Kathleen Drozda had a change of heart in the 1990s. The career nurse, who had specialized in neurology, neurosurgery, and trauma services, shifted her focus to prevention and community outreach. Had she not made this decision, Growing Home might not exist today.
Drozda’s career change took her from bedside nursing to working with the disenfranchised and underserved in Adams County. Through her work at St. Anthony Hospital North in Westminster, Drozda met a homeless woman who had been living in her car with her dogs. The experience opened her eyes to homelessness in Adams County.
And fortunately, the parking lot at St. Anthony North was the right place at the right time.
“We had a progressive CEO at St. Anthony’s. It’s a mission-driven hospital concerned with taking care of the community at large,” says Drozda.
After noticing the woman, Drozda observed her for a few days. “She would move her car to different spots in the safe, lighted hospital lot.” Eventually, she got to know her and found out she was in flight of an abusive spouse.
Recognizing the woman’s immediate basics needs, Drozda helped her to get food coupons and a place to stay.
The experience so moved Drozda that she began to take “ride-alongs” with police and the sheriff’s department, where she saw that many in Adams County were in the same boat. At the time, the nearest shelter was a family facility in Commerce City. Drozda took action.
“I organized committees within the community to address the issue and found that the while many in the community were aware of homelessness, people still did not recognize it as an issue of families.”
Making matters more challenging, homelessness in the suburbs was just nowhere near as obvious as it was in city, Drozda says. “Families and single-parents were not as visible, unless you looked.”
As her awareness of the homeless challenge grew, she began to reach out to schools, churches and social workers, which proved to be a great resource for information on the numbers of homeless in the community.
With the support of the hospital, and her husband, Drozda pursued her mission and established a 501(c)(3) organization, using money from her own pocketbook. Additional seed money came from the Sisters of Charity, a Catholic religious order, based in Cincinnati, that supports causes related to the welfare of children and their ongoing success.
Originally, Growing Home was known as the Adams County Interfaith Hospitality Network. Growing Home was a “moving shelter” where churches provided space in Sunday School classrooms for three to four families. Volunteers cooked and served meals. At one time, the hospital also provided space and offered showers and meals in an administrative space separated from daily hospital operations.
Today, Drozda’s vision has grown from an organization that provided basic services to one that focuses on prevention through award-winning home visitation, a place-based initiative called “Blocks of Hope,” as well as a family shelter, food pantry, and other services whose goal is to “stop the cycle” that leads to homelessness.
“It’s all a process,” says Drozda. “Teaching children and parents through the Parents as Teachers program, which won an international award.”
Drozda continues to support Growing Home as a member of its board. She also volunteers, and serves as a Growing Home ambassador. In addition, Drozda is the Faith Community Nurse Coordinator at St. Anthony North. She still makes house calls, often on the advice of a minister or priest who will notice that a parishioner has not shown up for church for some time.
As for the woman in the parking lot, she has since moved on with her life and lives and works in another state. Drozda has always been respectful of her privacy. During the entire time she was receiving help, Drozda never revealed her name, even to her husband. “I still hear from her over the holidays,” she says.