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7 Questions with Miriam Gandell, Executive Director of The Dwelling Place

Today we give a warm welcome to Miriam Gandell of The Dwelling Place, who will be answering 7 Questions. Miriam is a self-proclaimed generalist in a world of specialized fundraisers. She has worked as a Development Secretary, Parents Fund Coordinator, Deferred Giving Assistant and Board Liaison at Harvey Mudd and Scripps Colleges in Claremont, California followed by Special Events Coordinator and Prospect Research Director for the Olive Crest Treatment Centers for Abused Children. She then served as Executive Director for the Foothill Family Shelter in Upland, California, as well as the Director of Development for Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County and for the last 5+ years, as Director of The Dwelling Place.

1. What motivated you to begin working with this organization and what need does it fulfill?

I have worked for over 20 years with children who are victims of abuse and neglect as well as children who are affected by family homelessness. The consequences of the chaos and pain felt by these young ones is my reason for working with families in crisis. Homeless families served by The Dwelling Place are in need of more than just housing to move forward and improve their lives. They are primarily made up of young, single mothers with minimal family support, education, or training, and they need the time and structure and role modeling to move forward both for themselves and their children.

2. What was your most interesting recent development, update, project, event, or partnership?

We have found a champion in Brian Holloway, former New England Patriot, through one of our Board members. Since retiring from football, he makes his mark on the world as an inspiring motivational speaker. After learning about our program, he “adopted” our organization and in only a few short months has made the community more aware of our work. He is passionate about helping those in need and we look forward to having him as a partner for years to come.

3. What other projects are you up to?

With the changing economic climate and demographics in our community, we are focusing on education and training as a way to achieve future stability for our families, in addition to finding affordable housing. Our Education Fund can pay for tuition, fees, tutors, books, and more, and we now require our clients to works towards their GED, attend classes for career certifications, or be involved in on-the-job training. A minimum-wage job with fluctuating hours is not going to establish a future leading to upward mobility. Without education, opportunities for future “careers” are extremely limited and we want to support the efforts of our clients to have hope for change.

One of our past (and most successful) families (a mom and her son) were murdered two years ago as a consequence of re-involvement with a past abuser. Their success stands as a shining example of how lives can change. They were an amazing family who overcame so much. She had made incredible progress but still tragically allowed this person back into her life. In memory of mom and son, we started a sport scholarship fund for kids in our program to participate in football, baseball, piano, karate, ballet, and more which they would otherwise not be able to afford. Spending time together and sharing experiences is a wonderful way for mother and child to bond, and we know Mom and son would be pleased to know that they are making this possible for others.

4. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?

I had a mentor in Southern California who modeled being an Executive Director and inspired me to continue working in the philanthropic arena. Everything I have learned has been through hands-on experience, starting as a secretary and working my way up over the past 30 years; as a woman raised in the 50′s and 60′s, I struggled with being both a friend and a supervisor, and with how I could best help whatever organization I supported.?My mentor helped me with this. He was straightforward, brilliant, and successful at running both large and small nonprofits. He still inspires me today.

5. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces and how are you working towards combating this issue?

Our single greatest challenge is developing a sense of self-responsibility in families who have grown accustomed to government assistance and can’t envision a life of financial stability without it. We can help our families find subsidized housing but that’s not enough in the long run. Establishing new and healthy habits, like regular budgeting, saving, and paying off debt is a daunting task and one which requires a significant amount of time and energy. But without it, changing the future and giving our children a healthy, positive role model and maintaining stable housing is not possible.

6.What advice do you have for other people in your position? What’s your biggest take-away lesson you would tell others that you have gleaned from your experiences?

Although people will tell you that your work must be very rewarding, some days it just isn’t. But keep all you do in perspective and take joy in each and every positive step forward your clients take. It’s not the day-to-day progress that counts but the overall journey that tells the story. And don’t feel guilty that you aren’t always “fulfilled.”

7.What’s next for your organization, both in the short term and long term?

Maintaining financial stability is our number one goal. We are working to enhance our fundraising efforts through major gifts and increased community awareness. Long-term we would like to be able to open a facility for young mothers where they would be in a communal setting and not in a scattered-site apartment, on their own, and without supervision. There is a great need for a program like this in Montgomery County.

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