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7 Questions with Lissette Bishins, Executive Director of Carpenter's Shelter

A warm welcome to Lissette Bishins, Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter, who will be answering 7 Questions today! Bishins is the immediate past Executive Director of the Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area. Previously, she was the Deputy Executive Director of the YWCA of Greater Miami and Dade County and the Regional Director of the YWCAs of the Southeast Region. Bishins is currently the Vice Chair of the Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness in the City of Alexandria. She holds a B.S. in Mass Communications from Emerson College. Bishins was recently recognized by the for her exceptional nonprofit leadership.

1. What motivated you to begin working with Carpenter’s Shelter? What need does it fulfill and how is your organization working towards meeting it?

I came to work at Carpenter’s Shelter three years ago. I was excited beyond belief to be part of an organization that had such community-wide support. The biggest motivating factor came from the program accountability and success rate of the clients. Carpenter’s Shelter supports the homeless to achieve sustainable independence through shelter, guidance, education and advocacy. We work with over 1,000 clients per year and see them from the step prior to shelter to success in the community.

2. What was your most interesting recent project, event, or partnership?

Realizing the need to plan for the larger community as a whole, Carpenter’s reached out to the homeless service organizations of Alexandria to create a long term, sustainable solution in 2011. The Alexandria Continuum of Care model had become static, no longer fulfilling the developing needs of the homeless and at-risk communities. In order to mirror the housing first model and reduce housing barriers, Carpenter’s led the homeless service community in creating an adaptive, collaborative solution, resulting in the creation of the Homeless Services Assessment Center, a centralized intake for homeless individuals. As part of this effort, Carpenter’s Shelter helped launch a revamped continuum of care – The Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness in the City of Alexandria. As a governing board and group, we work to ensure the coordination of services and needs of the homeless community are met.

3. What other projects are you up to?

Currently, Carpenter’s is looking at the possibility of creating a for-profit entity, Carpenter’s Shelter, Inc. (CSI). To identify viable business opportunities and create an initial business plan, Carpenter’s Shelter has partnered with COMPASS DC and the Advisory Board as an outside resource to support this effort. We are hoping to launch this effort in the next year.

4. Who inspires you? Do you have a hero?

I receive inspiration everywhere, inclusive of our clients. Just the other day, we received a small monetary donation from a past client, who is doing well and wanted to give back to the shelter who had given him so much during his time of need. Some of our partners inspire me; The Motley Fool comes to mind. They’ve built a culture of philanthropy as a part of their core values. Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, is one of my personal heroes: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand” in the face of adversity.

5. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces, and how are you working towards combating this issue?

For our clients, the challenge is affordable housing. Carpenter’s can be effective in placing people in permanent homes with subsidy but, affordability continues to be elusive. ?As part of The Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness, we work on advocacy for affordable housing. Carpenter’s also works to educate clients to be good renters and work with landlords to be fair to our clients.

6. What advice do you have for other people in your position? What’s your biggest take-away lesson you would tell others that you have gleaned from your experiences?

Collaborate – Do things together and share the load. Innovate – Ask questions, search for a better solution. Plan- You can always change your plan, but only if you have one. Have Fun – Revel in your work.

7. What’s next for your organization, both in the short term and long term?

Carpenter’s Shelter continues to grow its programs and seek management excellence. The shelter recently received honorable mention in the We will be looking to implement some of the great ideas from the other finalists.

Long term, Carpenter’s looks forward to implementing the business plan for CSI and helping to create affordable housing opportunities in our community.

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