MAKING A HOUSE A HOME
What began as a fundraising initiative to help the former Sojourner House add a bigger table transformed into a beautiful long-term partnership. The Cause Collaborative created and continues to manage an annual gala (approaching its third year in 2019), helped raise community awareness around the organization’s mission and passionate leader, and launched a successful rebrand — introducing the Greater Rochester community to Sojourner Home and its five service providing locations.
The mission of the formerly named Sojourner House is to assist homeless women and children by providing housing, self-sufficiency skills, and education programs, including after school tutoring and performing arts classes for kids. When The Cause Collaborative first toured Sojourner House at PathStone in 2016, we were blown away by the palpable sense of community, but the need for new furniture was apparent. The donated round tables and uncomfortable chairs did not provide enough seats for everyone to sit together for meals and group activities, which research tells us is essential to healing and recovery.
We were moved by our visit to Sojourner House and inspired to provide the women and children at the facility with a space that felt more like a home, where they could talk to others and be surrounded by a support network during their time of need. We connected with local furniture company, Staach, who agreed to design and build a custom 24-seat family style table, charging only for materials.
To make this possible, we launched a crowdfunding campaign called the Thanksgiving Table Project through the online platform CrowdRise. In addition, we wrote an application for and secured a grant, which matched donations and brought our total funds to $10,000. In the end, we were able to bring custom dining room seating to Sojourner House.
continuing the collaboration
Shortly after the success of the Thanksgiving Table Project, Sojourner House reached out to extend our partnership, with the goals of telling their story, continuing to fundraise, and celebrating 35 years. We recommended a gala, branded the Gala for Strength, which we planned and executed in three short months. The event featured custom decor through Airigami, live music by Shine, a silent auction, and cash call — and Sojourner House was able to raise tens of thousands of dollars by solidifying relationships with longtime donors and adding new ones. We also recommended Sojourner House create a committee to keep the celebration and fundraising going year after year.
With one gala under our belts, Sojourner House partnered with us once again to tell their story in the community. We nominated their Executive Director, Dr. Seanelle (Tracy) Hawkins, for the 2018 ATHENA Awards, sharing how her leadership helped take the organization from in the red to the black. She was honored as a finalist, recognition that helped shed light on her achievements and the beacon of hope that is Sojourner House.
Finally, to better reflect what women and children receive from their time at the facility, we recommended a refresh of the Sojourner House brand identity, including a new name for Sojourner House and its affiliate locations. The name Sojourner Home was identified as capturing the history and reputation of the organization while sharing a spirit for connected support and services with Nancy Watson Dean, Eastman Reserve, Eastman Commons, and Wilson Commencement Park. Each location was branded as Sojourner Home and retained its original name as a secondary identifier and Sojourner House became Sojourner Home: The House of Strength. The rebranding initiative came at a pivotal time, as our events and fundraising strategies were aligned to tell the new story of Sojourner Home. We unveiled the new brand at the second annual gala, and received a warm reception from donors, staff, and board members. We continue to roll out these stories in the community today through social media, e-communications, press, and mission-driven events.
The second gala drew more guests and more donations, and involved fewer expenses than the first. The Cause Collaborative is thrilled to continue to work with Sojourner Home on future galas and initiatives, and bring more attention to the Sojourner Home’s life-changing impact on women and families.