Like many direct service nonprofit chief executives, my work can be very demanding and stressful. It is a hands-on, full-throttle, 24/7 experience, year in, year out. No clocking in, no clocking out. Even when I squeeze out a few days to enjoy vacation with my family, my phone is kept busy by the inextricable demands of my work.
With operations in 5 Michigan counties, and dozens of programs that each day help over 2400 homeless veterans, domestic violence victims, returning citizens, indigent neighbors, at-risk youth and substance use disorder patients, you can imagine how many restless days and sleepless nights I have in a week.
And when I talk with other CEOs across the country and they paint their own experiential pictures of restlessness and sleeplessness, I am reminded that such “heavy weights” come with the territory. It’s not as hurdle-free or rosy as some may think. In fact, being a chief executive implies, to borrow President Harry S. Truman’s often-quoted words, that “the buck stops here” with me. If there’s anyone who should shoulder the most responsibilities in the organization, it’s me. When the going gets really tough for the organization, others may choose to clock out but I must stay plugged in to devise and deploy smart solutions. That often entails leaving the “office” late, and coming home feeling worn out.
Yet, I won’t trade that opportunity and experience for anything else. Helping people in need is my calling and passion – and doing so all these years at nonprofit Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), with the immeasurable support of ministry-minded staff members and volunteers, has indeed been a great pleasure and privilege.
The worst hurdle is the one you face alone. Thankfully, I have never been, and will never be alone in the hurdles we face at DRMM. Help is always near.
However, sometimes, I face the unfortunate situation of losing some staff members to the cold hands of death while they are still in active duty, doing their part in ensuring that others – the distressed, discouraged and disengaged – get the hope and help they need and deserve.
A few years ago, in 2016 to be precise, I hosted, at one of our Detroit-situated banquet halls, a well-attended luncheon in honor of the men and women who died while actively serving the metro Detroit community through DRMM. With their family members in attendance, I harped on their indelible contributions, and thanked the family members for encouraging and supporting them in making such contributions.
Without the support of family members – yours and mine – it is very difficult, if not impossible, for us to do what we do to make our community stronger and better. Much kudos to them!
From the start of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, my staff and I have been working nonstop on the frontlines, helping those who have nowhere else to turn to. While people in other areas of service have been able to work from their living rooms and basements, we have continued to work face-to-face at our various locations, of course observing the requisite physical distancing and wearing our PPE. It’s part of our firm commitment to the homeless, hungry and hurting around us.
And each day, as new hurdles emerge and problems pound, the results of our tireless work, and the resolve of our wonderful donors converge to get us going and going strong.
Or how else could we, amid the national economic malaise, have opened new locations and intensified our multi-pronged fight against COVID-19? How else?
The fact remains that donors – big and small – like seeing results and, by God’s grace, we deliver results every day at our various locations.
So, I can’t thank my staff, volunteers and donors enough. In different ways, they help me deal with the operational, financial and environmental hurdles we face; they help me overcome the many problems that try to hinder us.
Their strengthening presence. Their helping minds. Their compassionate hands. Their kind words of encouragement. Their fervent prayers. Their checks. Their bequests and estate plan gifts. Their donation of valuable items – from clothes and cars to buildings. All of them have been priceless.
Just when I was wondering how to get the money I needed to open overflow shelters for our homeless clients, Ciena Healthcare president and founder, Mr. Qazi, kindly donated two more buildings to us. And I am talking about two big, newer and thus easier-to-maintain buildings.
Qazi had donated buildings and lots of money to us in the past. Each time, it was done quietly. No press conference. No cameras. The satisfaction of knowing that the poor and needy were being served with dignity was enough for him.
That’s the power of friendship. That’s the splendor of generosity. That’s “beloved community” in manifestation.
You see, I believe the “beloved community” that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr talked about is not esoteric. I see it in the increasing number of Detroit area teens that organize in-person and virtual events to raise funds to support us in serving the homeless. I see it in the immense support we get from Ford Motor Company Fund, Bank of America and other organizations that prioritize their corporate social responsibility. I see it in businesses like Gordon Foods that routinely donate palettes of food to help us feed the hungry.
Hardly does a day roll into the dustbin of history without me having the opportunity to encounter conscientious ambassadors of the “beloved community” in-person, by phone, through email or by reading their heartfelt letters. They give their support because they care for the needy as much as we do, and they trust that we will stretch their dollar to go the distance.
Some are retirees on meager income. Some are young people still charting their path in life. Some are middle-aged people in-between jobs. Some are well-to-do persons who derive joy from putting smiles on the faces of the “least of these’.
They, together with my nearly 300 staff members and 13, 000 volunteers, make it more fascinating and fulfilling to do more to help those who are not as privileged as we are.
They are the real heroes and heroines, and I salute them.