Celebrating 20 years of, “Opening Doors” as Executive Director

Judy Eakin has made an enormously positive impact on homelessness in the Pittsburgh community while serving as Executive Director of HEARTH for the past 20 years.

In 1995, HEARTH began “Opening Doors for Families in Crisis”. In October 1996, Judy Eakin became the Executive Director. Ms. Eakin’s passion for the mission, hard work and exceptional leadership has enabled her to build a highly effective organization that has truly transformed the lives of families fleeing domestic violence and experiencing homelessness.

Since opening, HEARTH’s transitional housing program has been a beacon of light for not only for victims of domestic violence, women with mental health issues and women recovering from substance abuse but their children as well. Ms. Eakin’s strong programmatic knowledge and ability to motivate and inspire staff members and volunteers has created a program with unduplicated success.

In 2009 under Ms. Eakin’s leadership, the agency expanded from providing transitional housing to opening the first permanent affordable housing program in Northern Allegheny County, HEARTH at Benet Woods and operating a permanent housing program for homeless mothers with disabilities called P.R.I.D.E. – Providing Residents the opportunity for Independence, Dignity and Economic stability. Both of these programs were created to address unmet needs in the community.

For it’s first 16 years, HEARTH operated out of St. Benedict’s Hall in Ross Township, leasing space from the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh. In the fall of 2009, Ms. Eakin learned the sisters had placed the property on the market and HEARTH would need to find a new home by June of 2011. Ms. Eakin began a strategic planning process with the Board of Directors to discuss HEARTH’s future. After searching for months, Ms. Eakin suggested they look at property in Shaler Township. A large main building had been used for human service programs in the past and the location met all programming requirements. Trek Development agreed to work with Ms. Eakin using the good bones of the building and morphing it into HEARTH’s needs.

Within 9 months, $5.9 million in government funding had been secured but the government funding was not enough. HEARTH needed to raise an additional $1.5 million of private funds to complete the project and cover administrative costs. Once again, Ms. Eakin pulled together a team, this time, a capital campaign team to meet the private funding goal. HEARTH’s past programming success and Ms. Eakin’s persuasive communication skills were instrumental in HEARTH securing $1.4 million in pledges toward the capital campaign in just 18 months.

Less than two years after leaving its home of 16 years and moving to temporary quarters, HEARTH moved into a permanent home of its own. The building can now serve 20 families, five more that in its previous location.

What at first seemed to be a nightmare for the agency turned into a dream, in no small part due to Ms. Eakin’s efforts. She has lead, inspired, comforted, and reassured the staff, the Board of Directors and the families in HEARTH’s program during each situation. Including the current situation facing HEARTH – the loss of federal funding.

It is because of her, the agency moved into a permanent location, never to be evicted again. It is because of her, the agency moved from serving 15 families to 20. It is because of her, staff has remained employed with the agency. It is because of her tireless efforts, HEARTH will continue “Opening Doors for Families in Crisis,” for many years to come. It is because of her, HEARTH will overcome the loss of federal funding and will come out stronger than ever.

Former President of the Board of Directors, current Board Member and long time HEARTH friend Barb Smith has said, “Without Judy’s drive, leadership and plain old hard work, homeless families would not have the opportunity to transform their lives.”