How small businesses can help solve homeless problems

"Look, Bill. The Swansons - she has that CPA firm in Glenview - have added something to our group's monthly dinner party."

"What's up? Do we have to bring our own food this time?"

"No, but we do have to bring something. Jennifer asks that we all bring some diapers."

"Diapers? Is someone in our crowd having a problem?"

"The diapers are sizes two to five, so I don't think anyone in our group will be using them. But what's happening is interesting. The Swansons and their company have joined the Corporate Ambassador Program at Journeys The Road Home.

"Before you ask, Jen said someone from Journeys will be there to talk briefly about what the organization does. I think homelessness, including helping families at risk stay in their homes, is their big issue."

Spot on. During the fiscal year ended June 30, Palatine-based Journeys served 947 homeless or near-homeless clients in the 37 north and northwest Cook communities where the nonprofit works. One hundred ninety-four were kids, most (158) age 12 or younger.

It's the kids who got to small business owner Paul Heinze. "The more you drill down ... they'll buckle your knees," he says.

A Journeys board member since January, Heinze sees opportunities for small businesses to get involved in the organization. "It's not just a check," Heinze says. "(We) must become educated about homelessness.

"We're not talking about never do wells living under the bridge on Route 53. Homelessness is a cultural issue, and we can help cure it if we become aware of what the problem really is."

With help from Heinze, an adviser to closely held businesses through Paul M. Heinze Co., Barrington Hills, Journeys is rolling out a Corporate Ambassador Program that will rely less on checks - though checks are welcome - than on local businesses willing to roll up their collective sleeves and become involved.

"We're looking for partners," explains Development Director Suzanne Ploger, "businesses that can help us create an awareness of the homeless problem in our part of Cook County."

Working with Journeys Executive Director Beth Nabors and Ploger, Heinze is thoroughly energized by the creative possibilities small business owners can unleash. What may work in the Journeys reach out to local businesses is that there's not much work involved.

Though fictitious, the dinner party invitation that starts this column is an example of an easy way to add a Journeys element to an existing event. Holiday parties offer a similar opportunity.

Other suggestions from Nabors, Ploger, and Heinze:

• If your workplace has a casual clothes Friday, ask employees to "pay" $5 each Friday for the next four, with the funds going to Journeys - which will supply marketing materials.

Match the funds if your business can.

• Provide (or sponsor) skills training for at risk individuals needing work.

• Nabors, Ploger or Heinze presentations to chambers, Rotary clubs; networking groups - and dinner parties.

• Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Listen to Jim's Business Owners' Pod Talk at © 2016 Kendall Communications Inc.

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