10 things I learned from spending the day with Hope Haven President & CEO Alice Harrison

10 things I learned from spending the day with Hope Haven President & CEO Alice Harrison
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BREAKING UPDATE (10 a.m. 12/1/15): On this #GivingTuesday, Bank of America has announced $1 million in grants to 16 Charlotte-area nonprofits. Showing support with more than just finances, 200 bank employees have participated in hands-on volunteering, with organizations including Second Harvest Food Bank, Salvation Army and Urban Ministry Center.

As part of today’s announcement, Hope Haven and CrossRoads Corporation have been named as this year’s Neighborhood Builders, receiving $200,000 each in flexible funding to increase their community impact. In addition, an emerging leader and the CEO from each organization will be receiving invaluable leadership development. Today is a huge win for the nonprofit community, and for these two honorees in particular.

A team from Hope Haven accepts their Neighborhood Builders award of $200,000.

A team from Hope Haven accepts their Neighborhood Builders award of $200,000.

(1) Hope Haven takes “it takes a village” to a whole new level.

A pamphlet doesn’t do this place justice. When you read about its mission – to provide a place for people in addiction recovery to rebuild their lives, from homelessness to employment and stability – you might not imagine the amount of love and care shown to 300+ residents who live on-site at the Villages of Hope Haven, a former motel, every year. It’s in the details, like the peaceful serenity garden or the cheerful colors of the kids’ playground, or the “convenience store” where residents can get needed toiletries, that you see the impact on an individual level.


Hope Haven 1

(2) What keeps Alice going

This work is hard. Every day is not only an intellectual challenge – this team is keeping a huge financial entity afloat after all – but an emotional one. As Alice puts it, “I see a miracle every day. You never know what it will be, but there is a miracle to be seen. Everybody that comes here can get better. They may choose not to, but they have the option. It makes it worth coming to work every day.”

(3) The importance of mentorship

As experienced as she is, with more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership under her belt, even Alice finds support and counsel through a mentoring relationship with Pete Thedinga, board member and Bank of America executive. She appreciates getting his corporate perspective and human services expertise as she makes big-picture decisions for the organization. The day I came to shadow, she had just finished a 90-minute meeting with him.

(4) The huge impact of their 2004 Bank of America Neighborhood Builders award

Hope Haven was one of the first pair of beneficiaries of Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders program in 2004. The program provided Hope Haven with $200,000 in unrestricted funding and leadership training focused on development and capacity building. “I can truly say that the program totally changed my career. I was excited about the monetary award – we desperately needed a kitchen and it paid for it – but I had discounted the training we would get,” says Alice. “The training was absolutely unbelievable… They worked with us on our specific goals. Listening to the caliber of people who were there taught us to think outside of the box.”

(5) The importance of succession planning

When you work with a team so closely that you feel like family, and each part of the team stands alone with strength and experience, it’s easy to feel invincible. But that doesn’t mean that a succession plan is any less important. If there’s an emergency and an agency is left without its leader, it can take years to recover without a game plan. Alice’s emerging leader for the Neighborhood Builders program, Joslyn Blackburn, is learning the day-to-day operations as well as the long-term strategy for Hope Haven’s growth.

(6) You never know what to expect on your first day in a nonprofit job

When Alice started, the organization was a fraction of the size it is now (four employees then, and more than 50 now), and there was a small, experienced team already in place. She was promised a smooth transition. “I got here the first day and the men’s manager had given his resignation and taken 40 files home with him. And it was a board meeting day! It was an interesting start.”

(7) You have to think creatively for your organization to grow

In 1996, Alice watched a news segment about the problems the Villager Lodge on North Tryon was having with illegal activity: shootings, drugs, prostitution. At the same time, Hope Haven was outgrowing all of their current venues with the community’s need for a recovery space. A light bulb clicked, and she reached out to the lodge’s realtors to see if they wanted to sell. They opened the doors in February 1997 and have been making improvements ever since.

Hope Haven 2

(8) Selflessness is the norm

Leading by example is so powerful, isn’t it? With all of the constant improvements, renovations and repairs needed to make Hope Haven a comfortable space for its residents, Alice has always put her own office renovation on the back burner. As VP of Development Lori Vaccaro explains, “With Alice, everyone else is taken care of first. We had to convince her to finally re-do her office. It’s way past time for a fresh coat of paint.” (This office spruce-up is, in fact, underway this week!)

Hope Haven 3

(9) Hope Haven is a family

When I took a walking tour of the campus, everyone – everyone – stopped to say hello and chat a moment about their day. Residents learn basic employment skills through their catering company, A Taste of Hope, Hope Haven’s own kitchen, their commercial laundry service, their on-site garden and other ventures. But no one, staff or resident, is too busy for a cheerful greeting. I could tell from my brief time with the staff that there’s a strong “all hands on deck” attitude. One staffer’s husband even chips in with pro bono graphic design services to help meet the team’s needs. Residents who find success after the program often come back to speak, volunteer or even start careers with the organization. This full-circle effect is a powerful testament.

Hope Haven

(10) Alice is visionary about new opportunities for growth

As Lori puts it, “She’s a dynamic, visionary leader. She makes it happen. It’s hard work, and she’s just relentless. During her tenure, she’s taken Hope Haven from a $90k to $4.1 million operating budget.” As persistent as Alice is about fundraising and growth, it’s important to her that Hope Haven finds new revenue streams, too – streams that also aid in the mission for residents to find vocation. Alice has partnered with SEEDS ON 36th to open a self-sustaining café with an on-site Aquaponics lab and greenhouse in the NoDa neighborhood in the near future – and potentially even a food truck project. For Alice, there’s no conflict between nonprofit need and innovative venture.

How to get involved

Hope Haven accepts direct donations and is especially in need of blankets, new pillows and men’s coats at this time. You can also make a monetary donation here.


(Note: This content was co-created with Bank of America.)

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