Article about Nola Renz’s departure from Helping Hand House in the Puyallup Herald.
Legacy of growth at Helping Hand House
Changes: Friday will be executive director’s last day
ANDREW FICKES OF THE HERALD
Last updated: June 12th, 2012 09:30 PM (PDT)
When Nola Renz took over as executive director of Helping Hand House in 1997, the nonprofit agency which serves homeless families in east Pierce County had just two full-time staff members and an annual budget of $168,000.
“We worked with 35 families a year,” Renz said. “Now we have 14 staff and 42 homes.”
About 200 to 300 families annually graduate through the agency’s homes, which are scattered across Puyallup, Sumner, Eatonville, Orting and Bonney Lake. Today, Renz has an annual budget of $1,688,000, based on the 2012 fiscal year.
Renz will step down on Friday and move back to her family in Colorado to take on a new job as the executive director of the Denver-Metro Homeless Initiative, a nonprofit organization that funnels funding sources to homeless agencies across the seven counties in Denver’s metro area.
“I love my job, so it was a very difficult decision,” Renz said. “When the opportunity came, I thought it was time. This lets me grow in another way and stretch myself.
“I want to use the skills that I gained to help as many people as possible. This is an opportunity to do more of what I’ve been doing.”
When Renz took her job at Helping Hand House, she said she saw her upbringing reflected in the core mission of the agency: aiding homeless families with children. Several times during her childhood, Renz said she experienced homelessness.
“I changed schools 23 times between first grade and graduating,” she said. “I’d be at a school for a week, or sometimes three weeks. That does something to kids.”
Renz not only worked on enhancing the housing component of the agency, she also ensured that the underlying issues that cause homelessness were addressed.
“Solving the problem of homelessness is way bigger than just housing,” she said. “We have to have financial literacy also.”
Besides the 42 homes in its housing inventory, the agency also provides an education and employment program, including life-skills classes — at least two per month.
“We always find things that could be a benefit to families,” Renz said. “We have really focused on the education piece and how parents see that. We help parents get an education so they can get a better-paying job and support their families.”
Renz and her team have attracted a gamut of partnerships, both in-kind and financial. Among its top financial sponsors for fundraising events include Boeing, U.S. Bank and IKEA. In-kind partners include Our Savior Lutheran Church, whose mechanic-minded members lend their garage for free repairs to homeless families on their family vehicle, and South Hill Rotary, which loans three duplex units used annually by up to 12 homeless families who are served by Helping Hand House.
“We are always looking for partnerships that advance the mission without adding to the expense too much,” Renz said.
Renz said a good succession plan has been put in place for her role at Helping Hand House.
“I hope for a smooth transition, because it’s an awesome agency,” she said. “I’ve never known people who put so much of their whole being into what they’re doing. And they believe in what they’re doing to the core. And that’s pretty awesome.”
Jamie Anderson, development director for Helping Hand House, said the leadership team is excited for Renz.
“She has done a lot of great work here in Pierce County and has been a great leader,” Anderson said. “She is a real forward-thinker for the homelessness issue. She has created a culture here at Helping Hand House that values people and wants to create permanent solutions for people.”
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-841-2481, ext. 313, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.