Episode 32: Kate Carver from Dumas Wesley Community Center

Transcript:

Welcome to podcast episode number thirty of the Mobile, Alabama Business Podcast with Kate Carver. My name is Marcus Neto. I own Blue Fish Design Studio. We're a digital marketing and web design company located downtown on Dolphin Street. I'm the host of Mobile, Alabama Business Podcast where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.

In this week's episode, we sit down with Kate Carver, the Executive Director of Dumas Wesley Community Center. Dumas Wesley has the mission statement of educating, empowering, and enriching the local community. They have a handful of programs that are not just handouts. Kate describes how they work with the participants over the course of months to educate them on how to move their lives to the next level. She also talks about a huge need that they have that could impact their ministry in a huge way. Let's dive right in with Kate Carver.

Marcus: Welcome to the podcast, Kate.

Kate: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Marcus: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Are you from Mobile?

Kate: I am not a Mobile native, though I moved here by choice so that should count for something.

Marcus: It absolutely does.

Kate: I grew up and spent most of my life in Wisconsin and then moved here.

Marcus: Cheesehead or cheddarhead? What's the ...

Kate: Cheesehead.

Marcus: Cheesehead. Okay.

Kate: Then, I've been living here over a decade now so I call this home.

Marcus: When did you move down?

Kate: Just before high school. I went to high school here and then I went to back to Wisconsin for college and then came back here afterwards. That's what I mean by choice and moved here.

Marcus: The reason why I asked timing was because we moved down right before Katrina so that was about a decade ago. It was probably right about the same time.

Kate: Yeah. You were from ...

Marcus: Washington, DC. 

Kate: That's right. Okay.

Marcus: Yeah. You chose to be here. Was there something that drove you to Mobile or was it just you had lived here before and you liked it and you wanted to move back or what was it about the area that kind of brought you back?

Kate: It's funny. You know, living most of my life in Wisconsin and going to college there, I thought for sure when I graduated I would stay in Wisconsin. Suddenly, when I look back at probably like mid junior year walking to class in the cold tundra, I thought, "You know, I really do miss the South." Aside from the weather, my recollections of Wisconsin suddenly were not what they seemed in my memory. They were just a little different. I started to miss things in Mobile: the culture, the weather, the people, the history. It's just so colorful in the South in so many different ways that I felt was lacking in Wisconsin. That, aside from the fact that my parents live here, was a good reason to come back. I just felt like this was home, finally.

Marcus: Yeah. You mentioned that you're six months, at this point in time, the podcast will be released at a later date, so she'll be further along. You're six months pregnant at this time. As somebody who has children, one of the main reasons that we looked at this area was it's phenomenal for raising a family as well.

Kate: It is. It is. That's definitely a factor that was in my mind looking into the long-term view.

Marcus: Yeah. That's awesome. You represent Dumas Wesley Community Center. Why don't you tell us a little bit about Dumas ... Is it Dumas Wesley Community Center? Is that how you refer to it?

Kate: That's right.

Marcus: Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Kate: The history is always interesting to me at Dumas Wesley. We were founded over a century ago in 1903 by a lady who, she and her husband worked in the cotton mills in Crichton, Alabama, and decided that there was a need for daycare services for families working in the cotton mills. They founded a daycare back in 1903 which was the Dumas Wesley Center. Then over the years as the need grew in the community, we decided to relocate to a bigger center where we are now located on Mobile Street. We are sort of a full service center for the disadvantaged in our community.

Marcus: Very cool.

Kate: Yeah.

Marcus: Tell us a little bit about your mission, the types of programs you have. Give us some more detail there.

Kate: Our mission, in short, is we educate, empower, and enrich the lives of those that we serve. Those that we serve are really disadvantaged. To give you an idea, a typical household income for the people that we serve is about $12 thousand annually. You can imagine the need that we see just on a daily basis. We really want to be that one stop shop for those in the community that are living at or below the poverty level. Our services range. They really span the spectrum. Our youngest client is a two-week-old living in our transitional housing program for homeless families and our oldest client is Ms. Anderson. She's 96 and she's in our senior program. Really, we just want to be sort of that hub in the community where people feel like they can come to us for services and resources. You know, just to give you a quick sketch, we have a food pantry, a clothing closet, transportation program, housing for homeless families, after school care, summer rec. That's just a handful of the programs that we serve on a daily basis.

Marcus: That's awesome. I mean, I know there's certainly a need for that in this community. We've talked to a number of other nonprofits that kind of deal in the same respect. Grant Zarzour was on a podcast like two weeks ago. It hasn't been released yet but we're really excited about that one from Fuse Project.

I don't remember her name, but the lady that works for the city that is in charge of all the kind of nonprofit ... I can't remember her name. Anyway, we were at an event and she said that if people were to drive around Mobile and see some of the things that she and some of the others from the city saw, because they had to actually go through all the different communities in the area. They drove literally up and down like every street. She said it took them something like three weeks or something along those lines. That if people were aware of the poverty that was here in Mobile County that they would never give money outside of the area because there's so much that could be done to improve the lives of those that live here. Hats off to you for what you're doing.

Kate: Thanks.

Marcus: This is a business focused podcast. I have to ask this question. Take it in a direction that you feel comfortable with. I'm going to use the word results. What kind of results do you see out of the efforts that you're doing?

Kate: I was just having a conversation with somebody just on the phone just before I got here about results. One, in particular that I love to brag about because it's just undeniable and above the national average, I mentioned we have a transitional housing program for homeless families. Just as one example of our success and one program, we have a seventeen apartment fully furnished program for homeless families. They can stay up to two years in this program. The average success rate is about 80% to 85% for women and families who come in, that were at one time homeless, and leave and remain independent. That's well above the national average, which is about 60%. I think that that just speaks to the quality of our curriculum and our staff. We have people call us from across the state and across the country that say, "What are you doing differently because how do you get an 80% success rate? That's just above average."

Marcus: You mentioned a word. I'm keying off of that. Curriculum. I mean, it's not just an apartment that they're getting, they have to go through some sort of program or something.

Kate: I'm glad you asked that. That's really the key to our success is this curriculum and it isn't a place to just rest your head. Upon entry into our program, you are required to have, within 30 days, either a job or be a full-time student. That already sets the bar at a different level when you come into our transitional program.

Then, I think what allows us the success is in this particular program is that we see the individual. We don't have a one size fits all kind of herding everybody through the same program. We have this person and her family meet with a case manager and they build a case management plan for the individual but even more than that, we build what's called a Life Skills Curriculum for that individual and that family based on their needs. It spans a spectrum. It may be budgeting. It may be trauma workshops. It might be healthy relationships and healthy boundaries, resume writing, dressing for success. It's any number of these types of curriculum or classes are required of the resident to be in our program and graduate successfully.

I think that that's what's key to our success is sort of rewiring their brain in a way that we're trying to undo old habits and old behaviors and teach them new skills and new tools that they can use to be independent, to be a productive tax paying citizen here in Mobile.

Marcus: That's awesome. Without the tax paying, just to be a productive citizen is just, you know, an amazing feat. I know some of these people have tremendous adversity that they have to overcome. That's really neat.

Is there an area of the community center that you guys are putting a lot of effort into right now? What's driving you at this point in time if you were to think of it as kind of like as a business? Knowing that has a social purpose to it, what's driving you all?

Kate: I think there's two ways to address this. One is sort of on the budget aspect and then the other side is back to our mission statement: to educate, empower, and enrich.

We really, we actually revised our mission statement several years ago because it wasn't in line with the way that evolved over the years and even some of our staff and board members couldn't even recall the statement off the top of their head. We wanted it to be current and effective. That's how we've build our strategic plan. That's how we built our development plan. You know, we want to make sure that as we evaluate our strategic plan every year that it is in line with our mission in the sense that we are not giving handouts and we're not seeing this revolving door of the same people coming back for the same problems. As I mentioned, we wanted them to be productive citizens in our community and give them the tools to break the cycle of poverty in their family. As we go about talking about expanding or developing our programs, that's always in the forefront of our mind. Are we training them to have ownership and be empowered to be independent? That's sort of one angle.

The other angle was, you know, when I took over the agency almost five years ago, we were about 91% heavy on government dollars. Our budget was about 91% government dollars. That can be a scary place to be because we were at the mercy of these decision makers in DC. Since then, that's been the other angle. As we move forward is to think about diversifying our budget so that it's reflective of government, corporate, private, foundation, individual, churches, you name it. We're successfully moving in that direction. We're now at about 65% government dollars. The remainder, private and local.

Marcus: Yeah. I know that that's a really difficult position to be in. I mean, even just from a business perspective, if you think that of as ... Say you're a web agency, got a little experience with that, and you have one client that makes up 75% or 80% of your income, that's a very dangerous place to be because if they go out of business or change their mind or go in a different direction or get bought out or any of those numbers of things, it really can rock you to your core. I would imagine that that same thing holds true for nonprofits as well. I know we've had a conversation with Deanne Servos over at Prodisee Pantry and there's like if you're just getting dollars from the private sector, there's still a danger of having just one or two donors that are making up a majority. It doesn't even matter that it's government dollars, it's just that one person is making up your income.

Kate: Right.

Marcus: They've tried to get it to the point where they're getting some larger donations from churches and individuals, but they like also having a large basis or a foundation of folks that are just regular people that give $50 or $100 or whatever they can a month to help because they can do a lot with that money. I would imagine you're along those same lines.

Kate: For sure. You know, we're lucky that Mobile is a pretty philanthropic community. We do have a lot of supporters that really span the spectrum and very generous too. I don't want to think about where we would be if we didn't live in a community where there was that kind of generosity. That's how we're able to do what we do, for sure.

Marcus: It's very cool. If you were talking to someone that wants to work for a nonprofit, what's a bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Kate: I would probably say, "I hope you're not in it for the money."

Marcus: Yeah.

Kate: I mean, I say that in jest, but truthfully, it's interesting, when I stepped into this role, as I mentioned about four or five years ago, I had a staff meeting about 22 some odd staff members and asked them, "Why are you here?" It's just because I wanted to get to know them but also: Why are we all here? What brings you here? Almost everybody in the room felt in some way called to do what they're doing. It's obviously not a large paycheck, but they felt that service was sort of the underlying motive for most people.

Marcus: They wanted to see somebody's life transformed.

Kate: I think that's it, yeah. I guess I would say make sure it's in your heart that you want to serve and you will be fruitful. I mean, this is the most rewarding work that I've ever done. It's humbling and it's just so wonderful to have the privilege to see people's lives transformed before you. I don't mean that in some kind of a cliché way, but I really truly ... I mean, there are people who were sleeping in their cars at one time with their two kids, homeless, and then six, eight, twelve months later, they're a branch manager at a local bank. I mean, it's just amazing some of the stories that we see.

Marcus: Tell me a little bit about ... I mean, how did you end up as Executive Director for ... I mean, do you have a background in nonprofit work or did you go to school for this or did you just kind of land this as a position just out of the blue or what's your ...

Kate: Well, my background is communication and journalism. I started doing kind of marketing and PR for nonprofits out of college and then kind of worked my way up. My heart for the work has been apart of me since I can remember. I remember just being six or eight years old ringing a bell for the Salvation Army outside of some retail store with my dad who worked for United Way in Wisconsin. You know, he would take me to the food banks and to nursing homes and it just became apart of me. My circuitry was rewired somewhere along the line. It was just something that I always wanted to do because I remember being at a food pantry warehouse and thinking, I must have been ten or twelve and thinking, "What is all this food for and why do they need it?" You know, it was like a Sam's Club to a ten year old. Thinking that there are people out there that don't have food in their pantry. I guess somewhere along the line I just felt moved to do this kind of work. My first job was working at a domestic violence shelter when I was fifteen. It's just been apart of me.

Marcus: Wow. I don't know how you transition from that last statement of working with a domestic violence.
    
Any books that you've found helpful or any other resources that you've found helpful as you kind of run this organization? That can be websites, philanthropic organizations, educational organizations. Take that in any direction that you feel like.

Kate: One book that I read not too, too long ago was Toxic Charity. Have y'all heard of that one before? In short, it was just an interesting read to give me kind of a different perspective on the work I do. As an example, it was asking if the work that we're doing is really enabling or is it really helping them. Again, it goes back to our mission: Are we empowering? Are we sort of keeping them in the place that they're at? It gave examples of dozens of nonprofits just throughout the country that are doing everything from a food pantry to transportation services. The question is: Are you helping this person to long-term success? That was interesting book that just kind of helped me in our strategic planning think about are we giving them a handout or a hand up.

Then, also just on a day-to-day basis, as I mentioned with our budgets, we have a shoestring budget. We're always looking for donations and funders and resources to help us provide our services. There are a lot of grant making tools online these days that are really helpful in just terms of diversifying our private donations. The Foundation Center is one, for example. They just tell us about different RFPs that are available to provide assistance with our programs. That's a site that I scroll through on a regular basis.

Marcus: Now, let's not miss an opportunity here. I mean, imagine there's somebody who has a philanthropic heart here in Mobile who buys into your story and wants to help. What's a specific need that you have right now that they could help with?

Kate: Yeah. That's funny that you mention that. I am in the process of trying to find funds as we speak for a new roof. I know that's not sexy.

Marcus: It is kind of. You got people living under it.

Kate: Yeah. It's tough because I can write grants all day long for food for our pantry or for the women at our shelter or after school care for our kids. Those are all still needs, but you can't run those programs if you don't have a safe place to serve these people. Unfortunately, there's been quite a bit of deferred maintenance on our building just because of funding problems in the last, I'd say, decade. I'm having a hard time finding bricks and mortar support because people want to give to people. That's fundraising 101. My greatest need, although you could kind of yawn over it, is a new roof. This is a building that's been around since the 50s.

Marcus: Is there a specific cost associated to that?

Kate: It's between $80 and $100 thousand.

Marcus: Wow. So that is quite significant.

Kate: It is a big building. We've gotten several bids and we've done our homework and it appears to be an average rate is about $80 thousand to $100 thousand.

Marcus: Wow. It is safe to say that without that roof, your organization will have a difficult time operating or may cease to exist.

Kate: I can tell you that we've made seventeen patches to our roof in the last, I think, two years. When you don't have $100 thousand to just cough up front, you do what you can. We've been patching the facility. I know that I'm not the only nonprofit in this position. It's just there's not a lot of money out there for these types of needs. We're making due, but that's definitely at the top of our wishlist.

Marcus: Well, if you're out there and you've got the means to do so, we'll have all of Kate's contact information as part of the transcription. Make sure to get in touch, because I'd love to see them be able to continue this, I'll use the term, ministry that they have in helping folks here in the Mobile area.
    
On to lighter things. What do you do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Kate: Well, right now my hobby is my nineteen-year-old. Nineteen-month-old daughter. Excuse me.

Marcus: I was about to say, "You don't look that old."

Kate: Yeah. It's really spending time with my family, camping when I get the opportunity. I love to read. I have about three issues behind on my New Yorker Magazine. Then, I love to be out in the community, like Art Walk. That kind of thing. I have a little sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She and I have a lot of similar interests. As often as we can, we try to do Arts Alive and Art Walk and go to the Joe Jefferson Playhouse, just be apart of this community.

Marcus: Yeah. It's interesting moving down here to Dolphin Street, we've become more aware or at least I've become more aware of all the things that are being offered on the Mobile side of Mobile Bay. When you live on the Eastern Shore and you hear about things that are going on in Daphne or Fairhope and stuff like that, but there's a lot of stuff going on over here and it's really cool.

Kate: Yeah.

Marcus: Give us a look at an average day. What does that look like for you?

Kate: At the office, I assume.

Marcus: No. I mean just in general. I'm just weird like this. I like to know: Is there a time of day that you always get up? Do you always get up and read? Do you get up and first thing check your email? Do you have a cup of coffee? Do you go to the gym? You know, I mean, then you can get into your specific day. Also, just what are some of the habits that you've built in? I find that most entrepreneurs have like they have some disciplines that they have built into their day. Sometimes, your day is so hectic that if you don't have those disciplines on the front end or the back end of your day, that it can make you a little twitchy.

Kate: Yeah.

Marcus: For lack of better terms.

Kate: I thought it was just me. I thought I was just maybe OCD or something.

Marcus: Nope.

Kate: No. I mean, it's nothing exciting, but it is a routine for me. For me, I wake up when my daughter wakes me up, which is usually about ...

Marcus: Early.

Kate: Yes. 6 something in the morning, which is perfect because that's kind of as much time as I need to get ready for the day. Then, it's just getting her ready and getting myself ready.

The one thing that I try to do as often as I can, because we're such a busy family, is having breakfast together. When you both work for yourselves and you've got a little one to take care of and one on the way, it's important that you don't lose sight of each other and what's really important. We try to touch base in the morning and then we do the same actually in the evening as often as we can is to sit down and have a family dinner.

Marcus: Right.

Kate: I know that sounds so ... I don't know. It's so square.

Marcus: You're so traditional.

Kate: You know, I find that the days that we don't get a chance, because we're in such a hurry, we don't get a chance to eat breakfast together or we don't do dinner and sometimes neither, it's easy to sort of fall out of touch with each other and a little out of sync.

Marcus: It also grounds you. No matter the craziness that's going on in whatever business venture you have, if you have that time together as a family, it kind of brings it all back and you realize, "I'm okay. No matter what that craziness is, I still have these crazy people that still love me no matter what's going on out there."

Kate: Spoken like a father.

Marcus: Oh, yes. Tell us where can people find out more about Dumas Wesley?

Kate: You can find out, we've actually got a Twitter page, we have a Facebook page, and then you can Google us or find us online at DumasWesley.org.

Marcus: Okay.

Kate: As an example, we have just recently this weekend, we had a big fundraiser. Cardboard City. Sleeping rough for a night in a cardboard box to bring awareness to homelessness. You can see we're all abuzz over Twitter and Facebook with pictures of kids and adults alike that slept in a cardboard box for the cause. That's where you can kind of find out what we've got coming up, events, and ways to give and ways to volunteer. It's a good way to just kind of keep up with Dumas.

Marcus: That's an important note because some people may not be able to write out a $100 thousand check. For other people, that's an easy thing but some people it's hard to even write a $100 check. Volunteering is often a very powerful ... I mean, organizations like yours pretty much run, if I'm correct, run on volunteer efforts. Correct?

Kate: That is for sure. Volunteers are the backbone of our agency. We have you know a good number of our programs are entirely volunteer run. Whether it be, for example, our tutoring program or our food pantry, which is run entirely by Methodist Partner, a local church. We wouldn't have a food pantry if it weren't for our volunteers. We are always looking to get folks involved and couldn't do what we do without these volunteers.

Marcus: Very cool. I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Kate: No. I'm just glad to have been here, to get our name out there. I feel like we're sort of a well-kept secret sometimes just because we don't have the national brand recognition of say, a Salvation Army. I would just encourage your listeners to come by and take a tour of, the facility. Folks that see our facility for the first time are kind of in awe of what all we do and how we do it. I always encourage anyone who's interested to stop by Mobile Street and ask for me and take a tour.

Marcus: Very cool. That's awesome. Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey. It was great talking with you.

Kate: Thanks for having me.