In January 2008, the Gaines-Jones Education Foundation Junior Board of Directors – now known as Positive Impulse – was launched with eight members ages 12-15. They quickly decided on a mission to "help others locally and globally,” making homelessness their focus for the first project.
The youth participants toured the nearby New Beginnings Center in Novato, California, a Homeward Bound shelter and vocational training program for homeless adults, because they wanted to get a better sense of needs in the homeless community. “Stacy, the programs director, shared that the residents’ biggest need was basic hygiene products, like shampoo, conditioner, soap, and clean socks. She also shared that although the shelter receives a lot of donations of this type, most are travel-sized,” shared Miranda Roehrick and Sahar Afrakhan, both Positive Impulse board members and participants in this site visit. Miranda, the Chairman of the Board, and Sahar, Board Secretary, heard from Stacy that these donations were a challenge because the residents need lasting products that they can use every day, not disposable products that one might bring on vacation.
Miranda, Sahar, and their board recognized a clear need with a simple solution that didn’t have to involve paperwork or significant foundation resources at all. With $2,400 contributed from their network, they purchased 80 backpacks – one for each New Beginnings Center resident – and filled them with both male and female-friendly hygienic necessities. "We decided to use backpacks to deliver these items, rather than just delivering boxes of shampoo, because a backpack is a practical item that is useful for the residents after the contents have been used."
When the board delivered the backpacks, they didn’t just drop them off; they used it as an opportunity to connect with the residents and learn their stories. “It was humbling to hear stories of doctors and business people who hit a bump in the road, and were now down on their luck and doing everything they could to get back on their feet. It helped to inform our work in a bigger way, too, because we really had a much clearer sense of what it means to be homeless and how nobody is immune. By conducting a site visit and listening to needs, we were able to more concretely frame and understand our mission, while also providing essential support to the homeless community.”
Another consequence of non-monetary giving: people take note. The board’s network saw how this simple but thoroughly thought out support made a difference, and contributed as well to additional Positive Impulse capacity building efforts.