Staff Spotlight: Amy Allison Thompson
While excitement is palpable for the beginning of Jill Bonny’s time at the helm of the Poverello Center, there is also a sense of sadness among Poverello Center staff and supporters. After five years, Amy Allison Thompson is leaving her role as the organization’s Executive Director.
Amy returned to the Poverello Center in 2016. Previously she had been with the organization from March 2009 to September 2011, finishing that time as the Director of Family Services at the Poverello’s Joseph House, a now-closed shelter where parents and children could stay while experiencing homelessness.
Much about the Poverello Center had changed when Amy was hired as ED five years later. Most prominently, the organization had moved to a new building. After 40 years on Ryman Street, Amy’s predecessor, Eran Fowler Pehan, oversaw a transition into a state-of-the-art shelter that opened its doors in December of 2014. The building was designed to sleep 95 individuals comfortably while offering guests a dignified, safe landing space to stay while identifying their next steps towards sustainable housing.
Programming at the Poverello Center had also changed. While the Joseph House closed its doors in 2013, the organization now operated a Medical Respite program to house individuals experiencing homelessness after they are discharged from area hospitals. The Homeless Outreach Team had been created to work with individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Finally, the Poverello Center, in conjunction with the VA, had opened a new emergency shelter program for veterans- Housing Montana Heroes.
Amy learned the ropes of her new role quickly and soon began to put her stamp on the organization. During her time as Executive Director she prioritized raising staff wages. When she took over, the lowest paid staff members earned $9.60 an hour. A month before her departure, Amy was able to inform entry-level employees that their starting wage would be at least $15.00 an hour.
Under Amy’s tenure, barriers to shelter were significantly reduced. At the time she took over, there were no shelter options available for individuals who were actively intoxicated. During her final year, Amy successfully advocated for the extension of the low barrier winter facility, colloquially known as Johnson St or “J Street” to be open for service through April 30th when it was scheduled to close March 31st. The facility provided warm, safe, socially distanced shelter to individuals that may be intoxicated, reducing the chance of injury, illness or death to intoxicated individuals during the Winter months. When it was noted that 25 of 30 nights in April recorded temperatures below freezing, Amy was praised for her tenacity to keep the shelter open.
Over the course of Amy’s winter seasons as Executive Director, the Poverello Center was able to serve more people, more efficiently. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, adaptations proved successful in serving as many clients as possible while following CDC guidelines on social distancing and mask wearing.
She also oversaw the inception, design and launch of the Missoula Coordinated Entry System. (MCES) MCES is best thought of as a shared set of operating procedures and policies as well as a shared data bank between several organizations in Missoula County to coordinate the most appropriate, streamlined care for individuals experiencing homelessness in the community. The program, developed by the University of Montana School of Social Work, began with only 4 participating organizations, including the Poverello Center. It now includes 38.
Amy’s time as Executive Director is also characterized by her leadership during an unprecedented string of facilities issues and unexpected circumstances. She oversaw responses to two sewage floods at the building, supervised the response to a fire at the emergency winter shelter this April and guided the organization through the Covid- 19 pandemic. Her grace and poise throughout these unforeseen occurrences garnered much respect from her colleagues. Poverello Center Director of Operations, Kristen Border Patton, referred to Amy as “an incredible leader during her time at the Pov.” She went on to explain that she “ha[s] learned so much from Amy and [that] she has steered us through some extremely tough times and has shown unflappable courage throughout. Amy leads with extraordinary kindness, compassion and a sense of humor that is admirable, she has earned the trust of staff and clients alike and has brought a sense of community to the Poverello Center that I will always appreciate.”
Though she accomplished much in her time as the head of the organization, Amy still has hopes for the Poverello Center’s direction in the future. As the availability of affordable housing has been dramatically reduced in Missoula County, she hopes the Poverello Center can increase its capacity to be able to provide shelter to the growing number of residents that experience housing insecurity and homelessness. She hopes that the organization will be able to offer low barrier shelter year round, rather than only in the coldest months of the year. Finally, she hopes efforts to maintain financial stability while increasing staff retention can continue after her final day in the ED’s Office.
It’s July 12th, 2021 at the Poverello Center. Direct Care Staff answer the phone and provide guests with toothbrushes and socks. Volunteers work diligently to prepare lunch in the kitchen. From the administrative offices, an infectious chuckle can be heard over the bustle of the busy shelter. It is a laugh that won’t be heard as often soon, but will be remembered fondly for a very long time at 1110 West Broadway.
As Amy departs, each of us can help her meet the goal of ensuring a strong facility by donating to the facilities fund. Please make a donation in honor of Amy through the Poverello Center website, www.thepoverellocenter.org/donate, or by mailing a check to PO Box 7644, Missoula, MT 59807 and writing ‘In Honor of Amy Allison Thompson’ on the memo line.
A Letter from Jill
For those who don’t yet know, my name is Jill Bonny and I am the new Executive Director of the Poverello Center. I’ve worked at the Pov for close to seven years, starting as a practicum student, then managing our veteran services, and most recently serving as Director of Programs.
I found my passion for serving veterans experiencing homelessness in our community at the Poverello Center. Knowing there are men and women who have served our country and do not have a place to call home is tragic. Frankly, it is unacceptable that so many of our neighbors in Missoula do not have a home, regardless of their service background.
Recently, Senator Jon Tester requested I serve on an expert panel for the United States Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. I am also currently serving as President on the board of the Montana Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. In 2020, I was also recognized by the University of Montana with the award for Masters of Social Work Agency Field Instructor of the Year.
As Executive Director, I am excited to utilize my experience to further address the challenges of housing and homelessness in our community.
My immediate priority as Executive Director is to ensure access to essential services such as food, emergency shelter and counseling to as many of our neighbors as possible, as safely as possible. Moving forward since the onset of COVID-19, Poverello Center staff and partners have shifted gears in programming and service delivery to best provide resources for our guests.
I will also be focusing on getting to know all of you who support the Poverello Center. Either myself or a member of our development team will be reaching out to many of you in the coming months. That said, if you would like to meet, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com. I look forward to getting to know you better.
I am so proud of our team and community as a whole for the resiliency shown over the past year and a half. I am confident that the state of emergency around housing in Missoula will be addressed with our most vulnerable neighbors in mind.
Thank you all for being the Poverello Center’s partner in providing food, shelter, help, and hope to all who ask.
A PATH of Progress
The Poverello Center provided food and shelter to 638 individuals in the last twelve months, despite a limited capacity for social distancing. While Poverello Direct Care Staff ensure guests have a clean, safe space to eat, sleep and socialize, there is not much time left in the day to work with clients towards securing sustainable housing.
That’s where partner agencies come in.
Since 2006, Western Montana Mental Health has housed the Project for Assistance in Transitioning from Homelessness, or PATH Team. We sat down with the team’s newest member, Emilie Harms, to get her thoughts on the role.
“I love it,” Harms said. “The Team’s whole mission is to reduce barriers to housing. We work for folks experiencing mental illness who are low income, at risk of losing housing, or actively experiencing homelessness.”
Harms went on to say she loved the job because she feels passionate about the work.
“Since I was studying to get my Social Work degree I started to see the real gravity of homelessness across the country. I had other areas of interests, but helping people navigate housing seemed like too big of an issue to ignore.”
PATH works with clients that are referred to them by other agencies. Once clients are referred, they are given a mental health diagnostic evaluation. PATH Team members and the rest of their colleagues at Western Montana Mental Health can better serve their clients when they know official diagnoses.
After the evaluation, clients can be served by the PATH Team. The services they offer look like “a lot of paperwork” Harms says while cracking a smile.
“We meet clients where they’re at, whether that be the Pov, out at camps, or the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space and assist them in identifying and realizing housing goals. “We work on applications for apartments, housing vouchers, health insurance programs. Anything clients have identified as a goal, really.”
Like many jobs, Harms says there are good days and bad days. Good days are helping someone move out of homelessness and into an apartment, bad days can include communication breaking down or clients getting frustrated with how difficult it can be to find housing in Missoula currently.
Harms believes the recent increase in rental costs and drop in the housing vacancy rate makes finding housing much harder for clients.
“Some days it almost feels impossible,” she said.
She went on to explain that no two days are ever the same.
“We meet at the office every morning, but from there, you never know what you’re going to experience. Frequently we spend a lot of time meeting with clients.”
The PATH team plays a key role in the Missoula Coordinated Entry System. The system includes 38 different organizations in the Missoula area. Each organization contributes information and expertise, working together to find the best solutions for individuals experiencing homelessness allowing our community as a whole to combat poverty. PATH Team members frequently have the most insight on the individuals with whom they work.
“It’s exciting. It can be stressful and frustrating at times, but at the end of the day, our whole mission is to go out and try to help folks who really need it. I feel grateful to be a part of this team and I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be right now.”
To get in contact with the PATH Team, contact Team Coordinator Winnifred Lohof at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteer Spotlight: Growing Solidarity
Sunflowers, tomatoes, herbs and native plants fill the center of the Poverello courtyard. This thriving garden pours out of the raised garden beds, the culmination of a project that began on May 1 to transform the space with plants.
When one volunteer brought up raised garden beds in the Poverello Center courtyard, Seedlings for Solidarity, a local mutual aid project, founders Katie and Mady realized how to more fully serve their mission of promoting food security.
“The direct aid component of this project was aimed at providing people with what they would need to grow their own food, and we’re specifically trying to target food insecure and lower income people. As opposed to thinking about this project as a gardening project, we’re thinking about it as a food security project. And that’s something that is like an emergency, like, the fact that people don’t have enough to eat is an emergency that, you know, needs to be treated as such,” Katie said. “And it’s kind of unique in Missoula, that people who are facing food insecurity or are being forced into starvation wages, may have access to outside space, and might be able to grow some of their own food. And so we felt good, like we were going to be able to serve those people. But we also really wanted to brainstorm about ways that we could serve people experiencing homelessness in Missoula.”
Seedlings 4 Solidarity is an anti-hunger, food sovereignty, mutual aid project based in Missoula that began this year. Their mission is to promote the movement to localize Montana’s food system with community members facing food insecurity at the Center. Over spring, Seedlings 4 Solidarity grew and distributed plants and gardening supplies to families in Missoula, Sanders, Lake and Flathead counties.
“A lot of how this all came together was very organically, very word of mouth. We were just kind of brainstorming, like, what is the way that we could (serve people experiencing homelessness)? And someone mentioned that those raised beds existed, and we were like, well, this is great … that would be a really great way for us to be involved,” Katie said.
Plants for the garden were donated by Pipilow Native Plants, Pink Grizzly, Great Bear Natives, Hitchcock Tree Removal, and Full Bushel Farm. Garden City Compost contributed more than 10 cubic meters of soil to the project, and collaboration brought the raised beds to life.
Seedlings leaders worked with the Pov’s Volunteer and Food Programs Manager Zac Mauldin as well as fellow volunteers and native plant experts Amy of Full Bushel Farms and Ylva Lekberg to coordinate strategic and enriching greenery around the outside of the W. Broadway building.
“We were trying to come up with a little landscape design plan for it, that would really work … I didn’t want it to feel stark or sterile because those beds are already very linear. I mean, you can tell that the architect designed those,” Katie said. “We really wanted to work on making it a little bit softer and more interesting. And so we decided to use things like logs and rocks and branches. All the stuff we used was just stuff we found.”
On the Pov’s 2021 May Day Clean-up, various volunteer groups joined together to beautify the Poverello Center property.
“I thought (the work day) went really well. And I was honestly super impressed with how much everyone was able to get done on that day. I was also impressed with how many people the Pov is able to get to come to those events,” Katie said.
Plants have grown tall and dense. Poverello staff take joy in watering the courtyard garden, and the row of raised beds now look lively – not sterile.
Planned Giving: Charitable Gift Annuities
Each donation to the Poverello Center directly assists Missoula’s most vulnerable neighbors by providing us with resources to continue our mission of providing food, shelter, help and hope to anyone who asks. This work not only addresses homelessness in our community, it also strengthens our network of neighbors. Your partnership with the Poverello Center makes a meaningful and lasting impact on our community.
Legacy giving impacts the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors long into the future. Charitable gift annuities are a simple, affordable way to create a lasting legacy for you and our community.
Also known as a CGA, this simple option enables you to make a gift to the Poverello Center now, get immediate tax benefits, and ensure you or a loved one receive fixed annual income for life.
The older you are, the higher your annuity rate. For donors who do not wish to receive income payments, a deferred charitable gift annuity, otherwise known as a DGA, is a popular option that provides the maximum tax advantage for the gift. You can either set up a CGA with the Montana Community Foundation or through your own financial institution.
“We have learned so much through this gift-annuity process. Frankly, we were surprised at how simple AND affordable this kind of endowment giving can be! By creating a long-lasting impact for the Poverello Center, we know that our resources will be used to better serve Missoula’s most underserved neighbors,” Liz Davies, Poverello Center Board President, said.
For more information on how you can provide a legacy gift to support your most vulnerable neighbors please contact us at 406-532-6686 or email@example.com. You can also contact the Montana Community Foundation, who manage these annuities for us, directly at 406-443-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Poverello Center ~ 1110 W Broadway St., Missoula, MT, 59802 ~ EIN 23-7439391
Supply Donation Needs
The personal reward of donating to the Poverello Center is one major component of giving. Each donation to the Poverello Center directly assists Missoula’s most vulnerable neighbors through providing us with resources to continue our mission of providing food, shelter, help and hope to anyone who asks. This work not only addresses homelessness in our community, it also strengthens our network of neighbors. Your partnership with the Poverello Center makes a meaningful and lasting impact on our community. Donations of all sizes are important to continuing the Poverello Center’s work of providing food, shelter, help and hope to all who ask. Fiscal giving is the most flexible way to donate to the Poverello Center, and monthly giving is the most impactful way to donate. The Poverello Center, Inc. appreciates donations in a variety of forms. Absolutely nothing that we accomplish is possible without the support of many hundreds of compassionate, thoughtful, hardworking, and generous community members and groups. Outside of financial support and volunteer time, we also consistently need a variety of items to support our most vulnerable neighbors.
The Poverello Center appreciates all the support we get from the Missoula community. Donations of food and supplies are critical to our mission to provide food, shelter, help and hope to all who ask. Here is a list of ongoing supply needs.
Canned or frozen veggies & fruit
Frozen, sealed meats
Canned or dried beans
Misc. dairy products
Fresh veggies & fruit
Liquid hand soap & sanitizer
Shampoo & conditioner
General cleaning supplies
Styrofoam cups and containers
Spoons and forks
HOT TEAM NEEDS:
MEDICAL RESPITE NEEDS:
Walkers with seats
Items we will NOT accept:
Oxygen tanks and their cart
Prescription meds from someone that passed away
Wheelchair add-ons (such as the foot/leg supports)