50 Stories for 50 Years: Dawn Dowden
Many in the Greenville community may know Dawn Dowden as the faithful Chief Operating Officer of Homes of Hope. Fewer know of the moving journey that helped lead her to the successful position that she’s in today. Twelve years ago, Dawn and her family experienced a costly health crisis that led to homelessness for her and her three kids. She connected with Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network (GAIHN) – now IHN at United Ministries – which helps families stay together while experiencing temporary shelter in a network of congregations. On her birthday, Dawn entered her first church with her kids and “doors that had been closed flew open.”
Being homeless was not easy, but Dawn saw many ways to look on the bright side of the crisis. As a faith-driven woman, she believed that it was a journey that was provided to her for a greater purpose. “There were a lot of bright spots walking through homelessness,” she explains. “There’s a beauty of churches coming together and helping folks they don’t know.” Dawn grew up in a middle-class household and didn’t personally know poverty before. Now she was fully immersed in it, having to learn to navigate the system, but was inspired by the overwhelming sense of support she received from the GAIHN community. Going forward, she was able empathize on a greater level with those experiencing crisis.
The next step for Dawn was entering transitional housing, which was “a lifesaver” for her. It allowed for the stability she needed to work on other parts of her stability – specifically, getting a job. Dawn credits Tony McDade with connecting her with Homes of Hope, a local nonprofit that is a “people-focused developer of affordable housing.” Dawn started off as the administration assistant, a role she describes as “divine” that allowed her to engage with folks. After a year and a half, her role at Homes of Hope progressed into different positions, including grant writing which allowed her to see the “ins and outs of nonprofits.” Along the way, Dawn’s past allowed her to have a “deeper level of relating to folks who walked through the door” at her job.
Now in the role of Chief Operating Officer, it’s Dawn’s job to oversee the operations and staff of the 21-year-old organization. Homes of Hope has a partnership with United Ministries that Dawn describes as “having deep roots.” Both Homes of Hope and our organization have multiple programs, so there is room for ample overlap to help participants as thoroughly as possible. First, Homes of Hope has a Workforce Development program that houses men overcoming addiction while teaching them marketable construction and soft skills. These men are connected to UM’s services where they can plan out their budgets, and often participate in our matched savings program in order to overcome barriers. Second, Homes of Hope owns and manages numerous houses that are used in IHN. This partnership requires hours of collaboration between our organizations and is especially important to Dawn, who has experienced first-hand the necessity of transitional housing. Lastly Homes of Hope regularly refers their affordable housing clients to the programming offered by United Ministries. The rental assistance program and staff have been especially helpful through the pandemic. Our partnership is strong, and we continue to work together to provide opportunities for economic mobility for many in our community. We are lucky to be able to work with Dawn and to know her incredible journey!