The Micro-House Will Positively Impact People's Lives April 22, 2014 at 09:53AM

by Laura Olmstead
Food and Housing Program Director

We are so very excited for this project and knowing how positively we will be impacting people's lives. I know some days this is exactly what I was created for, my purpose. For years as a youth and young adult I often felt unpurposed, with no real understanding why so many struggles and so much trouble. I now know. I choose to use the past to positively impact not only my future but others. I choose to learn from it.

I remember as a very young person, 15 years old, having nowhere to go, no stable home, and no bed that was mine. Many nights my younger sister and I would sleep in barns of strangers. Or abandoned or burnt out homes or buildings. It was what we knew. We did steal to eat. At that time I could not see nor plan a future, our minds were too focused on the here and now. A moment to moment life! If you have no sense of stability, safety and simple knowledge you know where to go and where you belong, how on earth can you focus on next week, next year or a future. You just go through day by day looking for the break to plan for a tomorrow. I did have a job, thankfully. But so many people are not so lucky. Of course the clean person, with dependable reliable plans to come to work every day will get the job. That is why as a human being it is so important that we be the “break”; we create the chance for so many who can relate. I know that this micro home, and the next, and the next are all milestones that will be a pathway to a new life for so many. That is what is so exciting, helping others, showing them human kindness are just so valuable. I am determined that this will come to pass, we will set the bar for others to follow in caring for each other and helping build a better tomorrow.

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The Little Food Club That Could April 15, 2014 at 09:05AM

The We Care Food Club and Food Pantry
by Laura Olmstead

Food and Housing Program Director

We Care has been going strong for over 35 years. What an incredible testimony that is. We started small years ago, before I ever heard of this place. Over the years we have expanded in order to do all we can to better serve this community. We purchase semi truckloads of food, as often as we can, to try and provide a little food store/club to our people at a rate they can afford and to offset the incredible costs of the food bag program. We try so very hard to search and provide quality items for each of you. We have been providing supplemental emergency food bags since the early 80's. For nearly 900 families each month we prepare, search and shop to provide the most we can through our supplemental and assistance programs.

We are thankful for our long relationship with Second Harvest Food Bank in Chattanooga, Feed America program that enables us to continually serve. It is truly a blessing to know we are able to help so many. We love working with other agencies and churches to form partnerships to meet the needs of our neighbors. We welcome all to come visit and see what we do at the We Care Food Club and Pantry. We would love to share our stories.

A Personal Passion to End Homelessness April 02, 2014 at 08:42AM

I am going to try and share a little each day so everyone will understand my personal passion for the homeless. I grew up in a very unstable environment. As a result of this me and my siblings found ourselves sleeping in cars, rest stops, basically often homeless. However, I did not realize we were homeless because that was what I knew. We had a home at times to go to, sometimes stay in a motel that was our home. But it was all we knew. We knew there were times we did not have food. I knew that all the schools, doctors, people looked at us as different, would ask weird questions and I think the most embarrassing as a young person was the few times we did go to school or doctors we were often dirty and smelled, I remember the embarrassment form knowing and even more humiliation from having teachers and doctors talk with me about hygiene like I was stupid and didn't understand instead of asking do you have the means to even bathe. UGH! NO CHILD should ever have to live through this. Many many do. Too often rather than people seeking a way to help they judge the exterior. No one ever helped. They judged. I do not want to be that person. I want to create these shelters so that NO CHILD, NO PERSON has to go out with their heads low because they are dirty, tired and hungry. This is the start of my sharing a little bit so more people can grasp the importance of helping others. Ending Homelessness.

We Care April 2014 Newsletter April 15, 2014 at 08:23AM


We are constantly looking for affordable ways to get the word out about what WE CARE is doing in our community. We have been around since 1982 but most people think of the Thrift Center when they think of WE CARE. Indeed, the Thrift Center was our first service and has seen 73,300 customers and contributors in 2013. The Thrift Center is the foundation and well spring of many other services like the Food Pantry, the Emergency Assistance Program, the Hope Project, Affordable Housing, our return to emergency housing, our desire to provide low income senior housing, etc., etc. Hopefully, this electronic newsletter will keep you informed. I want to use this space to introduce you to our new General Manager, Alton Steen. He lived and worked in our community from 1980 until 1993; he recently retired as a project manager and is ready to help manage some of the many WE CARE projects.

Please read the latest from the Manager and Directors of WE CARE about what is going on now.


Walter Ring


Hi everyone,


As the new General Manager here at WE CARE, I have several goals that I have identified as being worthy of pursuing:

  1. The overall financial stability of the WE CARE organization and all of its programs. Nearly every charitable non-profit organization in the country struggles with finances and WE CARE is no different. But, because of the faithfulness and generosity of the people of Rhea County, we continue to move forward on a solid financial foundation.

  2. RE-establishing the identity of WE CARE to our community. As I have visited various people in the community, it has become clear to me that nearly everyone knows that WE CARE is here, and that they have a Thrift Center and a Food Pantry, but beyond that, people don’t know much about the positive impact that WE CARE is making in the lives of individuals every day. There seems to be a general misperception that the Thrift Center and Food Pantry funds our whole operation. While it is true that these two programs contribute nearly 80% of our operating budget, it is also true that less than 2% of our budget comes from cash donations…..and this is as area where we need to do better. In order for us to undertake some new initiatives for service, such as emergency housing for displaced children, transitional housing for the homeless and low income retirement homes for seniors, we need to dramatically increase our sustainable donations. So, we eagerly want to partner with you in this endeavor.

  3. Managing and coordinating all of WE CARE’S programs, making them as cost effective as they can be – while at the same time – fostering new programs that will have an affirmative and positive impact on the Rhea County Community.

To this end, we reach out to you to become actively involved in helping WE CARE fulfill its goals of uplifting people and empowering them to be the best that they can be.

Alton Steen
General Manager


I, Laura Olmstead, have been with We Care since September 2002. I moved to Dayton, Tennessee from Charleston, SC in May of 2002. After a history filled with financial and life struggles, which included homelessness, no food and feelings of complete and utter failure I went to college and decided to relocate to Dayton, TN for a fresh start. I was looking for a career that would utilize my strengths and experience in a way to really help people in a tangible real way while still leaving me the time necessary to raise my two children. And this it has been.


The food programs when I first began at We Care were serving on average about 150 families a month with a single supplemental bag. After I felt comfortable with the operations I extended the program to a 2 to 4 bag allotment a month per family depending on family size. We now serve about 550 families each month. We have also grown our Food Club to help serve more people throughout the month.


After being with We Care less than a year and regularly assisting with the Haven House Homeless Shelter I eventually began to oversee it and the operations. We worked with the intake process and began more actively case managing residents to end the cycle of homelessness and move them more often into permanent housing and keep them there. After many years, and countless lives and stories, We Care lost the lease to the home it had been using as a homeless shelter so that Dayton Housing Authority could use it as permanent housing being as the demand was so high. Fortunately, about the same time

We Care received a shell of a micro home as a donation that we could use, as one of many more, homeless homes.

  Micro home

We now are in the process of site preparation, placing the home on a foundation, finishing it out and putting it into operation.  We have been holding monthly community meetings to gather support and raise awareness. We are excited as we feel this new concept of how to serve the homeless will prove to be innovative and successful and be real change in people’s lives. 


From the desk of Ina Ring – THRIFT CENTER DIRECTOR


This portion of the newsletter will be dedicated for the THRIFT CENTER to communicate to you about sales events, unusual items available, information bullets and changes that occur (both physically and procedurally).

With the arrival of spring, we change from heavy, dark winter clothing to lighter weight, more colorful items. With Easter coming April 20th, we have a good selection of baskets and filling, lots of stuffed bunnies etc.

Easter baskets

                Easter                  Easter bunnies



BULLET INFO: WE CARE THRIFT CENTER is unique in that we have free clothing and other items. In 2013, we averaged giving 15,500 free items per month. We also averaged 6,100 sales transactions each month.

All of this is possible because of quality donations. We appreciate our donors and our customers.


The community helping us serve the homeless in Rhea County March 24, 2014 at 01:13PM

Public welcome to attend meeting March 26, 2014 at 5:30pm

We have the shell of a "micro home" now. It needs to be placed on a foundation, finished and the fine details.  Once this home is in place, it will serve as our first, with hopes of many to come.   It will operate as a small home that families or individuals who find themselves homeless can stay until they get back on their feet.  The unique style and idea of a mini home instead of a large group setting will prove to have a higher success rate by helping the homeless return to a state of stability.  We have been operating shelters for over 25 years.  We bring with us experience, knowledge and a great desire to help and solve our local homeless problem.

WE HAVE MET OUR FINANCIAL GOAL TO OPEN OUR FIRST MICRO HOME TO SERVE THE HOMELESS IN RHEA COUNTY.  As noted before, we still have so much to do!! We are having a planning meeting, that is open to all the community.  It will be to address the next steps toward the completion of this project.  Then we can begin serving those who need it most. 

We Care Community Services Inc. will hold a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. March 26, 2014 at the community room at its main office, 1273 Dayton Mountain Hwy. in Dayton. Laura Olmstead, director of We Care’s food and housing program, will discuss the micro home steps to completion.


Homeless in Rhea County often are families with children January 15, 2014 at 04:56PM

Public welcome to attend meeting at 5 p.m. Jan. 27

We Care Community Services Inc. will hold a public meeting at 5 p.m. Jan. 27 at the community room at its main office, 1273 Dayton Mountain Hwy. in Dayton. Laura Olmstead, director of We Care’s food and housing program, will discuss homelessness in Rhea County. Also speaking will be Alton Steen, We Care’s general manager, who will discuss the agency’s housing programs and future goals. Nationwide, 41 percent of the homeless are families with children; the percentage tends to be even higher in rural counties, where good-paying jobs and affordable housing are often scarce.

Olmstead sees the faces of the homeless every day at We Care Community Services, so she knows the needs in Rhea County firsthand. “Over half of the homeless I have served in the past 10 years were families with young children and a parent who was out of work or who didn’t make enough money,” said Olmstead.

We Care receives an average of one call per day from people who need shelter due to various reasons; families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless. “The need for shelter with supportive services in our area is great,” Olmstead said.

In the last five years, We Care has helped more than 250 people move from its shelter into long-term housing; only a handful have become homeless again. Olmstead said We Care’s program is more successful than most because it gives people more time to find permanent housing and We Care provides counseling for residents.

The public is invited to attend this meeting, which will kick off a series of monthly gatherings to discuss homelessness, which has climbed an estimated 72 percent since 2010 and includes 11,000 homeless youth in Tennessee alone.

Employed but still homeless, working poor say 'Homelessness can happen to anybody' July 19, 2013 at 11:53AM

By Jessica Hopper, Tim Sandler and Cristina Boado
Rock Center, NBC News

Before the sun rises, Cindy and Patrick Kennard wake their three daughters, fold their cots in a Sunday school classroom and pack their lives into suitcases. The Kennard family of five from Johnson City, Tenn., is homeless. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Kennards is that despite their homelessness, they are still a working family.  For the last seven years, Patrick Kennard has worked a full-time job with benefits at a bank call center and until recently, Cindy Kennard worked as a director of a daycare facility. The Kennards are one of a growing number of working families who have become homeless. In the wake of the recession, experts say that families like the Kennards represent a historic juncture when it comes to homelessness in America. 

“It’s hard sometimes for people to appreciate. They’re so used to the stereotyped homeless populations, the visible homeless, if you will, who live outdoors in public locations and they’re not aware that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people, many of them working, who are homeless as well,” said Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania social policy professor whose research focuses on homelessness.

The number of people in homeless families living in suburban and rural areas rose nearly 60 percent during the depths of the Great Recession, according to figures from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than one million school-aged children are now homeless, according to the Department of Education.  

For Patrick Kennard, the feeling that he’s failed his three daughters, 9-year-old Jillian, 14-year-old Melodie and 16-year-old Brianne, sends him into despair. Cindy and Patrick Kennard, married 19 years, worked hard to pursue the American dream. They have college degrees. Both tried to build their savings as they worked. Their dream began to crumble when Patrick Kennard suffered kidney problems that led to expensive hospital stays and mounting medical bills. Even with the health insurance he had from work, the family still owed around $5,000. Their car broke down repeatedly, costing them more than $3,000.  The couple's debt began to mount. Combining their student loan debt and medical bills, they found themselves more than $35,000 in debt. Unable to afford child care, Cindy Kennard was forced to quit her job leaving them with only her husband's income, around $35,000 a year. The family was living paycheck to paycheck and still did not have enough to cover their monthly expenses.  They became behind on their rent.  They downsized to a cramped two-bedroom apartment from their more spacious four-bedroom apartment. Again, they were unable to afford rent and were evicted. The youngest Kennard, 9-year-old Jillian, took the eviction news especially hard. “I was scared because I loved the house and I didn’t want to leave it,” she said. The Kennards pondered living in their van or at a campground. They made heart-breaking decisions, including pawning their wedding rings for $100.

For Cindy and Patrick Kennard’s daughters, being homeless means living a life of uncertainty and sometimes shame. Through tears, 16-year-old Brianne described the hardest part about being a homeless kid: hoping no one finds out. Brianne has told a few of her close friends who have kept her secret. She was willing to speak publicly about it for the first time because she wants to help other kids like her. Nine-year-old Jillian also feared telling classmates about her family’s struggle.

The family has moved 15 times in the last four months. Through a church and community program sheltering homeless families called the Interfaith Hospitality Network, the family rotates to a different Sunday school classroom each week. “I had the stereotypical man holding up the sign, ‘Will work for food, have family, need help’ and I never realized how close I was to being that person,” Patrick Kennard said.  “Homelessness can happen to anybody.  We’re proof of that.”

Brian Rosecrance runs the Interfaith Hospitality Network’s chapter in Johnson City, Tenn., that’s been helping the Kennards as they find their financial footing. He said he has seen a distinct change in the families seeking help. “In the past three, four years, we’ve seen higher-educated people.  We’ve seen people who are currently employed coming to us.  We’ve seen a lot of families with job layoff situations where they were laid off a month or two ago and now they’re homeless,” Rosecrance said. Rosecrance said his waiting list of families needing help continues to grow. Part of what makes the Interfaith Hospitality Network unique is that it allows families to stay together.

Advocates say there are not enough shelters for the nation’s new wave of homeless families and many shelters separate men and women because of security reasons. Shaun Donovan, the secretary of HUD, said that shelters must begin to use their funding differently to accommodate the rise in homeless families. He acknowledged that family-friendly shelters are under-funded. “I’m not satisfied that we have the full amount of resources that we need and we will continue to fight for more,” Donovan said. Donovan said he is working on an ambitious plan to reach families before they become homeless. “I absolutely believe and the president [President Barack Obama] has fought for greater investment in homelessness in making sure we have adequate shelter, but also in making sure we have new, innovative directions that we can go to prevent it,” Donovan said.