Charles Holmes Highlighted in The Lutheran Social Ministries 2019 Annual Report

If you asked LSMNJ donors Charles Holmes and Ken Van Dongen if they think of themselves as heroes in the community, they would quickly say, “no.” But to members of the Camden community who are benefitting from their dedication and commitment, they would call them heroes.

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Faith and giving back were installed in these two LSMNJ board members at an early age. And it’s these values that led them to their roles as board members and active donors with LSMNJ.

Van Dongen, a retired vice president in the financial industry, is in his second term as a member of the LSMNJ Board of Trustees and currently holds the vice chair position. He came to know of LSMNJ as a volunteer for Lutheran Disaster Recovery in the years that followed Superstorm Sandy. He participated in the organization’s Hand-in-Hand volunteer days, helping people get back into their homes and businesses. “While many times we didn’t meet the homeowners, we still knew that putting up drywall, painting, or building a retaining wall, would help someone get back into their home. People were devastated, we helped ease their pain,” said Van Dongen.

Both Van Dongen and Holmes, an accountant and founding partner of his own firm, focus much of their volunteer efforts on the H.E.R.O. (Housing/ Hope; Employment/Education; Recovery/Resilience; Opportunities) program and its work at LSM of Camden, an affordable family housing community of 89 townhomes in North Camden. Van Dongen led a workshop for residents, sharing his financial knowledge to provide guidance and tips for managing money. “I’ve met some of the participants and they’re great people,” explained Van Dongen. “They need some coaching and encouragement. This program provides them with that and with hope for their future.”

Holmes was quick to step forward to contribute when he learned a new food pantry was being organized for the residents in Camden. He helped by donating funds to purchase food storage equipment, which allowed for frozen and refrigerated items to be distributed. Craig Roscoe, H.E.R.O Program and Services Manager, explains, “Often our residents have to make the difficult decision to either pay their electric bill or put food on the table to feed their family. The food pantry we opened has helped them eliminate one struggle. We are so grateful to donors, like Mr. Holmes, who understand that every dollar makes a difference to those who are struggling to remain self-sufficient.”

Holmes agrees with Van Dongen on the importance of the H.E.R.O. program. “This program touches the lives of so many and is impactful to the families in our housing programs,” adds Holmes. “It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to help build a better community for these individuals.”

For his work with the Camden community and other initiatives he has been a part of over the years, Holmes said he feels a sense of spiritual fulfillment “because I feel that God requires you to give back your time, resources and talents. Hence, the reason I’m involved with LSMNJ and other non-profits serving the less fortunate. In my opinion, God has blessed me to be a blessing to others.”

Both gentlemen like to spread the word about LSMNJ’s mission, whether with family (Van Dongen’s son is now a donor), friends, their religious congregations or business associates. “There’s so many ways to get involved. The staff can always find you an opportunity to help and volunteer,” said Van Dongen. “And, it’s a great way to learn more about various aspects of social work, things that can expand your skill set.”

And for Holmes, “If you are looking for an organization to give your time and resources to help people, then LSMNJ is the place to get involved. It is well managed and has great leadership from the top.”

Both donors look forward to continuing their service to the community and feel that with most not-for-profits, they could do so much more if they had more resources. “So, we need to maximize what we can do, in the most efficient manner and figure out how can we help the most people with what we have,” added Van Dongen. “That’s the question that I work at helping to answer.”