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Cathy Malkani finds a home with the homeless

Former Hoosier impressed by warmth of Hebron House

Cathy Malkani, Hebron House

Cathy Malkani, Hebron House Photo By Todd Ponath

Jan. 29, 2013

Cathy Malkani, the director of development at Waukesha's Hebron House of Hospitality since April 2011, has always had a passion for helping people, especially those less fortunate. It's something that was instilled in her from an early age.

Now, from working at a Boys and Girls Club to her role as a homeless advocate at Waukesha's Hebron House, the 39-year-old has applied this passion through her work.

In addition to ongoing projects at the Hebron House, Malkani and her staff are in the midst of the busiest time of the year as they are seeing its shelters packed to capacity during the cold weather.

Malkani, who lives in New Berlin after relocating from Indiana, took a few minutes to answer questions about the Hebron House, the future of the Overflow Shelter at the Northview location as well as what she loves most about helping the homeless.

Brief bio:

I was a Hoosier for 37 years of my life, growing up in a small rural community in Decatur, Ind. where my mother was a high schoolteacher and my father was a vice president of finance for a magnet/wire company. I have two brothers, one who still resides in Indiana, and the other now in Chicago. I graduated college with a major in psychology and minor in business administration from the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

I have four children, and my time is consumed with their lives. Together, we enjoy reading, swimming, hiking, sledding, and laughing together. I am a member of the Evangelical and Reformed United Church of Christ in Waukesha and greatly enjoy the family programs the church offers us all.

Previous jobs:

Previous to my non-profit work, I worked through school as a receptionist at a hair salon, a server at a Mexican restaurant, a customer service representative for a finance company, and a CNA for a long-term care facility. My favorite of these jobs was serving people at the long-term care facility. I truly enjoyed the friendships that I developed with the residents and began to realize how a simple smile can change the way people deal with pain.

I began my post-degree work in the non profit world as a program director for the Boys & Girls Club of Adams County in Decatur, Ind. Just a short time after I began my work, the executive director left her position and the board appointed me as the new executive director. A move to northern Indiana ended my time as an executive director and then I joined the Boys & Girls Club of America team. Traveling the state of Indiana working with the clubs was something I genuinely enjoyed doing, but once our family moved to Wisconsin due to my husband's job transfer, and I became pregnant with my fourth child, I knew it was time to look at making a career change.

I had just scratched the surface looking for another opportunity in Wisconsin when I happened across the Hebron House of Hospitality. I must admit, I had a preconceived notion of what I would be walking into when I went to the shelter. I pictured lots of homeless-looking people lying on cots sleeping in a dark and cold gymnasium, but what I walked into was a very warm, inviting home for women and families. I left with hugs and smiles. I knew that I was hooked. I accepted the job the next day and have been blessed to work for an organization that serves such a basic need to people.

What was Christmas like at the overflow shelter?

We decided that instead of closing on Christmas Day as we have every other year that we would stay open all day so that the men could really celebrate the holiday. The day started early with a breakfast followed by games and a mid-afternoon dinner. All of the events wereprovided by volunteers and the men were very happy to be able to stay warm and full all day long. Christmas gifts such as socks, hats, gloves and gift certificates wereprovided by different outreach groups and given to the men.

How does Hebron House's Overflow Shelter work with the Hope Center?

The Overflow shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week. The men are transferred to and from the Hope Center and the Salvation Army in the mornings depending on the day of the week. Some days the men go to the Hope Center to the day shelter and other days they go to the Salvation Army for showers, to do laundry and utilize other services provided. Taking care of the homeless men during the winter has truly been a community project where the churches, Hope Center and Salvation Army have come together to provide a triage approach to helping the men. A handful of men are what we would classify as chronically homeless and use the services year after year, but the majority are in transition and will only use the services for one winter and then get back up on their feet.

What do you like most about your job?

When the services provided by the Hebron House of Hospitality meet the needs of the people of Waukesha County and let the homeless men, women and children know that there are people out there that truly care about them.

I guess if there is one thing that I want to continue to teach people…when you give to another human being, don't do it for what you get in return (a smile, a thank you, a hug). Do it because you want to share love and compassion with another human being. Do it because you can. What do I love most about my job? When people give because others need and that single act of kindness begins to chip away at years of hurt.

How long do people stay at the shelters?

Some people come to the shelter and only need to stay a week or two until they can get into their apartment or house. Others come once and then find themselves back before they can find some stability. On average, people stay at the Siena & Hebron shelters for 45 days. The men at the Overflow fluctuate from one day to four months and the guests at the Jeremy House stay usually three to six months because they have mental health issues that need to be addressed. Finding a home doesn't stabilize a person's life. Sometimes it takes years before a person or family feels stable. This is where the case management program offered by the Hebron House plays a huge role. Case managers work with past guests and other community people who are at high risk of becoming homeless to offer support and services in an effort to prevent homelessness from recurring.

What is the financial status of some of your projects?

We need $55,000 and we are just shy of $10,000 to stay open until April 30 (at the overflow shelter). We are hoping to raise $50,000 for the playground (on the Hebron House grounds) in 2013 and today have raised almost $12,000. We are waiting for the plans to be completed and then will begin doing more active promoting and soliciting for the playground project.

How can people help?

A great opportunity for people to stretch their dollar to help the homeless is by giving to the Hebron House on Match Day, March 14, 2013. On this day only, donations to the Hebron House will be matched proportionately by the Greater Milwaukee Community Foundation. You can find the link to donate on our website March 14 at www.hebronhouse.org. Other financial gifts can be mailed to 111 E. Main St., Waukesha, WI 53186. To volunteer at the Overflow shelter one can call Elliott the coordinator at (262) 424-4589. Non-financial contributions can be dropped off anytime at the Hebron House shelter 24/7 located at 812 N East Ave.

What are your goals?

We are hoping to raise $50,000 for the playground (on the Hebron House grounds) in 2013 and today have raised almost $12,000. We are waiting for the plans to be completed and then will begin doing more active promoting and soliciting for the playground project.

Our goal every year is to make sure that the men, women and children in Waukesha County have their basic needs met.

Top 10 needs

The 10 most needed items at Hebron House, 812 N. East Ave., are:

Toilet Paper

Garbage bags

Laundry Detergent

Coffee

Large Diapers & Pull Ups

Bleach

Disinfecting wipes

Lysol

Deodorant

Fresh fruits/veggies/ milk/ eggs/ cheese

They can be dropped off any time.

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