Maybe you know CARITAS; traditionally they are considered the people that help the homeless with shelter. The truth is they are so much more than that.
And, they are so much more than that because of the dynamo Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Karen Stanley. The CEO is a modest Chester resident with two children and a retired policeman husband who is proud of her efforts on the behalf of the homeless.
Stanley began her career with CARITAS back in 2000 when it was a vastly different organization. She has helped CARITAS grow to include a multitude of ever-changing “helping” organizations.
As a result of all her efforts, Stanley was honored in October for her work in homelessness leadership. Stanley said, “I was simply shocked and humbled; I’m there with leaders of business and when they called my name I was awestruck like, really me?” The first lady of Virginia honored her for her work at the Hall of Fame Awards dinner. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame — Commonwealth of Opportunity for Women in Business category for “exemplary efforts in providing the support, training and material assistance necessary to break the cycle of homelessness and restore stable and productive lives.”
It doesn’t change Stanley’s outlook at all — she’s got a one-track mind and her life is dedicated to CARITAS. She speaks enthusiastically of the work she’s done since 2000. She talks quickly and with such dedication in her eyes that it is no surprise she has been honored. It is apparent she lives what she preaches. “We’re the largest homeless service in Richmond,” Stanley shares proudly. “We’re a 24-hour shelter for families and singles.”
Stanley has spent her years at the helm of CARITAS building it into a very diverse service organization. “We are always working on developing new ventures,” Stanley said. Basically, the CARITAS organization works in four directions — the shelter, The Healing Place, Works and the Furniture Bank.
In 1987 CARITAS came into being from a program to provide winter cots to homeless people. The effort is a 24 hour per day, year round emergency program that provides shelter and food to families, families with fathers, singles and adolescent males. Through faith and commitment of volunteers, paid staff, the community, corporate partners and financial partners much has been achieved to help the homeless. A team of case managers has been added over the years to help homeless work through legal, medical, psychological and financial obstacles.
Stanley is proud of the success and the growth of CARITAS. “We are a 24-hour shelter for families and we do it for only about $17 per guest each night,” she said. CARITAS serves as the first line of community support for anyone in need of emergency shelter. More than 185 congregations work in unison to provide shelter, food and necessities on a weekly basis to those in need of immediate assistance.
The Healing Place
And, the Shelter might’ve been enough for some organizations but for the CARITAS organization they saw so many more needs. For many, homelessness is the result of a job loss or an illness — some kind of major catastrophe that is hard for anyone to overcome. Some suffer from addictions or a mental health problem that can cause homelessness to last for many years.
“The Healing Place is about recovery,” said Stanley. “It’s an organization to help men break down the barriers that have kept them homeless by offering assistance with addiction recovery.” Stanley said the “200 bed recovery facility on Dinwiddie Avenue is a 12-step program with a non-medical detox for recovery of men with addictions.”
The Healing Place is an offshoot of other similar programs around the country and was started in the Richmond area in 2005. The program has graduated more than 600 men from the recovery program.
For many leaving The Healing Place, the next natural step is to join the CARITAS Works program. The task of Works is to help prepare those exiting homelessness for transitional and long-term employment. Stanley shared, “This is a job readiness program covering everything from communications, computer skills, teamwork to resume clinics and leadership skills and it’s an intensive preparation program.”
Works is the newest program for men under the CARITAS umbrella of services. “We’ve graduated 16 classes now and 77 percent of them are employed because of this five-week intensive job readiness program,” Stanley explained. The program covers job preparation, training, placement and support for the men. “We even have team building for the men; it’s about helping them work and feel productive again,” Stanley added.
The Furniture Bank
So CARITAS took on homelessness, addictions and job readiness for men in the last 10 years and grew those initiatives to a monumental effort with more than 15,000 volunteers annually engaged to help the homeless rebuild their lives.
The next big thing Stanley and CARITAS saw as a need was furniture. Most take for granted that they will have a warm home to come to each day and someplace to rest. Many homeless don’t drive and don’t know how they will have a cushion to sit on when they are able to afford their next home. In comes CARITAS with the Furniture Bank program.
“We saw a need and an opportunity for us to fill that need,” Stanley said. “For the past five years we’ve been working to help the homeless furnish their new residences.” The CARITAS Furniture Bank is the only organization of its kind within the state with a green initiative to reduce, reuse and recycle. “People give furniture and we redistribute it,” Stanley explained. The Furniture Bank is located on Commerce Road. The program has helped hundreds of families begin their lives anew with pots and pans, beds and helped them get a new start.
The Furniture Bank has monthly indoor yard sales at their 1125 E. Commerce Rd. facility. Recently, they began a new venture called Sleep Tite Bed Bug Baker to sanitize furniture and help eradicate bed bugs. Because there was a need for the service, the Furniture Bank created a heat chamber for sanitizing furniture against bed bugs. They also help when people have a bed bug problem by minimizing the stigma and offering an environmentally-safe option.
Stanley has so many ideas yet unfulfilled. She wants to see a Works for women and The Healing Place for addiction help for women, also. She believes there’s still so much to do. With a twinkle in her eye, Stanley shared her vision, “We’re going to continue to build enterprises so we can provide…”
And that sums up Stanley’s philosophy, keeping building a better future for the homeless.
Online at www.caritasva.org  or on Facebook at caritasva.org.