A life-changing experience that Eugene Cuff is enjoying at the Kearney Center began at the Greyhound station.
He landed in Tallahassee after finding himself down on his luck in St. Louis. For 24 hours he wandered near the bus station until he ran into a Kearney Center client, who told him about the facility for the homeless.
Cuff, 53, checked in for one night, but seven months later he is still there. With help from the center’s staff, he has since gotten a CDL truck driving license and is taking classes at Tallahassee Community College.
“My situation went from despair to where I have hope,” Cuff said. “Knowing that I have accomplished this; coming from nowhere is just a good feeling.”
The Kearney Center has been a temporary home for thousands since it opened in 2015. The center is the vision of millionaire philanthropist Rick Kearney, who for more than 20 years has made the fight against homelessness his mission.
The center’s mission has made it the Capital Outlook’s 2017 Organization of the Year.
Since opening the center, Kearney has built Westgate, an extended stay apartment complex, and recently opened The Dwellings tiny homes. Both facilities are for people who have improved their condition while being housed at the Kearney Center.
Admittedly, Kearney could have chosen to enjoy his life without the undertaking of the center. However, when he did volunteer work while serving in the Navy he had a close up look at poverty when he worked with individuals who were close to being homeless.
“I realized it’s a lot more about how we take care of others as opposed to how we take care of ourselves and our families,” Kearney said. “We go to the gym, to work, Target or Publix and these folks are not there. It’s sort of out of sight, out of mind but they are clearly there.
“They are struggling day to day to eat, stay warm, and take care of their kids. And, their only friend is their dog. They are just living in the moment, trying to regain some sort of hope and self respect.”
Kearney, an Indianapolis, Ind., native who spent four years in the Navy, worked at IBM for six years after leaving the service. But before he left IBM, the company moved him to Tallahassee.
His first act as a philanthropist was to form Good News Outreach to help the needy. That lasted six years before he started a family and the reality of having to provide for them settled in. He returned to IBM, a move that took him off his path of working with the homeless for 20 years.
He returned and opened the Renaissance Center on Tennessee Street, adjacent to The Shelter. A partnership eventually unfolded before the city condemned the Shelter.
By then, Kearney Center was up and running. Residents not only get a comfortable place to stay, but the center provides assistance with the essentials for living some semblance of a wholesome life.
Residents have dental, health care and a lengthy list of services that includes assistance with required paperwork for receiving government assistance such as food stamps and other benefits.
Herribert Jeune is one of those beneficiaries. Homelessness comes with plenty of stresses, said Jeune, 63.
He gives back by volunteering as a chef in the kitchen at the center. He considers it his reprieve in what he calls one of the most difficult times of his life.
“I come here and I meet different kinds of people but I have to make myself calm,” he said.
Neither Cuff nor Jeune has met Rick Kearney. However, both were grateful for his generosity of the Kearney Center.
“It was like a net,” Cuff said. “I fell in and it’s holding me up. Through their services, I’m where I am today.”