Success Stories

Stories of second chances, self-sufficiency and new found confidence. Karl, DeeDee, Gloria and Ed are all formerly homeless and are all now living successful lives off the streets thanks to your generosity to Fresno First Steps Home and the organizations we support.

Karl

A story of second chances

Success Story - Karl

When Karl played basketball for Los Angeles Harbor College, he never imagined he would be homeless in Fresno 30 years later. Karl admits he took the wrong path—one that landed him in prison for 11 years. He knew it would be difficult to find work, but for 80 days after his release he tried to find a job before leaving Los Angeles. In January 2011, he jumped on a bus for Seattle to live with a friend and look for work. On a two-hour layover in Fresno, he decided this was the place for a fresh start. He began by shining shoes downtown, and on a good day, would make $30. But this was not enough to keep him off the streets, where he lived until Fresno First Steps Home placed him in an apartment in November 2011.

In Karl’s living room there’s a wooden box with rags and shoe polish sitting on the floor. He describes trying to build his clientele while living on the streets. “I would try to get the lawyers to stop for a shoe shine, but they were always too busy. Then I asked where they went to lunch and followed them to Kern and L Street.”

It wasn’t long before Karl, who has the gift of gab, built up a strong clientele and a reputation as a hard worker. Today, he has a full-time job at a private club where he shines shoes, works in the restaurant, and parks cars. A Fresno Housing Authority caseworker is working with him to find permanent housing. He credits his faith and Fresno for getting him off the streets. “There are a lot of good people in this town. Without them and God, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Karl says, looking around his living room, perched in his rocking chair.

Karl has big dreams. He wants to work on the California High Speed Rail Project. He’s been collecting information and talking with community members. His can-do attitude comes naturally. Karl is the ninth of 16 children—a family marked by success. His sibling, Dennis Johnson, was a five-time National Basketball Association all-star and an integral part of the Boston Celtics. Karl lost his brother and his mother within months of each other while in prison and regrets not attending their funerals. But his sadness dissipates when he talks about the future.

Karl recognizes that his brother chose the right path and he did not. He’s back in the game with a roof over his head and a full-time job, all thanks to the community and the following agencies that gave him a second chance:

  • The Fresno Housing Authority
  • Fresno County Economic Opportunity Commission
  • The Poverello House
Success Story - DeeDee

DeeDee

It could happen to anyone

“I didn’t wake up one day and decide to be homeless,” says DeeDee, who found herself living on the streets of Fresno after a string of tragic events. “I took care of my terminally ill mother for nearly two years until she passed away in September 2005. I began looking for work but in June the next year, a speeding car hit my eleven-year-old son. He spent the next two and a half months at Children’s Hospital Central California and the doctors didn’t know if he would survive. Three months after he was released, our home caught on fire in the middle of the night. We lost our dog, we lost our car, and we lost everything but the pajamas we’d worn to bed.”

DeeDee searched for assistance but she was unable to find shelter with her son. He went to live with his paternal grandparents. “Being homeless is soul crushing,” says DeeDee. “You live in fear when you are homeless.” DeeDee feared the uncertainty of her plight and the violence, crime, and cruelty. “I was spit on, people threw things at me as they drove by, people assumed I was a prostitute. I thought I was going to die out there. I felt empty and depressed. I cried every day for the first month because I thought, ‘I’m going to die and my son won’t remember me,’” DeeDee recalls.

DeeDee learned of Fresno First Steps Home in July of 2013 when a caseworker from the Fresno Housing Authority met DeeDee at the Poverello House during outreach for Fresno First Steps Home. With the program’s assistance, DeeDee was able to secure housing in August 2013, reunite with her family, finish her education, and secure employment. “I work at Saint Agnes now and I drive a soccer mom car,” DeeDee says proudly. “I needed a hand up, not a handout. Giving money at the corner does not help. It actually delays any progress a person could make. Fresno First Steps Home worked for me and I know it can help others.”

Though DeeDee is happy now, at one point, she was ready to give up. “I’m not sharing my story to get pity,” she says. “I’m telling my story to open your eyes. Not every homeless person is a drug addict or lazy or mentally ill. If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.”

Gloria

A story of self-sufficiency

Success Story - Gloria

Gloria was homeless on and off for more than a decade. Moving from city to city in Northern California, she came to Fresno in 2007 and lived on the streets. She has seen it all, and lived it all. “I encourage people,” she says. “I’ve been through it all. What I see out there, I’ve lived.”

Her journey is riddled with abusive relationships and addiction. But this self-proclaimed farm girl from Idaho, who has been sober for nearly five years, is putting the pieces of her life back together, figuratively, as she assembles jigsaw puzzles and proudly adorns her walls with their colorful landscapes.

In July 2011, Fresno First Steps Home put Gloria on their homeless registry and eventually moved her into an apartment. She worked with the Fresno Housing Authority to straighten out her social security benefits, and according to her caseworker, became self-sufficient almost immediately. Gloria is often described as a mother hen. She cooks for neighbors and is sought after for guidance and help. She recognizes this growth after spending years engaging in harmful relationships. “I’m at peace now,” she says, and her smile mirrors the photo of a beautiful girl framed behind her. It’s her 1976 high school graduation photo. She says, “I’m grateful for Fresno. It has blessed and helped me. I’ll never forget where I came from and who helped,” including the following:

  • The Fresno Housing Authority
  • Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission
  • The Poverello House
Success Story - Ed

Ed

A story of New confidence

“I never thought I would be homeless,” says Ed, who months ago found himself living on the streets of Fresno. “I always had a plan. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Because of the economy, getting a permanent job was almost impossible, so for nearly two years Ed found work setting up and tearing down carnival rides for large community fairs. Searching for work and waiting for the Fresno Fair, Ed was renting rooms at local motels with what little money he was able to save, but it went fast. “I didn’t have a lot of money, and while I eventually found a factory job, by that time, I was already homeless.”

Even though Ed was working full-time when he participated in the Fresno First Steps Home, he didn’t make enough money to afford the necessary deposits required to rent an apartment.

“I was in denial,” Ed explains. “I might be sleeping next to someone in the park who was homeless, but that wasn’t me.” He avoided engaging in conversation with co-workers because he didn’t want them to know he was homeless. He felt as if he were wearing a mask.

According to Ed, the biggest misconception about living on the streets is that homeless people are rejects of society. “That is not true,” he explains. “If you have not experienced being homeless, then you have no idea what it’s like. It’s not what possessions you have, but how you feel about yourself.”

Fresno First Steps Home and its partners met Ed during outreach in the summer of 2013 and helped him find a permanent residence. Ed now has a place to call home. “I now have what I really want—a clean apartment that I can call my own. Fresno First Steps Home has helped me gain back my independence. I’m back in charge of my life.”

Ed continues to work the night shift at a food processing plant and pays his monthly rent for the same apartment. When asked about how it feels to have a permanent place to call home, Ed says with a relaxed smile, “I have a feeling of self-worth.”

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Tom Richards

Tom Richards

Chair, Fresno First Steps Home
Chair, 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness
Chief Executive Officer, The Penstar Group

Tom Richards graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, after completing active duty 1 military service.  During and after college, he was employed as a staff accountant and senior auditor by a major Santa Barbara CPA firm.  He left to work for a locally based real estate firm.  During that tenure, he formed joint venture and limited partnership investments in multi-residential and condominium developments.

Tom moved to Fresno, initially developing with others and building single-family subdivisions, office buildings and shopping centers. He subsequently formed The Penstar Group.  Its real estate activities continue today and have included the development and construction of single-family subdivisions, condominiums, multi-family rental housing, senior rental housing, general and medical office buildings, skilled nursing facilities, industrial warehouse and manufacturing buildings and shopping centers.  Penstar’s geographic operations have extended from the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles through Sacramento and in the Seattle, Washington area.

In recent years, Penstar’s development focus has been divided between downtown Fresno’s revitalization and redevelopment efforts, apartments, and a major master planned community in southeast Fresno.  In his capacity as managing partner of M.L. Street Properties, Richards with Penstar directed the development, construction and now management of Fresno’s first new privately owned high-rise Class A office building in over 30 years, the TOWER at Convention Center Court.  Other completed downtown projects include administrative and medical office buildings for Fresno’s Regional Community Medical Center and Terry’s House. Current developments include the TOWER 2 at Convention Center Court, the renovation of the historic Bank of Italy building, development of senior’s housing with Ed Kashian at Campus Pointe on the CSU Fresno Campus, and three apartment projects in Fresno. In southeast Fresno, with Ed Kashian, Richards is co-managing member of Fancher Creek, a 485-acre master planned community including a Regional Shopping Center, Village Center, 74 acre Business Park, 800 single-family homes, and recreational and civic amenities.

Tom is a licensed general contractor and real estate broker.  He has been active in civic services, among which have been the Chancellor’s Advisory Council at UCSB, the Business Advisory Council for Fresno’s Public Television and the Building Industry Association.  He is a past Director of the 21st District Agricultural Association, The Big Fresno Fair and a past Chair of Fresno Unified School District’s Measure K Oversight Committee. He also chaired the City and County of Fresno’s 10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. He serves as Chair of the Board for Premier Valley Bank, Director of the Fresno County Workforce Development Board, Vice Chair of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo Board, Chair of Fresno First Steps Home, Chair of Fresno’s Property-based Business Improvement District and Vice Chair of the CA High-Speed Rail Authority.

Kurt Madden

Kurt Madden

Chief Technology Officer, Fresno Unified School District

Kurt Madden is the Chief Technology Officer for Fresno Unified School District, the fourth largest district in California.  He leads the Information Technology department, which is responsible for the strategy, development and implementation of business and educational technology for the district of 74,000 students and 8,000 teachers, administrators and staff.

Prior to his current position, Kurt was the CEO of One by One Leadership, a local community development organization. Before One by One he held several leadership positions including Corporate VP for a Fortune 1000 technology firm and President and Founder of two local technology companies. He is the author of Synergetic Follower: Changing Our World without Being the Leader, published in 2010 and speaks on followership.

Kurt has been an adjunct professor for the Information Systems Department at the Craig School of Business at Fresno State University since 1994.

Kurt is the Board Chair for the Fresno Business Council and Co-Chair of the Microsoft K-12 Advisory Council. He is also a Board member of the ValleyPBS Board, the Fresno First Steps Home Board, Fresno State Alumni Association Board and the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation Board. He attended Fresno Unified schools, graduated from Fresno State University, has been married to his wife, Katy, for 39 years and has three kids he loves who are now young adults.

Nancy Hollingsworth

Nancy Hollingsworth

President & Chief Executive Officer, Saint Agnes Medical Center

Nancy Hollingsworth, RN, was appointed to the Board as President and CEO, February 2011. Nancy enjoys a long history at Saint Agnes, beginning as an Oncology staff nurse (1982-1984), and as Manager of Patient Resources (1985-1998). She returned to Saint Agnes in August 2007 as Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) and later promoted to Chief Operating Officer (COO) in January 2010. During her time away from the hospital, Nancy worked as a Senior Manager of Strategy and Operations for Deloitte Consulting in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nancy received her BSN from CSU Fresno, and her MSN and MBA from Vanderbilt University.

Mathew Grundy

Mathew Grundy

Secretary/Treasurer, Fresno First Steps Home

Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity
Fresno County

Matthew Sterling Grundy is a servant-leader who truly believes that all of his accomplishments have come by the loving grace of Jesus Christ. Matthew has overcome adversity having made it out of poverty. Matthew went from being homeless to attending one of the world’s most prestigious universities, partnering a real estate development company, leading a national tutoring organization, co-founding a non-profit youth workforce development program, and currently holds the position of CEO for Habitat for Humanity Fresno County.

Leveraging his prior experience as an Organizational Risk Consultant at Deloitte, Matthew, an entrepreneur at heart, focuses much of his time on building others.  In his first year at Habitat, Matthew’s efforts helped the organization realize a 90% swing in its bottom line. In just 18 months he has helped pioneer four new housing business lines that have led to Habitat increasing its number of families served by 10x. Matthew brings experience, aptitude, and a genuine heart for the city to FFSH.

Matthew, a Southern California Native is happily married to his wonderful wife Jocelyn and is a father of six great children.

Lindsay Callahan

Lindsay Callahan

President and Chief Executive Officer,
United Way of Fresno and Madera Counties

Lindsay Callahan was raised in the Fresno area and attended Clovis schools before receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from UC Davis and her Master’s Degree of Public Policy and Administration from Sacramento State. Her time in the Sacramento included a stint in the California State Assembly, including serving as a prestigious  Jesse Marvin Unruh Fellow. Lindsay spent several years at the Foundation Consortium for California’s Children and Youth, managing a state level public private partnership between the foundations and the California Department of Education.

After returning to Fresno in 2004, she started a successful local intermediary organization called the Central Valley Afterschool Foundation that continues to thrive today. Most recently, Lindsay was a consultant for the Fresno County Office of Education in the Visual and Performing Arts Department.

A passionate advocate for children, youth, and families, Lindsay commits her spare time to promoting the Fresno community. She is a past president of the Junior League of Fresno and also sits on the board of directors for several local organizations. She was recently awarded the Adult Volunteer of the Year award from HandsOn Central California and was named one of Fresno’s 40 under 40.

Lindsay’s three children Patrick (12), Keith (10) and Lauren (6) are the joy of her life and she works tirelessly to embarrass them with her singing and dancing skills and silly jokes.

Lee Brand

Lee Brand

Mayor, City of Fresno

Lee Brand is the 25th Mayor of the City of Fresno, sworn into office on January 3, 2017.

He is the former President and co-founder of Westco Equities, Inc., a property management/construction firm which he has owned and operated for the past 29 years.  He is a licensed Real Estate Broker, a licensed General Contractor and a Certified Property Manager (C.P.M.).

Lee was born and raised in Fresno, attended local schools, graduated from Fresno State University and completed his education at USC with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Lee has served as Council President, Chairman of the Redevelopment Agency and as a Commissioner on the Fresno City Planning Commission.  During his eight years representing District 6 on the City Council, Lee has authored and successfully passed over twenty legislative initiatives which regulate fiscal responsibility,

accountability, and transparency, in addition to such initiatives as the Water Conservation Act and the School Liaison Act.

Lee has been married to his wife Trish for 37 years and they have four children and three grandchildren:  Charity, Phillip, Tommy, Emily, Kylie, Elsie and Adelyn.

Ashley Swearengin

Ashley Swearengin

Vice Chair, Fresno First Steps Home

President & Chief Executive Officer
Central Valley Community Foundation

Ashley Swearengin is president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, a charitable foundation serving the six counties of Central California and providing over $100 m in funding to over 650 community benefit organizations over the last decade.  Prior to joining the Foundation, she served as mayor of Fresno from 2009 through 2016.  As mayor, she implemented substantial changes to improve the delivery of city services, revitalize the downtown and urban core, promote business and job growth, address chronic homelessness, and stabilize the city’s financial position.  Before becoming mayor, Swearengin led a number of economic development initiatives in the Fresno region, including the Central Valley Business Incubator, Fresno State’s Office of Community and Economic Development, and the Regional Jobs Initiative.  She holds MBA and BS degrees from California State University, Fresno.

Maggie Caples Furrow

Maggie Caples Furrow

Director, Fresno First Steps Home

Maggie comes to Fresno First Steps Home with 14 years of experience in Communications supporting high profile corporations, nonprofits, advertising agencies and government funded projects. Her experience includes managing paid and earned advertising and media for clients like the Maryland State Lottery as well as locally based Westlands Water District. She has built and managed project management systems and client tracking databases, developing reporting tools and analytics for Community Food Bank and the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She is also an accomplished event, social media and project manager. Projects have included website development for The Women’s Industrial Exchange in Baltimore, MD and social media management for HandsOn Central California.

Maggie grew up in Clovis, and graduated from Fresno State in 2003 with a BA in Mass Communications and Journalism. She chose to relocate to Baltimore, MD in 2006 where she completed her Masters in Communications from Notre Dame of Maryland University. In 2013 while completing her Masters, she made the decision that Fresno was her home and where she wanted to live and start her family.

In her free time, Maggie enjoys spending time with family, especially her husband, Brian and their son, Henry. When time allows, she enjoys, hiking, visiting our local National Parks and taking road trips around the west coast with her family.

Step 5

Monitoring & Support

Using the action plan, case managers track the progress of individuals and provide support services as needed.

Step 4

Action Plan

Case managers create an action plan that puts individuals on a path to self- sufficiency. This plan is monitored and evaluated on a regular basis.

Step 3

Housing

Case managers find transitional housing for the individuals at reduced rates, as long as clients show measurable progress in the program for up to 18 months.

Step 2

Assessment

Case managers assess the needs of each individual, including health concerns, family background, criminal history and education. This provides a snapshot for future planning and support.

Step 1

Outreach

Case managers trained in street outreach and serving the homeless population reach out to homeless individuals to begin the process.