Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, St. Joseph-Ogden graduate ROB DALHAUS III, executive director of C-U at Home, chats about homelessness in C-U, his growing family and more.
Tell us about your work with C-U at Home.
In my current role as executive director, I spend much of my time working on fundraising and other community and donor relations. We seek to offer encouragement, love, compassion and grace to our friends without an address coupled with empowerment and dignity. I’ve been with the ministry for just over three years and have been working with folks in homeless situations since 2013 while working as a crisis clinician and getting my first taste of poverty, mental health issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc. In all the jobs I have had, this is by far the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.
How did you get involved with the organization initially?
While serving as the TIMES Center Supervisor, I found out about the managing director position with C-U at Home. I was impressed with the history of the ministry and the passion displayed by its founder, Melany Jackson. Her “all-in” faith sparked a fire in me and led me to apply (along with encouragement from my wife, of course). I was hired and started in September of 2016 in that role. In April of 2017, after Melany announced she was following a call from God out to Colorado, the board voted to have me take over as Executive Director effective on August 1st, 2017.
What are some challenges that you see for area homeless and those in poverty, and how are you helping solve them?
Two of the biggest issues I hear from our friends on the street are, 1) “I don’t have any money” and 2) “I don’t have a place to stay.” So, what we have done is try to fill both of those gaps through the C-U at Work program and the emergency shelter. By partnering with the City of Champaign Township office, we are able to offer the C-U at Work program and give our friends a chance to work up to two four-hour shifts each week and get paid cash at the end of those shifts. Now, instead of panhandling or doing illegal activity for money, our friends are being empowered to work and receive the dignity that comes from working and receiving payment. Also, through the emergency shelter, we are able to provide those in need a place to stay out of the elements during the winter. You can’t imagine how heartbreaking it is when someone calls asking for shelter and (when no shelter was available) having to tell that person that there is nothing available in our community. As we look to bring year-round shelter back to the community and continue to expand our work program, we are helping to solve these two massive challenges of lack of money and lack of shelter.
Anything new this year with One Winter’s Night?
This will be our second year with the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum serving as our HQ location. We will also have expanded live music this year beginning at headquarters at 5:30 p.m. Our goal this year is higher than ever, set at $350,000. This increase is due to the ministry bringing on the men’s emergency shelter under our umbrella of services and partnering with Austin’s Place in 2020 as we look to bring year-round men’s and women’s shelter services back to C-U for the first time in nearly 20 years. We are also encouraging groups to get involved this year and experience the event together! This could include school groups, small groups at churches, etc.
What’s your typical morning like?
When I don’t have early morning meetings, I get to wake up and make coffee for my wife, get breakfast ready for my two kiddos (ages 5 and 2). Then I will help get the kids ready for school. It’s usually pretty hectic around the house with two young kids and since we have a third one on the way, I’m sure it will be getting more hectic come February. I do have a lot of early morning meetings including board meetings, opportunities to present at various organizations and groups, donor relation meetings, as well as checking text messages and emails to see if there is anything I need to know about prior to heading into the office.
What’s it really like to be homeless in Champaign-Urbana?
There are a lot of negative stereotypes associated with someone in a “homeless” situation but I am always amazed at the camaraderie and support some of our friends offer to each other. Many of our friends on the street will watch each other’s backs to ensure nothing bad happens. For the most part, it’s a tight-knit group of individuals. As far as services available, there could always be more but many of the basics are covered in our community. Food is provided by the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, local churches, the food banks and others, clothing is offered through Salt and Light, the Salvation Army, Empty Tomb and others, winter emergency shelters are provided by Austin’s Place and C-U at Home, transitional housing is offered through C-U at Home, Restoration Urban Ministries and others, housing vouchers are offered through Regional Planning Commission, and the faith community continues to support the homeless initiatives in powerful ways! I’m certainly not saying living on the street is easy, but we are blessed to have several of the basics covered in our community. I would say a huge need currently is having a year-round emergency shelter which we haven’t had in our community for well over a decade.
What should I do when I’m approached and asked for money on the street?
I get this question a lot and, in my opinion, the best thing you can do in that situation is offer that person a smile and ask them how they are doing today. I’ve heard from some of our friends on the street that that little piece of human interaction means more to them than the dollar you may be getting ready to hand them. If you are approached, I suggest asking the person if they have heard of C-U at Home and direct them to 70 E. Washington St. in Champaign for further services. Don’t feel obligated to give someone money but if you feel God is laying it on your heart to do something kind for that person, don’t ignore that feeling.
How did helping the less fortunate become your cause? Did you have an experience that led you to help the homeless?
I graduated from Wabash College in 2011 with a bachelor’s in psychology, and if you had told me that eight years later I would be serving in the capacity I am now with a homelessness ministry, I’d have told you that you were crazy. This is totally different than what I thought I would be doing with my life but as always happens, I had a plan and God had a better one. Back in college, I took one of those aptitude tests and I scored high in the “helping people” categories but I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. Now, having been working closely with this amazing group of people who live on the streets, I know right where I’m supposed to be. Every day I get to go to work and while I may not know what new challenges are in store for me that day, I know there will be someone who needs our help and we get the opportunity to change their lives for the better.
How did you end up in Champaign?
I graduated from St. Joseph-Ogden High School in 2007 and from Wabash College in 2011. After graduation, I had no job offers and no prospects, so I came home with a big fancy degree and my tail between my legs and got a part-time job at Menards in Champaign.
Tell us about your family.
I’ll start with my wife and children. My wife, Jess, is incredibly supportive and picks up so much of the slack at home when I have early mornings and late nights. She is incredible and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without her. We have a 5-year-old son named Emmett and a 2-year-old daughter named Bridget. My daughter Bridget was born the morning after One Winter Night in 2017. Let’s just say that was a long but very joyful night! We also have another baby on the way due on February 26th, 2020! My parents still reside in St. Joe and have always been incredibly supportive. My dad showed me what it meant to work hard and my mom has always been my spiritual rock; encouraging me with scripture and helping me through hard times. I also have a 22-year-old sister who resides in Fulton, Mo., working on her master’s degree and we had a blast growing up together!What do you like to do in your spare time?
While I don’t have a lot of spare time, I love to play golf and spend time with my wife and kids. Lounging around, watching movies, or reading books with my children is such a blessing!
Who would you consider your mentor and how have they influenced you?
When I think of professional mentors, aside from my parents, I think about our C-U at Home board of directors, especially our board president, Mike Royse. Throughout my three plus years at C-U at Home, Mike has given me an incredible amount of wisdom and perspective. Through multiple trials and opportunities for growth to mountaintop experiences, Mike continues to offer biblical perspective and reminding me that at the end of the day, God has everything under control.
Other than C-U at Home, what are some of the ways you are involved in the community?
I had the privilege of serving on the “C-U Men’s Emergency Shelter” for the past three years, I’m a member of the Continuum of Service Providers to the Homeless, my wife and I coached our son’s tee ball team last summer, I’ve been blessed to be a part of the United Way’s Battle of the Paddle for the past two years, and being a part of the development discussion with Austin’s Place as we look to expand women’s emergency shelter.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
Launching the C-U at Work program with the City of Champaign township office was wonderful as well as hitting our fundraising goal at One Winter Night 2019. But more than those, I think my proudest professional moments are seeing our friends on the street succeed and believing in themselves that they have value and can have a positive impact on society. Watching our friends seek spiritual growth and ask questions about faith makes me feel like I’m doing what God put me on this earth to do; make a lasting impact for His glory for as long as I am here.
Favorite sports team?
This is an easy one; I love the St. Louis Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers.
What would you order for your last meal?
I’m a pretty simple guy; Domino’s pizza.
What’s the happiest memory of your life?
Has to be marrying my wife and being present for the birth of our two (soon to be three) children.
What’s your best piece of advice?
The best piece of advice I could give would probably have to be, “Life comes at you fast. Pray hard, be ready, ask God what He is trying to teach you through any situation, and don’t be concerned with whether or not you get the credit.”
The best piece of advice I’ve been given is probably a concept from my mother. When I would be going through a difficult situation or trial, she would always tell me that there was something God wanted to teach me during that struggle. Life can be hard and if I continued to have the struggle multiple times, maybe there was something else God wanted to teach me that I missed the first time. It’s like in a video game; you can’t go to the next level if you haven’t completed the previous one. That wisdom has always stuck with me and reminded me to stay grounded and learn as much as possible through every trial.
What was your first job, and how much did you make?
I guess technically my first job was a camp counselor in St. Joe for a summer youth camp called “Summer Daze.” I can’t remember how much I made but I’m sure it had to be minimum wage; whatever that was back in 2004. After college, my first job was working on the Block Wall in the outside yard at Menards making $8.75/hour.
What was a pivotal decision in your career, and how did you arrive at that decision?
After having been on the Block Wall at Menards for just a few months, I found out that the building materials department was hiring for the position of “2nd Assistant Department Manager.” I talked with the department manager, Chad Rothe, and he encouraged me to apply; said it would be a good step for me. At first, I decided not to because it wasn’t exactly the career path I had in mind. However, after consulting with my fiancée (now wife), she encouraged me to go for it as it would provide me some managerial experience. And she was right -- I learned so much from Chad and am confident that experience was a building block for where I am now. At only 23 years old at the time, I got an opportunity from Chad, and I’m extremely grateful. Through prayer and consultation with my wife, I have been able to make many similar decisions over the years.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
Take a step back, pray, seek wise counsel, and make the best decision possible. Always respond and never react.
What was an inspirational or transitional moment for you?
After a few months at Menards, I was in the mezzanine break room, weeping and filled with anger toward myself and God. I didn’t feel that I had received all the wealth and happiness that I had been told was supposed to accompany a college degree. I realize now that in that moment, God was humbling me and preparing me for something bigger; I just couldn’t see it yet. This raw, emotional moment inspires me as it reminds me never to lose faith even when I can’t see the whole picture.
What drives you?
While I only have 30 years of life experience, I have witnessed firsthand how fast life is and how we are not guaranteed tomorrow. The book of Romans says that one day each of us will stand before God and give an account for what we have done in our lives that was lasting. Life is short and we should count each day as a blessing ... as a chance to influence others in a positive, God-honoring way ... as a chance to make a lasting impact. What drives me is knowing that I only have a small amount of time to have influence in my marriage, with my children, and within my community to serve “the least of these.” I want to make every moment count and one day be able to stand before God and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”