Letter from the Executive Director of Dove, Inc.: Coordinating efforts to address unmet needs and social injustices.
I have spent the majority of my life looking up, studying God's creation and exploring how it all fits together. I was fascinated by endless connections and relationships. Yet, right here, in my own community is a significant population of people who are disconnected, disenfranchised, and hurting. Over time I felt a calling to stop looking so far afield and focus on the needs which are right in front of me. This is how I came to Dove, Inc.
Beginning in 1970, a group of area churches came together to address unmet community needs which are barriers to achieving this dream. Over the last 46 years Dove has developed programs to address domestic violence, homelessness, emergency financial support, preventative education, and connecting communities. When approaching any task I like to ask 3 guiding questions: 1) What do we want? 2) How will we measure success? 3) When do we want it? For the people of Dove the answers are: a self-sustaining community free of human suffering; indicated when all community members are cared for and on a pathway to their highest level of self-sufficiency; as soon as possible. There is still a lot of work yet to do.
In 2014, Macon County ranked first amongst Illinois Counties in per capita prison incarcerations, per capita sexually transmitted disease sufferers, and per capita teen pregnancies. We were 2nd in domestic violence victims, and 254 individuals were found to be homeless. It was clear that we were far short of our goals, despite anecdotal evidence of a oftlinethriving, supportive system of community services. The Continuum of Care, for which Dove is the lead agency, was born out of recognition that a systems approach was needed. Dove collaborated with Crossings Healthcare, Good Samaritan Inn, Decatur Macon County Opportunities Corp, Decatur Housing Authority, Salvation Army, Heritage, Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education, City of Decatur, Millikin University and Community Investment Corporation of Decatur. We collected data about the homeless population and the barriers to achieving self-sufficiency and met as a Continuum to collaborate and begin to address these barriers both systemically and through individual case management. In March, our most recent data set was released and indicates that Macon County has reduced homelessness by approximately 1/3 in 2-years. Given the success of this data-informed systems approach, we hope to look at other unmet needs and social injustices which Dove and its partners address for ways to implement and scale this technique.
Dove, under my leadership, is seeking to avoid duplication of services by starting within our own programs. This month we took steps to allow our domestic violence program and homeward bound program to share services such as life skills, parenting, and employability programs. Our Max program is joining the Continuum of Care advisory to look at gap needs and prevention of homelessness. And I am meeting with community partners to determine where we can share roles, and who is best equipped to refer which need.
Dove’s funding has historically come from 4 sources: Church-giving, Corporate giving, individual giving, and government funding. The largest portion of our current budget is funding from the state of Illinois. In today’s economic climate, this is no longer viable. Each year for the past 4 years our funding levels have been lowered and in FY16 the state is in arrears to Dove, Inc. for nearly 200k dollars. Dove has had to make some hard choices. Our community services program, which was instrumental in developing a strong network of community organizations in Decatur and the surrounding area and helping to coordinate services was closed. This is currently contributing to increased duplication of services amongst those organizations. Our retired and senior volunteer program which connects skilled seniors with organizations or stations in need of mentors, organizers and volunteers has not received a single dollar of promised funding from FY16. In addition church giving and participation has been on a downward trend as well.
Despite all of this, I have hope which is based in faith, and also in knowledge of the strong and vibrant community we have here in Decatur and the surrounding area. I know that we can by working together find ways to reduce our reliance on government funding without giving up on our dream of a self-sustaining community free of human suffering. We have taken the first step, increasing efficiency and decreasing our expenses through partnerships. To that end I am seeking corporate and individual funders to actively drive these local efforts. This money will be used to enhance data collection an analysis of systemic barriers to decreasing domestic violence, to systemically look at human services in this area and create sustainable partnerships, and once identified to focus our efforts and guide our steps. You can help by making a pledge today or committing to increased giving through your existing church giving program or by joining us in one of the many events highlighted in the latest issue of Dovetales. It is my sincere hope that you will be a part of making our home a self-sustaining community free of human suffering.