Marshalltown's homeless - and those down on their luck - will be losing an ally and a friend.
Jean Bergen, House of Compassion director, announced her resignation effective Jan. 31, after 16 years of service.
Since 1994, the not-for-profit organization at 211 W. Church St., has offered daily evening meals, a homeless shelter, household and personal products, prescription and rent vouchers, school supplies and other free-of-charge services to those in need, all at one location.
T-R FILE PHOTO
House of Compassion Director Jean Bergen is shown reviewing a House of Compassion report in this 2009 file photo. Bergen recently announced her resignation effective Jan. 31 after 16 years of service. Karen Frohwein of State Center was selected to replace Bergen and will begin Jan. 2.
But the homeless and those less fortunate can find some solace in knowing Bergen will periodically volunteer at the facility's soup kitchen and will be working on their behalf elsewhere.
Bergen credited her faith, prayer, and a strong commitment to helping those in need as critical in helping her rise to daily challenges.
"I've always loved working with people in poverty," she said. "It has been a passion. I grew up poor without realizing it."
Over time the strong-willed, yet personable Bergen quickly became synonymous with the organization.
"Jean Bergen is the House of Compassion," said Sharon Olson, current board president and Bergen's friend.
Olson is completing her fourth year on the board.
"Jean's faith, and love for people who are struggling have enabled her and the HoC to succeed ... I'm going to miss her dearly as director, but will love having her available more as a friend."
Bergen was working as a telemarketer when the HoC board advertised for its first-ever paid position.
"I prayed and prayed to get the answer if I should even apply," she said. "These decisions are always God's decisions. So to have been hired was really a blessing for me. It has been a mission for me."
Rev. Gregg Davison of Marshalltown's Trinity Lutheran Church was board president when Bergen was hired.
"Jean was the right person at the right time," he said. "Her qualifications, and commitment to God, faith and to serve those in need made her stand out head and shoulders above other applicants."
Davison cited another segment of Bergen's skill set.
"Jean has the right kind of personality ... she can reach out to those who need help and develop a game plan so they can move forward."
Bergen once succinctly defined the organization's mission:
"Our goal is to keep people healthy by offering them medical assistance, giving them a few hygienic products and to feed them. That is what we can do really well and if they are still homeless they can come to the overnight shelter."
Demands on the not-for-profit organization's resources has increased exponentially since 2008 as central Iowa works to rebound from a sluggish economy.
Yet, the HoC has been the place of last resort for many this year as well.
Effective Nov. 30, approximately 24,500 individuals used HoC's three primary services - homeless shelter, soup kitchen and supply closet.
Previously, services were provided by a host of volunteers from churches and civic clubs at several locations before centralized at HoC.
One of Bergen's tasks after being hired was to coordinate all in one location and solicit a reliable volunteer base to effectively deliver the needed services.
Andi Walker of Marshalltown was hired one year ago to assist Bergen, who, for many years was the only paid staffer.
"Jean has been great to work with," Walker said.
As her time is drawing to a close, Bergen, as always, acknowledged the generosity of central Iowans.
"The Marshalltown area has been extremely benevolent to the HoC since its founding," Bergen said. "Be it volunteering, or donations, the community has helped us fulfill our mission, and for that we are grateful and say thank you."
Only God knows what the future for her holds, she said.
"I've always wanted to be a doctor, so I may consider a volunteer position in the health field," she said.
Karen Frohwein of State Center was hired to succeed Bergen and will begin Jan. 2.
An open house to celebrate Bergen's service and retirement will be scheduled sometime in January, Olson said.
"We'll contact media outlets and churches with the event date and details so that the community can come and thank Jean."