Sierra Vista — After 18 years as Executive Director of Good Neighbor Alliance, Kathy Calabrese has announced her decision to retire.
Good Neighbor Alliance (GNA), which opened its doors in January 2003, serves as an emergency shelter for homeless men, women, families with children and veterans.
Known for her unwavering commitment to the area’s homeless population, those who have worked with Calabrese say she will be sorely missed, with some referring to her as “irreplaceable.”
Father Greg Adolf of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church has served on GNA’s board, and is a staunch supporter of the shelter and its mission. He has worked closely with Calabrese since she was hired 18 years ago.
“Kathy is the master of social networking and has created all kinds of lines of communication to serve the homeless and our most needy, vulnerable citizens,” Adolf said. “She has created wonderful coalitions of care. She is most impressive in her leadership role as executive director. Her hands-on approach in working directly with the homeless, advocating for them, particularly our homeless veterans, is also impressive. She has opened the eyes of many people in this community to a population that had been largely invisible. Her high energy and commitment has truly been inspirational.”
Along with her leadership abilities and passion for the homeless, Adolf praised one of Calabrese’s fundraising ideas.
“The Land of Cochise calendar was Kathy’s brainchild, and is one of GNA’s biggest fundraisers,” he said. “It makes a wonderful Christmas gift and it’s something the community looks forward to every year.”
Calabrese was hired as executive director on Oct. 15, 2001, before the shelter existed, during a time when the community’s homeless men were transported to Bisbee, or provided with motel vouchers.
“I had a huge learning curve when I started because I had never worked in this industry,” Calabrese said. “I was fortunate in that I had a lot of technical assistance through homeless services that I could tap into.”
Pastor David Barkley of Sierra Vista United Methodist Church, who is now deceased, founded Good Neighbor Alliance. Calabrese recalls how Barkley recognized the need for a men’s homeless shelter in Sierra Vista and dedicated several years toward finding a place where homeless men could be housed.
“Pastor Barkley had a vision statement about transitioning the homeless into neighbors and neighbors into friends,” she said. “There is great joy in this. I have experienced this. I think David (Barkley) is smiling down on GNA and is proud of how it has evolved. Throughout my tenure with GNA, I have grown to realize and appreciate his wisdom.”
Located at 420 N. Seventh St., the site that houses GNA, was once a veterinary clinic owned by veterinarian Bill Tollefson, who died in 2007.
“We were awarded a 15-year-forgivable loan, a type of grant that paid for the property and rehabilitation of the building,” Calabrese said. “Dr. Tollefson wanted the property to be used for a good cause, and sold it to us for a really smoking deal. He was very pleased that the property was going to be used for a good cause.”
After the property purchase and building rehabilitation, the shelter, called Samaritan’s Station was born.
“The shelter can hold 23 individuals uncomfortably,” Calabrese said. “One of the things I like most about my work is that GNA welcomes our homeless neighbors into Samaritan Station by providing them with a safe and secure shelter, while offering hope to help them improve their lives.”
The goal is to help them transition out of homelessness, she said.
“Even though this comes with challenges and barriers, I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to lead an organization that has this kind of impact on our vulnerable neighbors.”
Describing her work as a “labor of love,” Calabrese says she is abundantly grateful to the community for the support they give the shelter.
“I’m having health issues with diabetes, which is why I’m stepping down from the position,” she said. “My husband, Mike, is concerned about my health and wants me to take better care of myself. He says I’m too important to put my health on hold.”
As she looks toward retirement, Calabrese plans to do more sewing, delve into projects around the house and spend more time with her four grandchildren. She also hopes to write a book about her work at Good Neighbor Alliance and the importance of helping homeless populations.
“One of my greatest regrets about this work is that GNA has no benefactor and must work extremely hard to raise money,” Calabrese said. “Sometimes it feels as though we are more driven by raising funds than being mission driven. So much good work goes on inside the GNA campus, and I want the community to know all that we try to do.”