By Denise DuBois
For a year, Kara VinZant has been the executive director of the Stewart Community Home. It’s a job she is suited for since she has a 20-year background in patient advocacy, and the success stories she shares will bring a tear to your eye.
The Stewart Community Home is a permanent and transitional safe place for people who are homeless and for the mentally or physically disabled.
“Those are the ones who seem to need the most help,” VinZant said. “They may not have the wherewithal to understand programs and resources. If they’re physically disabled, they may understand, but they may not have access to programs or resources.”
The home allows residents to stay permanently, if they need. There is a resident who has been at the home for 33 years and one who has been there 18 years. There are also residents who are in the home for only a few years, she said.
“If a resident comes to us and says they want to be able to live independently, we’ll help them find the best thing they need. Sometimes, we tell them we think they should stay with us,” VinZant said.
It’s not the residents who leave the home that VinZant sees as success stories, although it is wonderful for her to hear that former residents are doing well.
“Every time someone comes here and takes a bath and eats, gets some clean clothes on and begins to be social and talk – that’s a success story. All of them who come to me and are able to live here, are happy to be here and happy to be alive – those are success stories,” she said.
The community home can comfortably host 62 men and women. They are licensed for 72 people, but that number can make the facility a little crowded. People are referred to the community home through United Way, local law enforcement agencies and sometimes, a person may even walk in the front door needing help.
Last week, a man from Phenix City found help in the home.
“He is such a neat guy. When we went to see him at the hotel, he was belligerent. He would not listen to us. He didn’t realize that we weren’t trying to lock him up,” VinZant said. He was staying at a hotel that had to evict him. Later, the hotel called VinZant back. The disabled veteran had changed his mind.
“When I pulled up, he was right there. He said I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand you were trying to help me. He was hungry and had not eaten in two days. When he got here, he was uneasy. But now, he’s been fine. He had a shower and slept. There’s a recliner in the foyer. He was kicked back sound asleep. But he sits in that recliner every morning and sings hymns. He’s as pleasant as he can be.”
Currently, the Stewart Home is hosting eight people who came from East Alabama. In the last year, the home has served 22 East Alabama residents. The Russell County Commission is donating $1,000 for the first time. The home has a $1.1 million yearly budget. Money comes from United Way, HUD, and residents who have SSI or SSDI. There is about $350,000 the facility has to raise each year. One way is through donors and fund raisers. On Oct. 19, the annual Fall Gala will be hosted at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
As for what Kara has learned working at the group home, she said an educational moment came when she sees people on the street asking for money.
“Don’t assume they’re not as genuine as they say they are. People don’t stand on the street and ask for money if they don’t need it. When you’re giving them money, it’s because they’re hungry. It’s hard for me to pass people now and not give them something,” she said.