MORRIS – We Care of Grundy County began as a true grassroots movement. Shirley Kiss didn't found the organization, but she became integral to it shortly after moving to Morris and was in charge when the organization was formed 40 years ago.
Her stamp is on the organization in many ways — and one that surprised Executive Director Eric Fisher.
"She told me our number is her old home phone number," he said. It was a legacy from when the organization was run out of the homes of dedicated people who began the work of We Care. "It really started in her kitchen."
This Thursday, We Care of Grundy County will be holding an open house to celebrate 40 years since incorporation and to celebrate Shirley Kiss' birthday.
"I can't quantify how many lives have been touched by this since 1979," Fisher said.
Fisher said that, in many ways, the organization has fulfilled Kiss' dream. She wanted to bring as many social services as possible under one roof, and We Care does have many in the area.
We Care partners with the Salvation Army and Easter Seals and is a United Way community partner. It's worked with Habitat for Humanity and formed strong relationships with Morris Hospital.
"Throughout all of the changes, we stayed true to that vision of 40 years ago," Fisher said. That vision was helping people.
In the past year, Fisher said the organization has provided more than 4,500 people with food, more than 4,100 with clothing, 130 people with rent and mortgage help and 76 people with utility assistance. It has also helped 55 people with the Salvation Army's Pathways of Hope program, provided for 343 gifts for children for Christmas and helped 254 students with school supplies.
Fisher said people will often call for help, and, while We Care can't provide it themselves, they will try to find that help.
It goes back to those phone calls.
"One phone call could generate 10 phone calls behind the scenes," Fisher said. He estimated hundreds of hours spent helping people navigate the resources out there.
"It just dawned on us how huge an impact this service is," Fisher said.
The open house will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, at We Care of Grundy County, located at 530 Bedford Road in Morris.