Frohwein eager to assume House of Compassion duties

Armed with years of experience in human services, a bright smile and hearty laugh, Karen Frohwein of State Center knows the buck stops with her Feb. 1.

That is when she assumes control of day-to-day operations at Marshalltown’s House of Compassion.

Since 1994, the not-for-profit organization, 211 W. Church St., has offered daily evening meals, a homeless shelter, household and personal products, prescription and rent vouchers, school supplies and other services to those in need, all at one location.

Frohwein began training Jan. 2 with outgoing director Jean Bergen of Marshalltown, whose last day is Jan. 31.

Bergen announced her retirement in December having served16-plus years.

“Jean’s showed me a lot and certainly set an example that is going to be hard to follow,” Frohwein said. “But, I’m looking forward to it … meeting people … the volunteers … and getting to know some of the folks we serve.”

Frohwein knew the House of Compassion was heavily used, and her three-week training period reinforced that fact.

Demands for services have increased significantly since 2008, as central Iowans worked to rebound from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The homeless, poor, unemployed and underemployed came to the facility by the hundreds and 2012 was no exception.

Effective Nov. 30 approximately 24,500 individuals used the facility’s three primary services – homeless shelter, soup kitchen and supply closet.

Bergen said many people use House of Compassion resources when they are “in-between” employment for places to live, and after help from staff, the facility has many “success” stories to tell.

Frohwein was excited to discuss her first.

“Two men from Florida came to Marshalltown with promises of employment,” she said. “Upon arrival, they learned the jobs were gone. The men stayed at the shelter. Within two weeks they had jobs, and a week later they had an apartment. They came back here to volunteer and peeled potatoes for us and they’ll be back to help with other jobs.”

Frohwein said a strong volunteer base and donations from the public, business community and others make it possible to serve so many so frequently.

“One of my goals is to make sure volunteers are appreciated,” she said. “Additionally, I want to expand the volunteer base. We have many who have been with us a long time. My biggest job is to support them.”

Frohwein said volunteers – many from churches – come from Marshalltown, Conrad, Gladbrook, Grundy Center, State Center and other central Iowa communities.

“The churches should be the driving force here,” Frohwein said. “It started out that way … and the churches need to be out in the community. They receive God’s gifts and take them out in the community. We have a good group of churches that come (to help) … and we are always looking for more.”

Currently the House of Compassion operates on an annual budget of $168,000 with Frohwein and part-time assistant Andi Walker the only paid employees.

A volunteer board of directors, chaired by Sharon Olson of Marshalltown, sets policy and staff implement it.

Bergen said having enough funds to provide the needed services has been “touch and go” every year since its founding, but creation of its Keystone Foundation several years ago has the potential, if sizable enough, to potentially alleviate some year-to-year concerns.

“We set up the foundation after we were bequeathed a gift of $125,000,” Bergen said. “We currently receive $7,000 or $8,000 a year from the foundation for operations depending on the stock market. The long term goal is to receive $50,000 a year from the foundation. We have a long, long ways to go to get to that point. That is why we encourage donations to the Keystone Fund as well as to our other programs.”

Frohwein said she is anxious to promote the House of Compassion.

“I’m anxious to get out there … I’ll talk to anybody,” she said.