Group in January. Their names are Jennifer and Steve Jorns, and they partnered with their home builder Ellerman Homes to get Willie a job. We want to share their story of advocacy from their perspective—and from Willie's!:

Jennifer 

Jennifer 

JENNIFER, WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE TO HIRE WILLIE?

I'm always trying to figure out a way to help because I feel really blessed. I spend a lot of time thinking about the right thing to get involved with. My prayers are for the sick, the friendless, and the needy. Yet I feel that it's not enough to just pray. I wanted to do something. 

After attending the Advocacy Group meeting, I was frustrated because I wondered how I could help. My husband [Steve] and I are both retired, and our friends are retired, so I wondered what I had to offer. Shortly after the meeting, it just came to me: We're building a house. I could hire someone to work on the site. I was thrilled to come up with something to facilitate. 

ONCE YOU HAD THIS IDEA, WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST THOUGHTS? 

I was reticent to ask Brad (President of Ellerman Homes) and Richard (site foreman). I asked Brad first, and he immediately said yes. Brad shared with me that he had been going to the same 7-11 for the past six months to get his daily diet coke and had formed a friendship with a homeless lady during that time. He was empathetic. Then Richard said yes right away too. 

Richard 

Richard 

RICHARD, WHAT MADE YOU SAY YES SO QUICKLY?

Saying yes for both of us, Brad and me, has a lot to do with our shared faith. There is so much in our faith about being in community and being willing to help those who need it. 

JENNIFER, WHAT OBSTACLES HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN? 

The biggest one was first asking somebody else to participate, but as I said, Brad and Richard so quickly agreed. Secondly, I had to overcome the liability issue. At times, this obstacle seemed insurmountable. However, I continued to push forward and make calls, Through this process, my husband and I discovered that we actually needed workers comp for some other projects we were supervising, and it ended up being minimal to add Willie. 

RICHARD, TELL US WHAT IT'S BEEN LIKE WORKING WITH WILLIE? 

It's been a pleasure. Surprising how willing he is to do anything we need and how thorough he's been.

WHY DO YOU SAY "SURPRISING"?

You have a pre-established notion of someone presented to you as "homeless." You don't know each individual story, but in our country, people assume someone is homeless because they don't want to work or they have some kind of addiction. 

I was willing to get to know Willie for who he is rather than just the homeless person coming in. It's been a pleasant surprise.

WILLIE, WHAT HAS THIS JOB ENABLED YOU TO DO? 

Pay my rent. I also get to work, which I like. And buy groceries. It gives a lot of ease to my mind. It's been a great help, and I appreciate it. Without this job I would have more stress in my life because I would be concerned about the things I couldn't take care of: Rent, food, transportation. I had a way out of homelessness with this job.

RICHARD, WHAT DOES WILLIE BRING TO THE TEAM? 

Willie and Richard

Willie and Richard

A great attitude. Always willing to help whoever needs it, whether that's moving materials or keeping the job site clean. Not having food trash on the construction site is a big deal. There is a noticeable difference with him here. People are more productive in a clean work environment. Period. Less accidents and injuries. Additionally, he's never once been late. He always shows up on time. 

IF IT WERE UP TO YOU, WOULD YOU HIRE HIM FOR ANOTHER PROJECT? 

I would. He gets along well with all the crews that are here. He has made more contact with different contractors than the contractors do with each other. Everybody has been appreciative of his contribution.

WILLIE, WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

The hours, the pay, and the people. There are a lot of friendly people. It's a nice atmosphere. It makes you feel more comfortable coming to work. I want to be here. I enjoy coming.

WHAT HAS IT MEANT THAT RICHARD AND JENNIFER SUPPORT YOU IN THIS WAY? 

It was a good idea. It's a big help. Especially from where I was at. It's a big advance, and I appreciate that. 

JENNIFER, HOW HAS THIS PROCESS CHANGED YOU?

It's pushed me to think more creatively rather than saying there's nothing I can really do. I'm also hoping to help find him a job after this one is done in a few months. I would really like that. 

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO WOULD WANT TO HELP IN THIS WAY? 

I don't think it's enough to say just have faith, but in my heart I knew it was all going to work out. The key for me was the established trust with The Human Impact. They have put in the work and provided the platform. 

RICHARD, HOW HAVE YOU GROWN THROUGH THIS PROCESS? 

Not to let stereotypes of those who are having housing challenges diminish their ability to contribute to a project. 

We have this idea that people are looking for a hand out. They're not. They are looking for a hand up. Willie in his time here has never wasted my time. He always asks, "What else can I do?" This is the first time I've worked with someone in this capacity, and now we have a real relationship."

WILLIE, WHAT'S THE BIGGEST THING YOU HAVE LEARNED THROUGH THIS PROCESS? 

People actually do care. It's a good feeling to know that there are people out there you can count on, call, and help take the stress off you. There are people with the heart to help.