When a critical housing and day care service for homeless families in Bloomington, Ind., needed to find new space to continue serving vulnerable community members, the organization turned to REALTOR® Chris Cockerham. The nonprofit, New Hope for Families, lost its leases earlier this year on several properties that housed seven families in need, with 16 children among them. “Our local hospital was leasing single-family houses to us. But this year, the hospital sold those properties, so we had to relocate,” says Emily Pike, New Hope’s executive director. “Since the beginning, we have been operating out of borrowed spaces.”
It occurred to Pike that New Hope’s services could be more stable if the nonprofit owned the space it operates in. So, Cockerham, commercial manager at F.C. Tucker/Bloomington, REALTORS®, showed Pike more than 150 properties over the course of a year and a half before they landed on the right one this past spring. He ultimately found New Hope an affordable 1.5-acre vacant lot—and even persuaded the seller to make a $20,000 donation to the organization.
“As REALTORS®, we want to be part of the solution to homelessness.” —Chris Cockerham
In April, New Hope broke ground on two buildings; one will provide shelter to families and the other will serve as its day care center. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of this year. They will stay in the leased houses until they move into the new space in January. “Finding the right property was really challenging because, in our area, there are not a lot of zoning classes for shelters and day cares together,” says Cockerham. “I had to find a property in a zone that permitted both.” He donated his commission on the sale to New Hope.
As he became more invested in New Hope’s mission, Cockerham began recruiting donors among his real estate colleagues. “There is not a single person in this community that Chris doesn’t know and isn’t on good terms with,” says Pike. “He brings a lot of valuable relationships.”
Cockerham has networked with every agent in Bloomington—all 450 of them—soliciting donations and raising more than $420,000 of the $1.2 million total he has raised for New Hope in the last 3 years. “I approach everyone,” he says. “I don’t just ask for donations from high-volume agents. I talk to every agent about our cause, whether you’re willing to give $10 or $20,000. Every dollar counts.”
Kristen Weida, executive vice president of the Bloomington Board of REALTORS®, says Cockerham came to the association with a simple request for a fund where members could donate. But his passion and enthusiasm persuaded board members to back the cause in full force. “His theme is ‘REALTORS® care,’ and that really resonated,” Weida says. “We don’t just care about the big sales. We care about everybody in our community.”
Cockerham believes his fellow REALTORS® got behind him because “our mission directly aligns with New Hope for Families. As REALTORS®, we want to be part of the solution to homelessness.”
New Hope’s new location, conveniently located near grocery stores, bus lines, and a park, will enable the organization to expand its shelter capacity to 12 families and triple its day care service to 48 children, all in one place. Families typically pay $15 a week for day care, which serves kids up to age 5. The day care center has been a major priority, since lack of child care can prevent people from getting a job and perpetuate homelessness.
People like Abby, who declined to give her last name, have found new beginnings at New Hope. She and her three children sought shelter in 2018 while she escaped an abusive relationship. “I didn’t have anywhere to go,” Abby says. New Hope helped her get back on her feet and find a stable long-term apartment. Later, when she became an alcoholic, Abby returned to New Hope, where she received not only housing but also a referral for professional counseling for her addiction. “The staff are pretty much like my family,” she says.
Filling the Gaps
Homeless shelters with close, communal living quarters have been hubs for coronavirus outbreaks across the U.S. “When COVID-19 hit, we needed an isolation center where the homeless can find shelter while socially distancing,” Pike says. Cockerham stepped in and used his real estate connections to help New Hope locate a site where it could provide auxiliary housing for up to 60 people.
“He doesn’t hear ‘no’; he feels so passionately about this community and its capacity to do good things,” —Emily Pike
Pike first met Cockerham in 2015, when he helped New Hope raise $10,000 from 50 Men Who Care, a local group that supports charities in the Bloomington area. The funding allowed New Hope to launch its day care center. “Chris is the guy who will do anything that you ask him to do,” Pike says. “He’s incredibly dedicated to this community. When he sees a gap, he wants to fill it, and he has the business relationships that you need to fill it.”
Cockerham, whose parents owned a catering company in Bloomington for 40 years, also assisted New Hope by planning a 10-year anniversary party in August complete with live music, a tethered balloon, and a car show.
New Hope’s new facilities will cost $5.75 million to build, Pike says. So, Cockerham continues to fundraise for the organization. His goal for this fall is to raise the final $80,000 to reach a total of $500,000 in donations from his fellow real estate agents. “We as agents and as members of the community can make an impactful gift to New Hope’s cause,” says Cockerham.