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$500K John’s Island Foundation grant targets housing

STORY BY MARY SCHENKEL (Week of December 28, 2023)
Photo: Andrew Welter-Frost, Chuck Cunningham, Dee Locke, Marty Mercado, Theresa Kilman, Chuck Lyon and Donald Blair.

To help alleviate homeless in Vero, the John’s Island Foundation recently awarded a $500,000 McCabe Leadership Grant to the Hope For Families Center, to be applied to the nonprofit’s $5.5 million Capital Campaign to expand their shelter.

The amount is the foundation’s largest gift to date, more than doubling the $200,000 McCabe Leadership Grant awarded two years ago to the Coalition for Attainable Homes.

The HFC has raised $4.25 million for the three-phase expansion, which will increase the number of rooms by 20, doubling shelter’s capacity.  

“A couple of years ago, when we were thinking about what was going on in the community, we decided to do some more work on specific topics that the board had particular interest in,” said Don Blair, JIF board president.

“Essentially, our board identified affordable housing as an area that we felt was a significant problem in the community, and we wanted to deploy more money against that. We were very impressed with Hope for Families, the way they approach their mission and what they're doing, as well as the grant process,” said Blair.

“The need keeps escalating,” said Marty Mercado, HFC executive director, citing a waitlist of some 180 families.

“And our residents are staying longer. On average, it used to be 90 days, but because of the affordable housing crisis, we’re seeing people stay six to eight months, sometimes up to a year,” said Mercado.

HFC collaborates with other organizations to provide wraparound services, such as United Against Poverty, for education and job training through its STEP program, and Indian River State College, which gives HFC residents free tuition.

The goal, said Mercado, is to have them find meaningful jobs with elevated hourly wages so that they can lead better lives and break that cycle of homelessness.

“The way the economy is right now, we have to provide services that help them to increase their stability or else they won't make it. They'll just cycle back in,” said Mercado. “It’s our responsibility to make them sustainable.”

“When you walk around this place you really get a sense that it's very well run, and that people care. I think that spoke to us,” said Theresa Kilman, chair of the JIF Grant Development Committee.

Kilman said she was also impressed by holistic approach provided by HFC, and that the expanded space will enable them to potentially assist 60 families a year, assuming three families cycle through each room.

The McCabe Leadership Grants are named after the late Eleanora McCabe, a founder and first president of the John’s Island Foundation.

“When we do the big, impactful grants, we are honoring her and also making sure that our donors know that’s what the John’s Island Foundation is here for; to have those impacts,” said Blair.