Home­less shel­ter CEO leav­ing post

Rader plans to help out dur­ing tran­si­tion phase

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - STACY RYBURN

FAYET­TEVILLE — Now that 7 Hills Home­less Cen­ter has got­ten its feet un­der it and has a plan for the fu­ture its chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer has de­cided to move onto some­thing new.

Bill Rader, who has served as head of the or­ga­ni­za­tion since May 2015, told the 7 Hills board of his in­ten­tion to leave within six months. Rader wants to stick around to help guide his re­place­ment dur­ing the tran­si­tion.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion was in sham­bles be­fore Rader took over. Yearly ex­penses ex­ceeded rev­enue and it was hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in debt. Money was go­ing out but not com­ing in. The grant man­age­ment was in dis­ar­ray, lock­ing up thou­sands

more in re­ceiv­able money. The or­ga­ni­za­tion strug­gled to make pay­roll. Its pro­grams for sup­port­ive hous­ing, vet­er­ans ser­vices and the day cen­ter op­er­ated like three sep­a­rate en­ti­ties. The pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion mis­rep­re­sented the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s dire straits to the board.

Rader made it his mis­sion to change all that.

“There was no lead­er­ship. There was no vi­sion. There was no strat­egy,” he said. “It was very much day-by-day where there’s a thou­sand plates spin­ning in the air. When one plate spins out, it starts this cas­cade ef­fect. It had started cas­cad­ing be­fore we got here.”

Rader and Chief Op­er­a­tions Of­fi­cer Char­ity Still­ings got to work, mak­ing cuts

and even­tu­ally re­duc­ing the bud­get from $2.8 mil­lion to $1.5 mil­lion, while still serv­ing a grow­ing home­less pop­u­la­tion. This year’s sur­vey from the Univer­sity of Arkansas Com­mu­nity and Fam­ily In­sti­tute found 2,951 peo­ple live with­out residences of their own in North­west Arkansas. The num­ber was about 500 more than the year be­fore and dou­ble from a decade ago.

7 Hills has strength­ened its ties to the busi­ness and church com­mu­nity. In May, it re­ceived a $325,000 “an­gel in­vest­ment” on prop­erty it pur­chased in 2013 for the Day Cen­ter. The bal­loon pay­ment, mean­ing pay­back of the loan was due at a cer­tain time rather than in monthly in­stall­ments, threat­ened to shut down the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Now, 7 Hills owes the in­vestor group who made the pay­ment, rather than a bank, with monthly pay­ments it can af­ford un­der a lower in­ter­est rate. The in­vestors have cho­sen to re­main anony­mous.

Lynn Carver, 7 Hills board chair­woman, said Rader had a nec­es­sary skill set, raised mo­rale and fo­cused the com­mu­nity’s at­ten­tion on not only home­less­ness but the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­ter­nal prob­lems.

“I couldn’t see what we could do past clos­ing our doors,” she said. “That was prob­lem­atic, first of all, be­cause of the peo­ple who rely on our ser­vices. But also, what do you do with build­ings and how do you pay off a debt if you’re go­ing bank­rupt?”

The city also started sup­port­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The City Coun­cil made a one­time ded­i­ca­tion of $103,000 to keep the lights on at the Walker sup­port­ive hous­ing com­mu­nity. The coun­cil in Fe­bru­ary also com­mit­ted to 7 Hills $25,000 per month, re­new­able up to six months, to­tal­ing $150,000.

Mayor Lioneld Jor­dan said Rader came along as a sta­bi­liz­ing force who spoke hon­estly to city of­fi­cials.

“We just didn’t have a whole lot of deal­ings with 7 Hills,” Jor­dan said. “I mean, I al­ways sup­ported 7 Hills, but re­ally with the fi­nances and what kind of shape they were in, I re­ally did not know that un­til Billy came on the scene and said, ‘We’ve got to make some changes here.’”

An­gela Belford be­came chair­woman of the re­gional Con­tin­uum of Care last month. The group puts or­ga­ni­za­tions, non­prof­its and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to­gether to com­bat home­less­ness and re­ceives money from the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment.

The Con­tin­uum had its own is­sues be­fore Belford took over. Rader guided Belford to reach out to a na­tional con­sul­tant, Com­mu­nity So­lu­tions, and get the Con­tin­uum’s ba­sic pa­per­work and goals in line. A meet­ing of com­mu­nity lead­ers is sched­uled for the fall to take a re­gional ap­proach to end­ing home­less­ness.

“He in­spired me to jump into the fray,” Belford said. “With­out his vi­sion I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have be­lieved I could make a dif­fer­ence and be­come an am­bas­sador for home­less­ness in our com­mu­nity.”

The new 7 Hills chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer can fo­cus on the orig­i­nal mis­sion, end­ing home­less­ness in the re­gion, rather than solv­ing all the in­ter­nal woes. Steven Mills came on about a month ago as the new chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer so Still­ings can pur­sue youth min­istry with New Heights Church. Mills worked with Rader and Still­ings dur­ing their time at the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks in Bran­son, Mo.

Solomon Burch­field, di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions at 7 Hills, fore­sees a smooth tran­si­tion. Burch­field had been work­ing at 7 Hills for more than a year when Rader came on and said the vibe has changed for the bet­ter. Los­ing staff mem­bers ini­tially was tough, but the work flow be­came more ef­fi­cient, he said. He hopes to even­tu­ally add to the about 20 staff mem­bers.

“As a non­profit, I feel like we al­ways should be­gin with what’s the need in the com­mu­nity and where are the gaps. Then you de­sign the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s strat­egy around, ‘How do we meet those needs?’” Burch­field said. “If you look at North­west Arkansas, you know that the home­less­ness is­sue is grow­ing. If that’s true, then our pro­gram­ming needs to be grow­ing as well.”

Rader set his sights on get­ting the or­ga­ni­za­tion from a po­si­tion of hem­or­rhag­ing money to be­com­ing rev­enue neu­tral. More so, he wanted to em­pha­size the re­gional ap­proach needed and get city of­fi­cials, non­profit and pri­vate busi­ness lead­ers and the public on board.

“I kind of had to ring the com­mu­nity’s bell and say, ‘7 Hills can be the is­sue, but it’s not the is­sue,’” Rader said. “Thank­fully, no­body’s mad at me. I did it for a good cause. I did it be­cause the com­mu­nity is bet­ter off if we work to­gether to solve this. No­body is served by a non­profit work­ing in iso­la­tion try­ing to solve a prob­lem that af­fects ev­ery­body.”

As far as what’s next for Rader, he said he has no im­me­di­ate plans. Maybe he’ll fi­nally go see the Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum. He said he’s ex­cited about hav­ing poker night again. He just rented the first sea­son of “Game of Thrones.”

Ei­ther way, he will serve on the board for the Con­tin­uum of Care and keep him­self avail­able to 7 Hills as an ad­vi­sor. The new chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer’s salary will be based on ex­pe­ri­ence. Rader had 10 years of non­profit work un­der his belt when he started, earn­ing a $100,000 salary with no ben­e­fits.

“This or­ga­ni­za­tion is, like, tat­tooed on my heart,” Rader said. “This has been seven days a week with 80-hour weeks. It’s been two years of not-an-op­tion-to-fail. So, I’m ex­cited. My fam­ily’s ex­cited.”

“This or­ga­ni­za­tion is, like, tat­tooed on my heart. This has been seven days a week with 80-hour weeks. It’s been two years of not-an-op­tion-to-fail.”

— Bill Rader, CEO, 7 Hills Home­less Cen­ter


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