St. John Center was just a toddler when the first Homeless Benefit Ball was held in March 1990. The Ball was held for six consecutive years and added around $45,000 to the organization’s coiffures at a time when funding was scarce.
“St. John Center was one of the most cherished resources for the beneficiaries with the history (of homelessness), the day program, and the numbers they served annually,” said Joe Steier, who along with then co-workers Chris Mueller and John Reinhart created the event.
The Homeless Benefit Ball was born during a business trip to Chicago, IL in 1989. On that trip, and others to large cities, Steier, Mueller and Reinhart noticed a significant number of people living on the streets. They wondered if Louisville had a similar displaced population. When they discovered it did, they chose to do something about it.
“We decided to have a fundraiser to help raise awareness and to raise some funds,” Mueller explained. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” said Reinhart. “We were so bold we thought we could eliminate it (homelessness) all together,” added Steier.
The success of the Homeless Benefit Ball was due to the talented people the trio recruited to bring the project to life. “We had several very creative people on our committee,” said Mueller. “The three of us teamed up with folks like Tonya York, Rose Walker, Tom Herndon, and Eric Wiegel in order to make the first Homeless Benefit Ball a reality.”
Also involved in planning the Ball were: Rhonda Allgeier, Arnie Brouillard (SJC development director), Barb Herold, Jana Motheral, Jill Schmitt, Doug Stern, George Timmering Jr., and Ron Wilder.
Held at a variety of popular venues (Executive Inn, Hurstbourne Convention Center, Kentucky Center for the Arts, Galt House East, Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center) attendance at the black tie event more than doubled from 300 to 650 during its life. The crowds enjoyed live music, dancing, food, raffles, and door prizes.
The Ball received considerable publicity including articles in The Courier-Journal and Business First, and was even featured on a popular NBC morning television show. “I remember when we made The Today Show and everyone at St. John Center was so proud,” Steier said.
The experience had a profound impact on several of those involved. “A lot of us that were involved with this event took it to heart and wound up being on boards or volunteering. It was a neat experience. We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot. And we truly enjoyed spending time together,” said Reinhart.
Wiegel, Stern and Mueller eventually became members of the St. John Center board of directors and volunteers at the shelter. Mueller has been a volunteer for 25 years.
“If I was going to spend time raising money I wanted to volunteer,” said Mueller. “Sue (Speed, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless) recommended I talk to Sister Mary Kathleen Sheehan at St John Center and I have been a volunteer ever since.”
Reinhart also has a strong connection to SJC. His father Phil is one of the shelter’s longest serving volunteers and was a board member for many years. “My dad has been volunteering at St. John Center for almost 30 years. He led by example with his actions. When you grow up in that environment you feel called to help others. There but for the grace of God go I,” Reinhart said.
“St John keeps me grounded and appreciative of my blessings and family,” Mueller said. “The overall attitude of the staff and clients also keeps me coming back. The staff treats the guys with dignity and respect. I believe we are here to serve each other and I’m thankful I get a chance to do that at St John Center,” said Mueller.
“I learned three great lessons, first, you can have bold dreams and think big and it is possible to make it happen. Second, people will rally around causes that are bigger than you. And third, the corporate citizenship in Louisville is beyond unbelievable.” Steier said.
Due to sponsorships and donations from area businesses and individuals, 85 cents of every dollar raised from the Homeless Benefit Ball was donated to St. John Center and several other local charities serving the homeless.
“We found out we could take our passion and do something meaningful and valuable using our time, talents and treasure that would give back to our community,” Reinhart said. “We could be a conduit and a catalyst to raise awareness and provide some resources to people on the front line of homelessness.”
Housing has been a blessing for Sherman, a devoted family man. His family has also benefited from Sherman’s apartment. It provides a place for his four children and 17 grandchildren (ages one to 18) to gather.
“Sherman has been freed from the daily stress of not knowing where he will sleep,” said SJC housing counselor Ashley Bradley, who assisted him in qualifying for housing. “Sherman is family oriented and has put the needs of his kids and grandkids before his own on numerous occasions. All he wanted was a home where his grandkids could come and spend time with their grandpa.”
“It takes a lot of worries away,” said Sherman of his home. “The grandkids like to come and stay with me.“
Other than discounted rent and Ashley’s assistance, Sherman’s progress is the result of his own labor. “I want to make it on my own,” he said. To that end Sherman is able to pay bills and rent thanks to a job he has held at Bearno’s Pizza for nearly four years.
If Sherman has his way, he will become a homeowner. “I just want to have a nice place where my family can get together,” he said.