–submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Loretta Himmelsbach
Fellow Rotarian Jackson Fonder—president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Madison—and Bev Thom—chair of the Bethel Lutheran Church homeless ministry board—were our speakers on Wednesday. Jackson led off. He recalled a Christmas Eve in 2015. Scot Sorensen, senior pastor at Bethel Lutheran, was going to have to close the homeless day center at Bethel because funding was ending. The Wisconsin State Journal ran a headline that read “Downtown Shelter to Close.” Somehow, private funding kept the shelter going during the winter. At the same time, Catholic Charities was thinking about what it could do for the homeless. Jackson and Scot, both Downtown Rotarians, met together and entered into a gentleman’s agreement: they would work together to provide day shelter for the homeless. In Madison in January 2016, there were 663 homeless people. Most of them are unseen to the public. Five percent of Madison Public School students are homeless at one time; 40 percent are homeless at some time. It’s a story of people rather than statistics — people who suffer from domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse. A day shelter can provide a sense of belonging, of trust, of family.
Bev Thom offered the stories of three people who affected her: three vignettes to explain how people become homeless. All suffered from abuse during childhood that profoundly influenced the course of their lives. Bethel gives people shelter and a chance to recover.
Jackson explained that a new day shelter, which he will lead, is scheduled to open in 2017 at 615 E. Washington Avenue, the former Chamber of Commerce building. The building is being completely remodeled and will become the “Homeless Day Resource Center.” He asked for help from people willing to volunteer their time and to serve on an advisory committee. The intention of the new center is to serve the homeless population and to be a great neighbor.
The partnership between Lutherans and Catholics is an historic coming together to serve the Madison community and was facilitated by the fellowship of Downtown Rotary. Jackson asked, “Isn’t that what Rotary is all about?” And he wondered whether this would have happened if Scot and Jackson had not been Downtown Rotarians.
Did you miss our meeting this week? Watch the video here.
My personal opinion, it’s great to see this high visibility collaboration between the Catholic and Lutheran traditions.