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Why We’ll be Thinking of our Clients this Thanksgiving

Later this week, as I sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with my family, I will do so with a new perspective on the things I have for which I’m grateful.  That’s because I recently had the opportunity to work with the inspiring folks at Miriam’s Kitchen.

Miriam’s Kitchen has been serving homeless men and women in Washington D.C. since 1983, but recently recast its work by putting forth a bold new vision for the organization: ending chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. This type of compelling articulation of how the world will look different is one of the common elements we have uncovered in our research on social transformation.

With this bold new vision in place, Miriam’s Kitchen brought in Community Wealth Partners to help it understand how the organization’s strategies can translate into the end of chronic homelessness.

Collaborating with Miriam’s Kitchen on a plan to end chronic homelessness was eye-opening, intellectually stimulating, and inspiring.  Here are my takeaways:

  • Organizational values aren’t just words to hang on a wall or list on a website.  Successful organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen truly live their values.  At Miriam’s Kitchen, the values of dignity and respect are palpable in everything they do, from the way staff interact with one another to the way guests (homeless individuals served at Miriam’s Kitchen) are treated.  Guests are fed nutritious and delicious food, included in focus groups to weigh in on organizational decisions, and have a guest-led advocacy program.  The effect of this is evident as guests describe the difference between their experience at Miriam’s Kitchen and other organizations and agencies.
  • Good practices are good for business.  Living its values isn’t just a feel-good thing for Miriam’s Kitchen.  These practices have made the organization more sustainable:
    • Miriam’s Kitchen has excellent staff retention and was recently named one of the 50 Great Places to Work in Washington.
    • The work is supported by the efforts of more than 2,400 volunteers each year.
    • The organization has diverse sources of revenue and has grown despite the recession.
    • Homelessness is a systemic problem, made up of very personal, individualized stories.  In working with Miriam’s Kitchen I learned about the flaws in our system that result in chronic homelessness.  But because of the respect and dignity with which Miriam’s Kitchen treats its guests, I also had the opportunity to see the human side of homelessness.  I heard about guests’ lives, experiences, and goals.  They, and Miriam’s Kitchen as a whole, have made me think differently when I pass homeless people on the street.

So as I enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this year, I will be thankful for the family, food, and home in which we’re eating, and grateful to people like the staff, supporters, and volunteers at Miriam’s Kitchen who are working steadfastly to make the city I live in – our nation’s capital – a safe and comfortable place for all who live here.

Has something this year changed your perspective on Thanksgiving? What are you thankful for this year?

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About Rachel Hutt

As a consultant, Rachel Hutt leads client engagements, advises and coaches leaders, and, spearheads internal teams to develop solutions and deliverables through research and analysis. Rachel has significant experience working with child-serving organizations focused on education and hunger, as well as organizations striving to improve community health and wellbeing. Rachel’s core expertise is in facilitating strategic planning and theory of change development, as well as supporting leaders in guiding their organizations through this type of change. See Rachel's full bio