A Silver Lining
Originally published - October 2012
Celebrating 25 years of GRACE
For the past 25 years GRACE (Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange) has been a safe harbor for local people in need throughout Northeast Tarrant County providing not only assistance to fill the immediate needs of individuals and families but education to help people gain self-sufficiency. Tricia Wood, the founding executive director for GRACE was key in establishing the organization in 1987 and served in that position through 2006. “When we started out,” Tricia said, “we used our funding for emergency assistance, like food and clothing. We started from scratch and added programs as we went.”
What began as a steering committee of Tricia Wood and other like-minded people back in 1986 is now a firmly established charity that still operates with the same fundamental values of its founders. The GRACE mission remains the same as it did in the beginning as well with GRACE striving to use the blessings and resources of the local community to provide assistance to individuals and families in crisis and help guide them toward self-sufficiency.
GRACE through the years
When GRACE first officially opened its doors in 1987 the agency was located in one-half of a duplex building on busy West Wall Street in Grapevine. The small staff was part-time and a handful of volunteers kept the fledgling agency going. Space was very cramped but the commitment of the group brought warm coats to needy people in the winter and put food into the mouths of those that needed assistance. Tricia recalled, “It was a great blessing, we started when the community was small and grew along with the community.”
After quickly outgrowing their small duplex, GRACE moved into a more than 50 year old historic home where every nook and cranny was filled with office space for staff or storage space for donated items and food. Donated clothes were collected and sorted in a garage out back and then bagged for storage in the home’s creaky attic. “Back when the community was smaller it may have been a little easier to recognize need,” Tricia admitted. “We had a steady and consistent growth – the driving force for us was people in need, the more there were the harder we worked to help them.”
Looking back, Tricia said, “When we moved to the city building in 1995 it was really a big step for GRACE. We went from a part-time situation to a full time operation and we were able to add more members to our staff.” Today GRACE is still housed in that same facility on Shady Brook Drive through a 30-year lease with the City of Grapevine. With more than 4,000 square feet together with another 1,000 in office space in a cottage behind the primary building GRACE more than tripled the size of their old home.
After twenty years with GRACE Tricia Wood made the decision to follow other passions in her life including becoming a flight attendant but she is still actively involved in her community. “It was hard to make the decision to leave,” said Tricia. That decision was made easier by knowing the organization was in good hands. She commented, “I knew there was a very good board of directors in place, professional, dedicated, and Christian. I still love all the people involved in GRACE.”
Coming on board as Executive Director in 2006, Shonda Schaefer picked up the torch carried by Tricia and the two women remain good friends to this day. “My respect and relationship with Tricia gave us the stability and consistency in our leadership which, in turn, strengthened our agency,” Shonda said. When first beginning her service at GRACE, Shonda worked in a volunteer role on the board of directors. Today she is responsible for strategic planning, fund raising, board development, staff supervision, volunteer management, and financial planning to lead the agency into the future.
Even in these difficult economic times, the arms of GRACE reach out to help its neighbors in a multitude of ways with programming that assists in leading them to self-sufficiency. Each program is designed to provide not only immediate aid in the short term but lasting changes for life. According to the latest annual report, in 2011 alone GRACE provided more than 38,604 services in a variety of programs including clothing and food needs, housing, and health care to families in Grapevine, Colleyville, and Southlake as well as homeless and transient families in need resulting in $1,642,909 direct financial assistance.
Transitional Housing is another program at GRACE that offers families who qualify the opportunity to work toward independence by providing clean, stable housing for up to two years. Wood remembers, “A big concern we had was getting transitional housing going, we knew these people had nowhere to live.” While residing in transitional housing individuals focus on improving their life skills including education and employment while focusing on their overall well-being physically, emotionally and spiritually. “The educational programs came along because we wanted a way to help people make changes that would make a permanent difference in their lives,” Tricia said.
“Our Outreach to Health Community Clinic has enabled us to help our clients better manage their chronic diseases and thus assist them to be able to better function in the community. We help keep them out of the hospitals, taking care of their families and working,” Director Schaefer said. “Once we discover the health issue, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity, we help our clients manage it and even improve it in most cases. Our preventative program is what I see as one of the greatest benefits to our clinic. We provide the education to help our clients prevent these common, but serious, chronic health problems.”
Without the volunteer physicians, nurses, and pharmacists the GRACE health clinic would not be possible. Shonda shared, “Our professional health providers are all outstanding volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to function without them. They are so unselfish giving their time to our clients and always wanting to give back to our community. They really have a heart for our mission.”
With the recent years of economic turmoil taking its toll on families, meeting the basic necessities of food and clothing has become a struggle for many. According to Shonda Schaefer, “Our pantry is a Client-Choice Pantry which is very different from others in our region. We purposely established the pantry to be a mini-grocery store, which gives our clients the ability to choose which foods their families actually will eat within a defined budget.” Along with learning to shop within a family budget, clients can benefit from the cooking classes offered by GRACE so they can take pantry ingredients and learn to cook more nutritiously.
“Just two years ago,” Shonda continued, “we added a garden which provides fresh herbs and vegetables for our client families. Last year, the gardens produced nearly 1,500 pounds for the pantry. We rely on many volunteers and donations to sustain this special type of pantry and garden. For these reasons, our clients have a better opportunity to reach self-sufficiency from using a client-choice pantry. Most importantly, it gives our clients a great sense of dignity.” Last year the GRACE Food Pantry provided food for 3,300 individuals at a value of over $500,000 and holiday feast baskets to 2,644 people with a value of over $69,000.
Clothing remains a year round need and the Grace Clothing Room provides clothing four times a year for both adults and children. Volunteers in the Clothing Room sort and package donated clothing for GRACE clients including shoes, coats, and linens. More than 940 families received clothing last year from GRACE whose mission statement for the clothing center is “Clothing the Body, Lifting the Spirit.”
There are several seasonal programs at GRACE that focus on needs at certain times of the year. During the summer, many children who qualify for reduced or free lunches during the school year no longer have access to healthy lunches so GRACE Feed Our Kids steps in to provide a program that provides lunches to the children where they live. Businesses, church groups, civic groups and other volunteers bring and serve lunches and not only do the kids receive a nourishing meal many groups bring games to play with the kids. During the 11-week summer break in 2011 this program served up more than 32,000 meals to 650 kids.
Operating much like the food pantry, a very special seasonal event is the GRACE Christmas Cottage, which provides gifts for clients’ children in a store-like setting open for two and a half weeks before the holiday. Parents register with a caseworker for the cottage and are given an appointed time to come shop and a specific amount they can spend on each child, based on the child’s age. Volunteers help parents on their shopping trips and every year more than 800 children get to experience the joy of opening gifts on Christmas morning.
GRACE Resale Program
The organization’s highly successful resale program not only supplies much-needed items to clients but also acts as an additional source of funding for all the programs offered by the organization. Donations that come in from the community are sorted and distributed and any items not needed for another program or that will provide more client benefit by being sold are taken to “GRACEful Buys,” the upscale resale store, or “Style & GRACE,” the specialty boutique for women’s designer fashions. Resale revenue contributes 25 percent toward annual funding of ongoing programs.
There are now two locations for donation centers where volunteers stand ready to accept household goods, clothes, shoes, TV’s and electronics, books and items for home décor. A new site at Compass Christian Church on Pool Road has joined the donation station located on Scribner Street in Grapevine. Large donations of items like furniture and appliances are accepted at the GRACEful buys store.
Much to Celebrate
Multiple fundraising efforts like those happening at the resale locations go on throughout the year but without a doubt, the largest affair is the Black Tie event of the year – the annual gala. “It took a long time to have the size of network we needed to pull off the gala,” Tricia laughed. “I still have a refrigerator magnet from the inaugural event in October of 2004.”
The 2012 Gala – Angels Among Us – will be at the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas on Saturday, October 13. Shonda told us, “This is our 9th annual gala. Historically, the event is one of the largest in our area attracting about 800 attendees. Our business, civic and community support has grown each year truly making the GRACE Gala not only a fundraiser but also an incredible evening of celebration and giving back.” Delighted with the fact that funds raised at the gala directly support GRACE programs benefiting residents in our local communities, Shonda commented “I am very proud that monies raised at the gala go to help our neighbors in need. Our staff, volunteers and sponsors work very hard to keep our costs down while finding unique and wonderful ways to lavish our guests in grand style. This event provides a way that we can come together to celebrate each other as we help GRACE help our neighbors in their time of need. It gives us time to rejoice in giving, in helping and in celebrating.”
Even though we live in an affluent area there is never a shortage of people in need during these tumultuous economic times and for the past twenty-five years GRACE has been there to act as the silver lining to clouds of despair for their clients. As GRACE celebrates this Silver Anniversary year Tricia Wood shared this thought summing up her emotions, “The first word that comes to mind is thankful. I’m thankful I could be a part of it all and I’m thankful it’s still going strong today. People with a good heart can make things happen.” Truer words were never spoken.
Video compliments of OurGreatCity.com