Caren Furdeck, director of development for Housing Opportunities, remembers feeling skeptical the first time hearing of a job opening at Housing Opportunities about seven years ago.
“Like so many people I asked, ‘There’s that big of a homeless problem in Porter County?’” she said.
Furdeck’s path to working at Housing Opportunities was out of the blue, when her sister who worked for the Red Cross suggested it would be the perfect fit. Back then volunteering was a hobby for Furdeck, she didn’t see it as a potential career at the time, since she already had a career in medical transcription.
Curious and incredulous, Furdeck did some research and eventually decided to send her resume to further feel out the situation.
“I walked in a skeptic and walked out convinced this position was meant for me, my sister was completely right,” she said. “It’s my passion, it’s like I’m getting paid to volunteer now, it’s awesome.”
Housing Opportunities is a state-certified housing non-profit agency based out of Valparaiso, providing assistance with housing, food, therapy and home ownership counseling. In 2010 Furdeck joined the team as an office manager, being the first face people see when they came in during times of crisis.
“It definitely was eye-opening,” Furdeck said. “Although it was something I didn’t realize was a problem before, now it’s difficult to not see it. It opened my eyes of how many people in this area need a hand up. My position is, how do I get more people to see it?”
As time went on, the need for housing grew and the organization needed more funds to meet increasing needs. That’s when Caroline Shook, former executive director, told Furdeck she couldn’t think of anyone better to make director of development.
“It has changed my life,” Furdeck said. “I don’t think I’d ever able to begin to thank all of the people we work with and serve. It’s been amazing. As a team, we’re able to advocate for those we serve, and educate. Those are two big things for us: advocate and educate.”
Furdeck said the staff even donates to Housing Opportunities out of their own pockets, which says a lot.
“It says they really believe in what we’re doing,” Furdeck said. “We’re a family, really. It truly takes someone special to work in non profits.”
Furdeck was born in Hammond and currently lives with her husband and two sons, ages 20 and 18 in Kouts. In 1996 she earned her associates degree in applied sciences at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis. When she had all four sons going through school she had her plate full between their many extra-curricular activities and sports. Now Furdeck does date nights with her husband at local favorites like Greek’s Pizza, The Dish Restaurant, Stacks Bar and Grill and Don Quixote.
“What we love about those places is not only do they have great food,” Furdeck said. “But they’re also invested in the community and giving back. Another thing that’s a hobby for me is service to others, luckily my husband shares that with me as well.”
In her many duties, getting sponsors and planning events are paramount for getting funding and spreading awareness about Housing Opportunities. The organization hosts a masquerade ball at Blue Chip Casino and another big fundraising event at Valparaiso’s beloved restaurant Don Quixote.
“The team really connects with the community,” she said. “We’re working to change the face of homelessness. Without donors and community support, we wouldn't be able to do what we do.”
In 2016, Housing Opportunities aided 301 disabled adults who were homeless, 205 children, provided 455 people with therapy and saved 196 homes from foreclosure.
“That’s 196 homes that stayed active in the neighborhood,” Furdeck said. “So it truly is an investment in ourselves as a community, too.”
One of the saddest statistics Furdeck sited was that the average age for homelessness in the area is nine years old.
“Most people don’t think of kids as being homeless,” she said. “They see someone with a sign on the street, but what they don’t see is that mom or dad probably has kids they’re trying to support living out of a car.”
Knowing the facts and seeing homelessness first-hand, Furdeck and her team works tirelessly to do something that, in a sense, seems counterintuitive.
“We joke that our dream is to be put out of a job,” she said. “To completely eradicate homelessness. I’d be happy to be put out of my job and paycheck if it means we beat homelessness.”