Homecoming: A Lot Of Fun With A Serious Overtone
Brian Weide and Kristin Decker, two of the 18 members of the SAVE Inc. board of directors, work in completely different professional industries. Yet their involvement with SAVE is a common mission. They recently spoke with Camp about their efforts for the organization.
Weide, who has lived in Kansas City for about 15 years, works for Commerce Bank downtown.
His involvement with SAVE Inc. goes back over 10 years. That work includes helping with the group’s former fundraiser at the Kansas City Zoo that was called “Corroboree.” At that point, he said, the event was handled internally by staff and board members.
Eventually, he said, that event ran its course, and it has since been replaced by the annual “HomeComing” event, now in its fourth year.
“By changing it up to HomeComing, now it is as successful as it was at the zoo,” he said.
Weide said that SAVE Inc. will also benefit from the many house parties that are held in the weeks before HomeComing, which will be Nov. 6 this year.
“It’s a lot of fun with a serious overtone,” he said.
Donors range from one-time contributors of small amounts to large corporate donors, Weide said.
“Our development group does a great job of writing grants to reach out to those corporate donors. Every dollar that we can put toward our clients, no matter how large or small, we’re grateful to get it,” he said.
Weide said that because funding from federal sources like the Ryan White Care Act has declined, SAVE relies more on fundraisers like HomeComing and AIDS Service Foundation events, in addition to its donor base.
Weide has served on the board’s finance committee for a little over two years.
“It really makes you think about where every dollar goes and where every dollar comes in from,” he said. “It’s pretty tough. I will say that Becky Hunkins, our finance director, and Blaine Proctor [CEO> do a great job of managing the money.”
Weide said they also rely on other events for fundraising.
Weide said the monthly happy hours at various restaurants and bars in Kansas City that board member Michael Mackie and development director James Townsend are able to arrange – “can bring in a couple of thousand dollars here and there and help us give vouchers to people who might not have had them in the past.”
“And you know there is never enough money. It’s always interesting to see what can be done with minimal resources. There are always more people to help than we have resources for, unfortunately.”
Money for the agency’s new administrative building that opened this fall, called Silverleaf, was raised specifically for that project, Weide said.
“That was our goal,” he said, “to have it stand on its own and not take away from our general operating funds.
“By having our presence over on 31st Street, it makes a statement. We’re here. We’re here to help. We’re not going to be back around the corner. We want people to know who we are and what we do. That’s part of our campus.”
Over the years, Weide said, SAVE’s clientele has expanded beyond solely HIV/AIDS patients.
“When you go back to the original mission of what SAVE was, it was hospice care. As we moved forward, we expanded our mission a couple of years ago to include those who have mental illness, substance abuse. It’s not just the single gay male population any more. About 25 percent of our client base is made up of kids. It has been interesting in the last couple of years to see that shift,” he said.
Weide attributed much of that change to the voucher program that SAVE Inc. provides clients for housing so that they can live wherever they wish to live, or perhaps in whatever school district they already attend.
“Home is home. You don’t want to disrupt people’s lives. We do everything we can to keep them in the area they want to be in.”
Weide said his involvement with SAVE has been rewarding for him.
“At the end of the day, when you look back and say, wow, there was actually a difference made,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Decker is director of client services for HighTower, a commercial furniture manufacturer located in the Crossroads area of Kansas City.
She has been on the board for two years and has been involved with SAVE Inc. for more than seven years, beginning as a volunteer on Corroboree.
“Then I went to the development committee and have been there for about six years,” Decker said. “We kind of talk about the big picture with HomeComing and figure out what our goals are for the year and what we want to do.”
The HomeComing court of men and women is new for the event this year.
“It’s fun,” Decker said. “It’s the perfect time of year, when homecoming would be.”
She said that HomeComing this year has exceeded their goals and is doing even better than other years with sponsorships and donors. HomeComing, Decker said, serves two main purposes: raising money and offering exposure to the public about SAVE Inc.
“It is something that we rely on, certainly when it comes to the money. But also exposure, for sure, to introduce people to SAVE in a fun environment and really get them involved,” Decker said.
In other ways, she said, HomeComing is also a thank-you party for SAVE’s many donors, sponsors and volunteers.
Decker said that SAVE Inc. also educates the public about what they do by giving tours.
“We will always do tours,” she said. “We are looking at doing something like the No Place Like Home luncheons and bringing in a big speaker and focusing it on mental illness. Mental illness is so prevalent in the news right now. I don’t think people realize how much it affects the homeless community. We’re trying to really emphasize that this affects the people we serve.”
Decker also spoke about how the mission of SAVE Inc. has changed from hospice care to more health concerns over the years. “It has changed so drastically from when it was mainly AIDS. And we certainly still serve those people and want to. But now there are so many other things that affect people. There are numerous diseases that affect our clients.”
Decker said they served more than 2,100 people in the last year alone.
“We’ve served more people this year than we ever have, which is a good and bad thing,” she said. “We don’t want to have to be doing this, but it’s a good thing that we’re here to be able to help people that we’re helping.”
From the perspective of SAVE, she said, housing is health care.
“If you don’t have a place to stay, how are you going to be taking meds you need or visiting a doctor or counselor on a regular basis? It’s easy to fall into those negative things too, when you feel your life is at a loss.”
Decker said that the organization gives welcome kits – a bucket with basic household items, cleaning supplies, and dish towels – to clients when they first arrive. The kit costs about $25, she said.
Last year, she said, her employer, HighTower, got involved and the employees contributed money to create the welcome kits. The company even took the resources from their planned Christmas party to SAVE. She said that many staff members said, “We don’t need a Christmas party. I’d rather just give it to the clients of SAVE Inc.”
She said it was the reactions of clients that got her hooked on the work that SAVE does.
“When I met the clients and just saw how appreciative and grateful and thankful, and how much they loved having dish towels, and they’ll show you their dish towels and pots and pans,” she said. “They are so grateful for having some of the simplest things that we take for granted.
“Once you see them change and making a better way for themselves, that’s inspiring.”