All posts by Team Ourhouse

National Volunteer Week: Thoughts on Service

In honor of 2017 National Volunteer Week, we asked our Board Chair, Aaron Danzig, to reflect on why he chooses to serve. 

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth,” so said the late, great Muhammad Ali.  And Winston Churchill once wrote, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Board Chair Aaron Danzig speaks at the most recent CDA class graduation.

Board Chair Aaron Danzig speaks at the most recent CDA class graduation.

Both of these truisms reflect what is important in a life well-lived.  While there are many similar sayings, the point is universal:  Helping others should be done by everyone with the ability to do so.  The benefits of volunteering are three-fold.  A need is fulfilled for the recipient, whether a basic need or something that brings happiness the recipient may never have known.  The giver fulfills his or her human duty to assist and nurture, obtaining the warm glow of satisfaction from doing a good deed.

But perhaps even more important is the interaction between recipient and giver — people who may not otherwise ever have the opportunity to meet — which promotes a greater understanding of the trials and tribulations of others and an appreciation of viewpoints and perspectives different from one’s own.  Too often, we live in an echo chamber of our own choosing, ensconced in a cocoon with similar people.  Volunteering provides an avenue for helping others while also helping ourselves.

There is no “right” method of volunteerism.  Each of us is imbued with unique skills and abilities.  There are thousands of organizations from which to choose — social service, education, religious, senior citizens, refugees — the list is endless.  And the rewards are limitless.  While I hope I make at least a small difference in the lives of those I serve when volunteering, I believe my service has had an even larger impact on me.

For the past five years, I have been on the board of Our House, and have served as the board chair for the past three years.  Our House is a wonderful organization providing high-quality early childhood education to those experiencing homeless and a shelter for infants and their families.  It provides “Shelter to Live and Education to Thrive.”  Every time I step foot into Our House, I come away inspired by both the staff at Our House and the children and families they serve.  If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, please visit the Get Involved page. If you are interested in board service, please contact, and let us know why you would like to serve at Our House.

-Aaron Danzig, Our House Board of Directors Chairman

Our House, Our Dreams Gala: Fundraising Announcement

1 Jackie Gingrich Cushman Gala HonoreeWith almost 350 guests in attendance, Our House’s benefit gala generated more than $215,000 –nearly 15% more than the goal! The program started off with a welcome by the night’s emcee and advisory council member, Jovita Moore. Board Chair, Aaron Danzig, introduced advisory council member and gala honoree, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and presented her with an award for her service and dedication to Our House.

After Cushman’s remarks, Our House President and CEO, Tyese Lawyer, made brief remarks and attendees viewed a moving video presentation about the impact of Our House (view below). The live auction and fund-a-need drew spirited participation and contributed to the success of the evening.

Our House Board Member, Ellen Persons, had this to say about the event, “Having attended the Our House Gala for six years now, I can say that last night was far and away the best event yet. The space was magnificent, food was delicious, it was a great turnout, and the enthusiasm was spectacular,” which sums up the evening quite well!

Our House would like to extend a special thank you to all of our gala sponsors, patrons and hosts. We also want to recognize the Gala Chair, Vickie Hunter, and the entire Gala Committee for their hard work.  We invite you to join us next year as we celebrate 30 years of service to our community and honor community leader Stephanie Blank.

Check out the Gala video presentation below:

2017 Gala Video from Tyese Lawyer on Vimeo.

Announcing Our House, Our Dreams Gala Honoree: Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Our House is thrilled to announce Jackie Gingrich Cushman as the honoree for the annual Our House, Our Dreams Gala. We are pleased to celebrate Jackie for her work in the community and for her commitment and service to Our House.

Honorary Chair, Jackie Gingrich Cushman (center) with Our House CEO, Tyese Lawyer (right) and Michael Hertz (left), Board Member and Chair of Our House Fundraising Committee.

Gala Honoree, Jackie Gingrich Cushman (center) with Our House CEO, Tyese Lawyer (right) and Michael Hertz (left), Chair of the Our House Fundraising Committee and Gala Patron & Host Committee.

Jackie became involved with Our House (then Genesis Shelter) after her son was born. Inspired by the challenges of motherhood, she had a desire to help other families who were raising children while also grappling with temporary homelessness. For more than 15 years, she has helped Our House by serving on the board and the marketing committee, fundraising, adopting families for Christmas, and volunteering with her husband Jimmy and with their children, Maggie and Robert.

The gala will be held at 6:30 on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at the Atlanta History Center. The night will include a silent and live auction, a wall of wine and live entertainment. We had a great turnout last year and hope you will join us this year to celebrate Jackie, and to support the mission of Our House.

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Our House on 11Alive’s Atlanta & Company

Our House CEO, Tyese Lawyer, and the chairman of the Board of Directors Marketing Committee, Marti Walsh, had a great conversation with Christine Pullara of Atlanta & Company on November 16 to discuss Our House’s new look and our opportunity to match gifts up to $10,000 on Georgia Gives Day. Check out the video for all the details!

“We are Here to Help Them” – Melissa’s Story

If grace is meeting someone where they are, and transporting them to somewhere else, then Melissa is in the grace business. Bright twinkling eyes, warm smile and welcoming demeanor, her background and life experiences have led “Melissa” to be empathetic and understanding for her students and their families who are experiencing homelessness.

Seven years ago, she found herself suddenly homeless and unemployed. When her son was three weeks old, “the altercation happened – it was the last of many,” involving her son’s father. Melissa left and stayed with her sister, who became afraid for her safety as well.

So her sister could feel safe again, Melissa left and moved into a temporary homeless shelter for 30 days. Then another and another.

“I was so depressed,” she said talking about her experience as a homeless mother of a newborn. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to come from being not pregnant, having a job, having my own place; to meeting this man, being beat on, getting pregnant, not having a job, not having an education, not having nothing. My family was afraid of dealing with me because of this man.”

In a matter of months, Melissa’s life had changed and she spun into depression.

Soon she noticed everywhere she went, she heard about Our House. After moving a few times, she found her way to Our House and was quickly welcomed into the community.

“When I got to Our House they pretty much held my hand through everything. I got him (my son) into Our House. It was just amazing. I’ve been working with kids for years,… I knew what quality looked like and the first day I was so comfortable. I was excited – I knew right off it was going to be the greatest fit for the both of us.”

It was a great fit. While her son was in the early learning center, Melissa’s Family Advocate at Our House helped her through the process of earning her GED, finding housing and enrolling in the Our House’s Child Development Associate (CDA) program.

“I thought it was going to be like a college,” Melissa said. “[But] when I got there they had play dough at the table and little toys.” The rigorous five month program, held in the Decatur location, required grit and determination to finish. Her class, which started with over 20 students, graduated about half of those enrolled.

Melissa said she cried during her graduation speech. “I never in my life started something major and finished it. It wasn’t easy, but the program kept me there.” Even though Melissa was still struggling with depression, and had trouble finding traditional housing, she persevered and graduated.

Her pride is obvious and reflects the hard work she put in to earn her degree and her current dedication to her students. Melissa interned at the Atlanta location and was hired by Our House to serve as a teacher.

Seven years after she had to flee with her three week old baby, Melissa is living life on her own terms. “I’m now in my own apartment and [my son] goes to a charter school.”

Our House continued to work with Melissa through the transition as she gained employment and moved out on her own. “I had to learn how to handle money again,” she said. “Our House worked to help me manage my money, I was able to sustain employment and my own place. We are good now.”

Now that Melissa is “a completely different person” she is using her compassion and understanding to help others who are experiencing homelessness.

She loves teaching at the Atlanta location, “I feel like I am doing so much for the community, for the families too. It makes them feel comfortable when they hear that I’ve been through the program. That I’ve been homeless and that I’m doing great.” Melissa feels that they understand “you can use the experience and be better than what you were.”

The hardest part of teaching these children is seeing “the stress on the kids, it brings me back, it brings me back,” she said with tears in her eyes. She recently had a four year old child tell her about the police coming the night before and taking someone to jail. “These are things you should not witness – he was so stressed – during dramatic play he just told me all of this,” Melissa said

“The hardest part is to see the stress and struggle,” she said, “but we are here to help them,” she said with determination. Melissa knows that by giving families a shelter to live and an education to thrive, we meet them where they are at that particular moment and help them rise up to a new level.

– By Jackie Cushman

“They run down the hall to come to the classroom” A Teacher’s Perspective

The best teachers love watching their students learn and grow. “Michelle’s” energy and excitement are contagious as she talks about her 3 and 4 year old students and their progress despite their homeless situations. Our House is “a great place. This past year… it had to be the most amazing class I have ever taught,” she gushes. “You could actually see the ‘a-ha’ moments. They all want to come to school…They are so excited. They run down the hall to come to the classroom.”

With a teacher as enthusiastic and energized as Michelle, it’s easy to understand why the children would run to school. The children are “so full of energy, so willing to learn and they have a great foundation from the previous teachers that I could stretch” their learning even further, she says.


At Our House, it’s not just about the students, but also their parents. “We have a relationship with the parents and (understand) how much they want their children to succeed.” Michelle says the relationships between the teachers and the parents start at the very beginning of the year. The goal: to assist the parents so they can bring their children back to school. What makes a difference according to Michelle is “the consistency within the education department – it’s a familiar setting.”

The year might start off slow, with some children in the 3-to-4-year-old classroom not speaking for the first month. “The first month is very difficult, especially for the kids that have gone through a traumatic situation,” Michelle says.
“There has been so much happening with their lives that they are not comfortable with strangers, they are not comfortable with other kids, they have never played or shared.”  Compound a new daily environment and new faces on top of ever changing night situations and you can begin to understand how hard it must be for children who are experiencing homelessness. The secure home foundation that so many students take for granted is not there for them.

But eventually, breakthroughs happen, at the right pace for each student. “The consistency and being able to keep them in the program is fantastic because in two or three months, (with) the same people the same routine… [the routine] really brings them out of their shells.” School becomes the place that provides the consistency, the stability, the foundation for many students’ lives. Over time, the ongoing interaction and daily work make a difference. “The kids we have now, they are very very intelligent because they had the consistency, because they have had the dedication, because they have had teachers who went to school be teachers.” The teachers at Our House really want to “help this age group, to help this community.”

What does this mean from the students’ perspective? “I would say they are going to be so ready for Kindergarten,” said Michelle. But it’s more than education, it’s also support. Part of serving this community is looking for ways to help the families so that they are able to bring their children to the school. Teachers and Family Services staff make sure that the transportation, health, and any other barriers are taken into account. Michelle says sometimes it’s as simple as just asking the question,“What do you need?”

Connecting with parents can be the hardest part of the job according to Michelle. “They have gone through so many things… they (may) have mental illnesses … they are ashamed of something, they don’t want to ask for anything.” Connection works best when the parents don’t feel as though “we are judging them whatsoever,” she notes. Our House teachers have completed training in the trauma-informed care model: training to help them interact with parents in a way that takes into account everything parents and children experiencing homelessness have been through. Connecting on a human level, asking about their job, their job search, or something as simple as mentioning a new haircut allows for a connection without criticizing. Our House provides shelter to live and education to thrive, thanks in large part their committed teachers who work with parents to provide the best learning environment for the children.

– By Jackie Cushman

Save The Date – Annual Gala on Feb. 10th, 2018

Our annual fundraiser, Cocktails, Confetti & Cake, celebrating 30 years of Our House, honoring Stephanie Blank, will be held on Saturday, February 10, 2018 at the Atlanta History Center. The night will include a silent and live auction, a wall of wine and live entertainment. We had a great turnout last year and hope you will join us again for this memorable evening.

When: February 10, 2018, 6:00 p.m.

Where: Atlanta History Center

Who: You!

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Balser Giving Circle awards $25,000 to Our House

ATLANTA – October 28, 2016 – The Balser Professional Advisors Council’s giving circle has announced a $25,000 grant to Our House, a nonprofit organization that offers children and families experiencing homelessness the tools, support, and education they need to thrive. The grant was made after the group heard funding pitches from three nonprofit organizations that had been selected via a diligent vetting process.

Our House CEO, Tyese Lawyer, answers questions during the presentation at the Community Foundation.

Our House CEO, Tyese Lawyer, answers questions during the presentation at the Community Foundation.

The Balser Professional Advisors Council is a network of professional advisors including accountants, wealth managers and estate attorneys who have demonstrated an interest in philanthropy, both personally and professionally.  The group is a joint program of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta to provide opportunities for education, knowledge sharing and networking.

Our House works to break the chains of homelessness by providing quality early childhood education and comprehensive support to families experiencing homelessness. Our House will apply the grant to facility renovations that will include private bathrooms for families to use.

“During the pitch, the group was struck by the fact that families in shelters often don’t have much private space, including restroom facilities,” said Christy Eckoff, director of gift planning for the Community Foundation. “Something we take for granted in our own homes is a luxury to families experiencing homelessness. The group was pleased to be able to contribute to making Our House feel more like a home.”

Prior to making their pitch to the council, representatives from Our House and selected other nonprofits received presentation training from the Center for Civic Innovation. Their training included a seven-hour workshop on pitching techniques plus individual coaching sessions that were sponsored by the council.

The Balser Professional Advisors Council giving circle is a way for council participants to learn more about their community and the challenges faced by local residents. Members pool funding in order to make a collective grant to nonprofits, allowing for a more significant, collective contribution.

This year, the group decided to make an impact on the issue of the opportunity gap. According to Harvard and Berkley research about the metro Atlanta region, a person born in the lowest economic quartile here has just a four percent chance of reaching the uppermost economic quartile in his or her lifetime. Through the giving circle, members explored this issue, took a tour of our region to see select nonprofits doing good work for the community and worked collectively to develop a list of nonprofits addressing the issue for consideration of their grant.

We’ve Got A New Look

Welcome to our new online home! This may be your first experience with our new brand, and we are excited you’re here to share it with us.
In 2014, Our House and Genesis Shelter merged to become one organization, serving children and families experiencing homelessness under the name of Our House. To make space for all the programs and services Our House now offers as a combined organization, we have renovated our brand to give us the right room to grow and serve. Our new tagline, “Shelter to Live. Education to Thrive.” , more fully encompasses all the work we do at Our House.

Our new brand is more than just our logo – we have a new system of thoughtfully considered visual elements that work together in harmony to communicate our work visually, and a new messaging framework to give us tools to talk about who we are and what we do.

Our House engaged branding firm Son&Sons to design our new look and feel, and we are immensely grateful for the time and attention to detail they gave while designing our new set of brand tools.

Enjoy the new online home of Our House. We hope you stay awhile and discover all our news and new features, as well as all our new brand elements.

Georgia Gives Day Is Coming Nov. 28th

Our House invites you (and all of your friends!) to participate in Georgia Gives Day on November 28, 2017. This virtual day of generosity aims to engage givers all over the state of Georgia to donate to their cause of choice. We ask our friends to participate on this day and choose Our House as the recipient of their online gift.

Want to help fundraise for Our House? Click here to visit our Georgia Gives Day page and “Become a Fundraiser”. You can even schedule your donation in advance so you don’t have to remember on November 28th.

Your gift helps to fund life-changing programs for children and families experiencing homelessness. Watch for more news to come!