Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Rebecca Atlee | House of Refuge (Mesa, AZ)
Rebecca Atlee has been a successful realtor for nearly 20 years, selling many homes in the communities of Greater Phoenix. Yet, it’s been those she didn’t sell that have given the Arizona native and mother of two her greatest joy.
Six years ago, she helped start the Adopt a Home program for House of Refuge, one of the seemingly endless ways she assists the Southeast Mesa-based non-profit. House of Refuge provides safe, stable housing to families who are experiencing homelessness and works with families on regaining dignity, healing from trauma, finding employment, and ultimately obtaining permanent housing. Its’ 22-acre community includes 88 2-bedroom homes that are rented to otherwise homeless families, who receive comprehensive, wrap-around supportive services.
Inspired by Rebecca’s younger sister, Jessica, who had experienced homelessness before her passing seven years ago, Adopt a Home provides all of the necessary funding to support a family for one year. Rebecca leads the effort to raise the funds for one of the houses which runs $15,000 per house.
“These programs are so needed,” says Rebecca. “I had to do something that can help somebody. I can’t help her (Jessica) anymore, but I can help somebody else. That’s kinda what drives me. It feeds my soul. I feel like I have been really lucky in my life so what is it I can do to give back?
“I have never been homeless, but I have been poor, and growing up we did at times rely on government food, and food banks occasionally. Everyone deserves a place to live, caring people to help and a place to feel safe. House of Refuge does just that and I am privileged to be a volunteer and keep helping whenever I can.”
The feeling is mutual. “Rebecca’s contributions to House of Refuge have a huge impact on our families,” says Kayla Kolar, President and CEO. “Whether it is delivering holiday presents to each house, coordinating a major fundraiser, raising money to ‘adopt’ one of our homes, or helping children pick out Christmas presents for their parents, Rebecca’s efforts are direct and meaningful. We could not do what we do without volunteers like Rebecca who have a real heart for our mission.”
After first hearing about House of Refuge from a friend 16 years ago, Rebecca had been volunteering there in various ways but became more focused when the shelter lost its government funding for the housing program in 2016. “When they lost it, they had to rise from the ashes,” she recalls. “I was very motivated by all of the things they were doing. I’ve always been a volunteer for a lot of different things but this one has my heart because I’m a realtor and it has to do with making sure people have a safe place to live.”
During one Thanksgiving, Rebecca and her mother were helping distribute holiday meals to the families. Unexpectedly, 300 bags of donated food were dropped off, so the pair’s volunteer shift got a little longer as they helped unload the food and began sorting it. “Shortly after that we took a tour, and learned of the need for more funds and help,” Rebecca remembered. “At that point, I was hooked.”
She joined the organization’s outreach committee and soon organized numerous drives for items such as diaper wipes, toilet paper, shampoo, sheets and pillows, backpacks and food for the holiday meals.
And furniture. Lots of furniture. “Because I am a realtor, I have people that donate or get rid of furniture when they move,” says Rebecca. “So, I would go with my trailer and pick up all this donated furniture and I think at one point I ended up with 40 trailer loads of furniture to take to the families at House of Refuge.”
Rebecca and some of her recruits once cut up area rugs out of a house full of donated carpet for use in the House of Refuge homes. She has even enlisted her family to pick oranges from the trees on her property for the families.
During COVID, when personal contact was limited, Rebecca and her trailer delivered food and holiday gifts to the families. Those efforts included dropping food bags to more than 70 homes for 13 consecutive weeks. Her delivery of holiday gifts continues today.
“I dress up, and deck out my trailer in Christmas cheer, put the holiday music on and drive the neighborhood with the team delivering the gifts,’ says Rebecca. “It is so much fun.”
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation