Reflecting on 50 years of Dismas House

If you are going to dream, DREAM BIG!

I first became involved with Dismas House at the invitation of a friend to become a Table Host at the Forgiveness Luncheon in 2016. At this time, Dismas was still the old house on Music Row where the eight bed facility had been located for over 40 years. 

Just prior to this, the Dismas Board of Directors was faced with a dire dilemma either closing the agency or finding a new pathway to serve the needs of men transitioning from incarceration. The operating model at the time of housing no more than eight men at time simply was not longer viable. The agency’s small size limited both the amount of money that could be raised and the services it could afford to offer. Individuals, business, or government donors were looking for ways to maximum the dollars they were willing to give, and the small eight bed facility limited those opportunities.  As a result, the agency was faced with severe financial issues which were making it impossible to continue.

The Board undertook a strategic planning process to look for solutions. They concluded that if the agency wanted to continue its mission of serving men returning from prison it would have grow in order to compete for donors’ dollars. I was not involved during that time and I am afraid that I would not have been able dream as big as this Board of dedicated individuals. They decided there needed to be a new large modern facility that could meet the needs of many more men and provide expanded services. 

In order to do that they made the decision to sell the hallowed old home and adjacent lot on Music Row which had been the hallmark home for Dismas House for 40+ years. That decision alone was a brave one – viewed by some as heresy! The proceeds from the sale of this choice real estate were sufficient to purchase land on Charlotte Avenue in which to build a new large modern facility. Their next decision was to build a 72 bed facility with every detail designed to support the men that Dismas wished to serve.  Everything in and about the facility would be brand new. I cannot fathom the courage and faith these folks had to embark on this multimillion dollar venture at the same time the current model was on the verge of bankruptcy. If you are going to dream, dream big!

The story of the journey to the New Dismas House is one of faith, pain, dreams, determination, and perseverance. This undertaking would be a great case study for any MBA candidate. There is a saying that by the laws of aerodynamics the bumble cannot fly, but it doesn’t know it, so it flies anyway. That is Dismas House – there was no way this project could succeed, but it took flight on the dreams of a few dedicated volunteers.

Dismas Development Committee gathering in September of 2018

Today Dismas House is the premier reentry program with the finest facility in the United States. All because a few people said, “if we are going dream, we’ve got to dream big!”

Thomas H. Stearns – Former Board Chair, Dismas House