The Aunt Bertha Blog

From Homes to Horses: How Service Providers Made a Difference in 2017

One of our mottos here at Aunt Bertha is a quote by Margaret Mead that reads, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  In that spirit and in honor of the New Year, we’re highlighting six of our direct service providers' powerful missions and showcasing how they were there for their communities in 2017.  These are the people whose work fuels ours, and we hope their stories inspire you as we begin 2018. 

Combatting Homelessness

"Most Americans are 1-2 paychecks from living on the street. It can happen to anyone" --Roz Palmer, The Kitchen, Springfield, MO. 

On any given night in 2017, 554,000 people¹ were experiencing homelessness in the United States. That's just shy of the entire population of Springfield, MO, where The Kitchen's mission is to prevent and end homelessness in the communities they serve by providing housing and stabilizing services with dignity and compassion.


"We're trying to let people know that they are worthy of the help. Youth, or those living on the street sometimes don’t feel they’re worth the services, so our biggest challenge is just getting them in the door. We want people to know we work with everyone--from infants to the elderly. If you’re homeless, we work with you. We have youth programs, programs for at-risk and homeless veterans, programs fro the chronically homeless, families, and the working poor," said Roz Palmer, Community Development Manager at The Kitchen.

In 2017, The Kitchen housed more than 600 individuals. One third of those individuals being children under the age of 18.

One of those people was Belinda. Belinda was a registered medical assistant, but due to a brain injury, she was placed on leave from her job. Her FMLA ran out, but Belinda still wasn’t cleared to work. After going through her savings, Belinda had to decide between her medication and a stable home. The Kitchen was able to provide Belinda a place to stay while helping her navigate through and apply for, disability benefits. She has since exited the program and is living on her own in one of The Kitchen's affordable housing communities. 

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"We have a Housing First philosophy. We want to place someone in a home, then figure out the factors that may be leading to their homelessness.  For some it may mean education, for some, sobriety.  Our goal is that by the time they exit, they can can do whatever "it" is on their own." 

How You Can Help

  1. Support efforts with a financial donation.
  2. Donate furniture and household items, click here for a full list of needs.
  3. Volunteer! Sign up here.

Breaking Down Barriers 

"BOSS believes that people affected by crisis have invaluable knowledge and insight about what works to change lives, so we hire from our target population; at least 40% of BOSS staff have personal experience with homelessness, disabilities, substance abuse or criminal justice systems"--Sonja Fitz, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Berekely, CA.


Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS)'s mission is to help those who are mentally ill, struggling with substance abuse, formerly incarcerated or otherwise homeless achieve health and self-sufficiency, and to fight against the root causes of poverty and homelessness.

"We serve the very poor - people with one or more barriers to self-sufficiency, such as former incarceration, mental illness, substance abuse issues, inter-generational poverty, or lack of job skills and/or literacy. There are more people on the streets, more homeless encampments, and little-to-no housing that is affordable on very low incomes. Also, there are hundreds of formerly incarcerated individuals being released to communities in California due to AB 109 and they need help finding jobs and connecting with positive social supports quickly, before they can recidivate." said Sonja Fitz, Director of Development and Marketing at BOSS. 


One of the ways BOSS tackled these issues in 2017 was by expanding their workforce development program (the Career Training and Employment Center), partnering with employers who were willing to take a risk on job seekers who needed a second chance. In October, the organization celebrated 50 graduates, all employed full-time.

How You Can Help

  1. Contact your elected officials (especially if you live in California) and tell them that affordable housing for everyone matters to you. 
  2. Support efforts with a financial donation.

Rebuilding Homes and Hope

In 2018, we plan to complete over 200 Harvey homes, maybe even more, but we're still going to continue to repair homes that were not impacted by Harvey, because we have people on our waiting list and we're not going to let them go. We're here for the long haul and will continue to take care of the populations we always have and serve the neighbors we always have"--Christine Holland,  CEO/Executive Director, Rebuilding Together Houston, Houston, TX.

In late August 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas' east coast. In the Houston metropolitan area specifically, widespread flooding damaged property and took lives. Prior to the storm, Rebuilding Together Houston was already providing no-cost home repair to low-income senior citizens, U.S. military veterans and people with disabilities, focused predominately on the exteriors of homes. Things like: replacing siding, making sure doors and windows were working properly, controlling water leaks, and adding ramps and railings to improve accessibility. rebuilding 3.jpg

"When Harvey happened, we knew that we needed to widen our lane. Normally, we wouldn't get involved in repairing a home until it was pretty much put back together and we would work on the outside, but we realized that that just wasn't going to cut it here", said Christine Holland, CEO and Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Houston. 

"It's been very difficult for anyone impacted by Harvey to begin the process of recovery. For vulnerable populations, its even more so. Very quickly, we got together to plan our response. We knew we needed to help our homeowners in a different kind of way, so we started our "Home After Harvey" program. We're still focusing on the same neighbors that we were before, but now we're working with contractors and volunteer teams to return the interior of the homes impacted by Harvey to a safe and livable condition."

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The New Orleans affiliate of Rebuilding Together came to Houston following the storm and took several days to teach the Houston staff how to muck and gut and take the house down to the studs.  Now though, Rebuilding Together Houston is starting to move into the recovery phase, putting the homes back together. In 2017, the non-profit began recovery work in more than 25 homes, beginning to return them to a safe and livable condition. That number is estimated to be 200 or more in 2018.

rebuilding 4.jpgWhen asked what the organization's biggest "win" in 2017 was, Ms. Holland instantly said, "Neighbors helping neighbors all over this city, and coming from everywhere. There's been an incredible outpouring of resources, funds, and building materials that gave our organization the confidence to jump in and help right away without worrying how we were going to fund it."

She added, "There are thousands and thousands of Houstonians who have been impacted by Harvey and it's going to take us years to get this done. Rebuilding Together Houston expects to be in the thick of this for 4 or 5 years. I think what's going to get harder in the years ahead is the awareness of what's happening here. Now, people are very engaged. In two years from now, we hope that's the same story."

How You Can Help

  1. VolunteerSkilled volunteers are needed for carpentry, drywall and painting, but Rebuilding Together Houston staff will also teach skills to anyone who is willing. 
  2. Support rebuilding efforts with a financial donation.

Standing with Women and Immigrants

Overall, our biggest wins are our client victories -- numerous cases where the work of Her Justice, our network of volunteer lawyers, and the resilience of our clients have resulted in positive outcomes and life altering consequences for the women we serve"--Sharon Rainey, Director of Communications, Her Justice, New York, New York.

In the current political climate, the threat of deportation of undocumented immigrants has spread panic in vulnerable communities. Many immigrants are afraid to reach out for help, or engage with the courts or law enforcement. Her Justice stands with women living in poverty in New York City by recruiting and mentoring volunteer lawyers to provide free legal help, and by addressing individual and systemic legal barriers. At a time when there are simply not enough lawyers to meet the demand, Her Justice fills a unique gap in NYC – providing legal assistance to women living in poverty facing high-stakes legal needs, who cannot get help elsewhere.

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"We serve women in all five boroughs in NYC, with the majority of our clients residing in Queens.  Brooklyn is a close second. More than one out of every four Her Justice clients cannot access the legal system without an interpreter" said Sharon Rainey, Director of Communications at Her Justice. 64% of Her Justice clients are mothers and 80% are survivors of domestic violence.

In 2017, their goal could be summed up simply: Expand access to the legal system in family, matrimonial and immigration matters for more women living in poverty in NYCAccomplishing it, however, was no simple task. To reach more women in need, Her Justice relaunched their live Legal Help Line, increased outreach into communities to provide information on immigrant rights under the Trump administration, celebrated the one-year anniversary of their Urgent Legal Care Project, where women with high-stakes legal needs obtain immediate representation or services, and launched an innovative medical-legal partnership with NYU Langone Hospital to help medical professionals identify victims of intimate partner violence.

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All in all, nearly 8,000 women and children living in poverty received free legal help thanks to Her Justice. The organizations "pro bono first" model where volunteer attorneys are trained and mentored  to provide free legal help in family, matrimonial and immigration matters to clients efficiently "brings the power of the private bar to serve some of the City’s most vulnerable women and children," said Rainey.

How You Can Help

  1. Support efforts with a financial donation.
  2. Volunteer.

Mental Health and...Horses?

Most people don't realize that horses are effective therapy animals beyond therapeutic riding, and are not aware of the vast differences between therapeutic riding and what Project Horse offers (equine assisted psychotherapy and wellness)," Emily Williams, Marketing Manager, Project Horse Empowerment Center, Purcellville, VA.

Project Horse Empowerment Center connects people in need of renewed hope and confidence with rehabilitated rescue horses, through innovative experiential learning programs and therapy services. The organization is dedicated to improving the quality of life for both horses and humans, creating a unique community of mutual healing and benefit.Reeses3.jpg

It all started with a rescue horse named Reeses. Reeses used to be a competitive athlete but her career ended with a dangerous fall. For reasons unknown to Project Horse, Reeses did not receive proper medical care and rehabilitation, leaving her physically disabled and no longer able to be ridden. Reeses was then sent to a breeding farm to be a broodmare, but when that didn’t produce results, she was deemed useless, turned out into a field, and forgotten.

Reeses was frightened and in very poor condition when the organization’s founder and Executive Director, Darcy Woessner, stumbled upon her. Reeses was not in sale condition and would never again be a riding horse, which left her in a dangerous situation. Darcy simply could not leave the horse there, so she purchased Reeses for a small price and began the slow rehabilitation process.

Reeses soon revealed an extraordinary ability to connect deeply with others, especially children and women. It quickly became apparent that, although Reeses could no longer be ridden, she had so much to offer through her quiet wisdom and nurturing support. Since no other programs existed where non-rideable horses could share their skills to help people, Reeses and Darcy founded Project Horse: a place where non-riding horses and humans needing support partner to find hope and mutual healing.

Over the past decade, Reeses and her herd have rescued, supported, and helped over 1,000 individuals, of all ages and with a wide variety of challenges. 

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"Most people don't realize that horses are effective therapy animals beyond therapeutic riding, and are not aware of the vast differences between therapeutic riding and what Project Horse offers (equine assisted psychotherapy and wellness),  said Emily William, Marketing Manager at Project Horse. 

We recently moved to a new location (late in 2016) that is more accessible, so we have been expanding our programming to include groups for veterans, the elderly, programs through Loudoun County Parks and Recreation, as well as servicing a growing number of individual therapy clients." 

A highlight for the organization in 2017? Being one of only 18 nonprofits in the United States to ServiceVisit.jpgreceive a grant from VetsAid Foundation.  With the grant from VetsAid, and a matching corporate sponsorship from Lockheed Martin, Project Horse was able to launch our Warrior HerdTM initiative.

Warrior HerdTM is a free monthly program that focuses on strengthening connections between veterans and their families and enhancing resiliency. Warrior HerdTM offers workshops for couples, individuals, and families. During summer 2018, Project Horse will host a Warrior HerdTM Family Day for all members of the military (active, inactive, veterans, reservists) and their families. They will also hold a week long summer camp for children who have lost a parent in combat. 

Project Horse has seen the demand for individual therapy services nearly double this past year. 

How You Can Help

  1. Support efforts with a financial donation.
  2. Sponsor a Horse
  3. Volunteer 
  4. Spread the word and make referrals! (especially to veterans for Project Horse's free Warrior HerdTM programs)

Note: Due to a growth, Reeses, the equine founder of Project Horse, had surgery to remove her left eye in November. Reeses did very well through surgery and the loss of her eye has only strengthened her exceptional ability as a therapy horse. 

Re-Entry with Dignity 

The ultimate objective--beyond the measurable goals--is to help participants rebuild their sense of self-worth, dignity, and self-confidence."--Austin Morreale, Service Director, NeighborCorps Re-Entry Services, Highland Park, New Jersey

Created by the youth pastor at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, NeighborCorps 
Re-Entry Services' mission is to work with individuals who are incarcerated (or who have been previously incarcerated) in Middlesex County Adult Correctional Center (MCACC), helping them successfully transition back to their communities, thereby helping lower the rate of recidivism.
"In addition to the NeighborCorps staff, we utilize volunteers (called Navigators) to work with our participants. Our staff and Navigators provide support and guidance to the participants (and their supportive relatives and friends) along their re-entry journey, connecting them with community resources and helping them in the areas of gainful employment, personal development, and social integration. The ultimate objective--beyond the measurable goals--is to help participants rebuild their sense of self-worth, dignity, and self-confidence," said Austin Morreale, Service Director at NeighorCorps. 
The two biggest challenges NeighborCorps faces in their work: connecting participants to housing and employment. As Morreale explained, "unless a participant has supportive friends or family in the area with whom they can stay, it is incredibly difficult to find housing for participants given the lack of shelters in the area and the long waiting lists for those shelters."
Additionally, "finding employers who will hire individuals with criminal histories is difficult, and when such an employer is found, securing a livable wage can be challenging. A large percentage of our participants are dependent on public transportation, but often the employers who hire ex-offenders aren't easily accessible via public transportation. Or, if they are accessible, the participants find the cost of public transportation to their place of employment quickly eats up their hourly wage."
After adding additional staff members in 2017, Morreale said, "I think one of the things I'm proudest of [this year] is the steps we've taken on initiatives outside of the relationships with participants." 
One such initiative, a backpack drive for NeighborCorps participants, will extend to all individuals in the jail if it is successful. 
As Morreale explained, "when an individual is released from MCACC, the belongings they had with 
them when they arrived at the jail are given back to them in a clear plastic bag. If that individual doesn't have someone picking them up from jail on their release day, then they have to walk along Route 130 with the plastic bag clearly signaling they've just left incarceration to anyone who passes them. The backpack drive is a way to remove the stigma of the plastic bag for recently released individuals and hopefully give them a little bit of their dignity back as they take their first steps (literally) in their re-entry journey."
How You Can Help
1. Become a Navigator! Learn more here
2. Support efforts with a financial donation.
3. Educate yourself about criminal justice and re-entry issues and how their effects have an impact that reaches far beyond just the incarcerated individual. 


Topics: Social Services 2017 year in review 2018 social good access to social services non profits