Alison Cunningham receives Barbara Geller Career Achievement Award
June 20, 2017
Thank you to Partnership for Strong Communities for a beautiful and inspirational evening at the 2017 Reaching Home Celebration Dinner and Housing Awards, celebrating all the great work being done to end homelessness in Connecticut! We are proud and honored that our CEO, Alison Cunningham, received the Barbara Geller Career Achievement Award.
Here are Alison's words upon receiving the award:
Barbara Geller was a friend and mentor, and a true champion of the cause that brings us together here tonight. Like many of you, I only wish that Barbara was with us to celebrate the achievements of the powerful group of people in this room. To be given an award named in her memory fills my heart and I am really humbled by it.
Career Achievement makes me feel a little old, and I guess I just have to own that because I have been around for a while, and have been with Columbus House for 19 years. Our work in the early days was very different, as some of you will remember. We were barely using email in 1998 and we kept shelter data on paper. There was no Dept. of Housing, but our shelter grants were under the watchful eye of Alan Carbaneau at DSS. We did not identify people by the length of time of their homelessness, so there was no chronic homeless designation. There was no US Interagency Council on Homelessness and no CT Interagency Council, and no one was talking about ending anything. Columbus House and others like us were just trying to survive on a shoestring budget. Nineteen years ago, we were standing on the outside of the mainstream social service world, trying to get people to pay attention to the issues of homelessness, hoping to get a little more support for our work. More than anything, we just wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who were homeless. We wanted to get them housed!
And that’s still what we want, but what a different world we work in today. We have a governor who understands and supports the development of housing and services. We’re working with government agencies and private philanthropies who are not just funders but are real partners in the work to end homelessness. We’ve broken down silos between our agencies and broken down barriers for the people we serve. We’re data driven, using that data to help identify our goals and the path to reach them. And most importantly, we’re reaching those goals - ending veteran homelessness and getting really close to ending chronic homelessness across the state. Nineteen years ago, none of this was even remotely possible.
To me, this night is about all of us and the incredible successes we’ve had in changing systems to better address the crisis of homelessness. It has been and still is such a privilege to work alongside all of you, to be inspired by what you do and by your passion for doing it. But I want to say especially to the staff and board of Columbus House, thank you for all you do. Some of you have been around for almost as long as I have been - some longer. We’ve grown up together, supported and challenged each other for many years. We’ve achieved so much because of your hard work and dedication to our mission. I look forward to coming to work every day to find out what amazing things you are accomplishing and to work on new and creative ideas for what we can do next for and with people who are homeless.
Let me leave you with something I said in a tribute to Barbara Geller at the CT Housing Coalition in 2015. This statement by Mary Lou Anderson reminded me of Barbara and I hope it will inspire you. Anderson said, “Leaders are called to stand in that place between the no longer and the not yet and intentionally make decisions that will bind, forge, move and create history. We are not called to be popular, not called to be safe, not called to follow. We are the ones called to take risks. We are the ones called to change attitudes, to risk displeasure. We are the ones called to gamble our lives for a better world.”
Let’s leave here tonight inspired to take risks, to move and create history and renew our commitment to creating a better world where all people are housed and homelessness is a thing of the past.
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