Today, as HuffPost and AOL unite to launch the Huffington Post Media Group, we're celebrating by making a statement about the importance of giving back and helping others.
Led by HuffPost Impact -- The Huffington Post's section devoted to service, causes, and volunteering -- every HuffPost section is featuring a group or individual who is taking action and inspiring others during these challenging times. Like the rest of the world, our hearts and minds are also focused on Japan, and we've created a resource page for everyone wishing to support the emergency relief efforts.
And we're thrilled to announce that Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, is joining the Huffington Post Media Group as Strategic Adviser For Social Impact. Stone will help the company to create innovative social impact and cause-based initiatives.
AOL/Huffington Post Media Group has also issued a 30-day Service Challenge to every one of its employees worldwide, encouraging them to give their time to non-profits in their local communities and organizing volunteer events in 16 cities.
We hope you'll join us in utilizing the power of online journalism to help people get involved, work together, and bring about real change.
* * * * *
When most Denverites think of homelessness, the first image that comes to mind is often that of a haggard, weather-beaten man on the Cherry Creek Trail.
The truth of the matter is that--while the problem of homelessness in Denver is certainly multi-faceted--roughly half of the city's homeless population is comprised of families.
That's why then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper called for the creation of the Family and Senior Homeless Initiative (FSHI) in 2005. The program, which is run through the Denver Rescue Mission, calls on 1,000 religious congregations to embrace 1,000 homeless families through financial support and mentoring.
Brad Hopkins, the program's director, told the Huffington Post that many of the families receiving assistance from FSHI are unemployed, or have been beset by an injury, illness, or some other misfortune from which they are struggling to recover financially.
"The economy right now plays a huge part," he says.
Consistent with Denver's housing-first ideal, which emphasizes access to shelter as the most important first step for homeless individuals and families, the program calls for sponsoring congregations to donate $1200 to pay for a family's first-month rent.
But the program is about far more than just providing immediate shelter for families. Sponsors form mentoring groups of 2-6 individuals to meet with each family to discuss financial management and goal-setting.
"[Many homeless families] just don't really have time to form those supportive relationships and the support structure is often not what it needs to be." Hopkins explains. Mentor groups exist to provide the "unconditional support" families need to achieve financial stability.
"It's a lot of work. More than I expected," says mentor Mark Silverstein, a principal with Delloite Consulting. Silverstein says it's exactly that work that makes the mentoring experience worthwhile.
"It's so much easier to write a check [to a charity], but you don't get nearly as much out of it," he says.
Statistics suggest that the efforts of mentors like Silverstein are paying off. The organization says that 85 percent of families that work with FSHI mentors are still in housing one year after beginning their sessions.
As of February 28, 2011, 310 congregations had been paired with 840 families throughout Denver. FSHI has also moved beyond its initial model of relying soleley on religious organization. Hopkins says that realtors, businessmen and even a brewery had pooled resources to sponsor families.
Despite FSHI's early successes, the program is still looking for more mentors. Getting involved is as simple as gathering a group of 2-6 mentors from your organization, and calling 303.313.2440.
"The impact mentors have is just amazing," Hopkins told the Huffington Post. "Especially when you think of the children and the impact that homelessness have on them."