When two organizations dedicated to addressing family homelessness in Durham decided to merge, it was a perfect match – their missions and goals were shared, although their paths to those aims had been different. Even so, the merger of Genesis Home and Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network (DIHN) was not without challenges.
Indeed, at one point their discussions stalled as they tried to work beyond their differing organizational cultures. That is when they turned to Executive Service Corps of the Triangle (ESC) late in 2014. “We really needed a facilitator,” said Ryan Fehrman, executive director of Genesis Home. They got that and more – a team of three volunteer consultants who are experts in mergers, in corporate, and more importantly, nonprofit cultures and in the organization and missions of boards of directors.
The result: their merger into Families Moving Forward.
“I don’t know that we would be merging now without ESC,” Fehrman said. Catherine Pleil, executive director of DIHN, agreed. “It couldn’t be happening without them,” she said.
Genesis Home, founded in 1989, has a staff of 12 and operates its own three-story building in Durham, providing apartments for the homeless. Over the years, it has offered transitional housing, in which families could live in its building for up to two years. DIHN, which began in 1994, provided emergency housing that rotated among its congregations, with services provided through 800+ volunteers in over
30 congregations. In its system, homeless families stayed in facilities provided by one church for a week and then moved to another. It has a paid staff of three.
Both were evolving, in line with government and private experts on homelessness, to concentrate on more rapid re-housing. That involves helping homeless families move from shelters into permanent homes of their own as quickly as possible, with aftercare services to help them move beyond homelessness to stability.
Because of their shared goals, merging made sense. But that didn’t make it easy. DIHN’s leadership was concerned about how their congregational volunteers, the heart of their organization, would respond to merging with an organization with a more secular orientation. Genesis Home gets about one-third of its financing from government agencies and the rest from grants and contributions. “DIHN has a very strong and active volunteer base, which we want and need to keep,” Fehrman said.
That will be Pleil’s specialty in the new organization, as director of partnerships and programs. Fehrman will be executive director. The two boards of directors are merging into an expanded board for Families Moving Forward. There, too, ESC’s consultants provided guidance.
“They were very flexible and understanding in helping us break through barriers,” Pleil said.
For ESC, it was a major project, involving interviews and surveys in both organizations,
10 workshops and a communications plan for Families Moving Forward. The ESC fee was a fraction of what private consultants would have charged. “We’ve had a great experience at a very reasonable cost,” Fehrman said.
In the future, the Genesis Home building will be remodeled to provide interim housing for 21 homeless families. The new organization will provide temporary emergency shelter for 80-100 families a year, while helping them find employment and income that will enable them to move quickly into permanent housing. During their stay and for the following year, volunteers will help them develop skills for independent living in employment, financial literacy, healthy living and family relationships.
Leaders of the merging organizations agree that ESC was crucial in making it all work. “One of our best decisions was to involve ESC,’’ said Cindy Streett, board president of Genesis Home. “I honestly do not think we would have accomplished this without ESC.”
“Their service has been excellent,” said Jim Hewitt, board president of DIHN. “We’ve had a great experience.”