Giving Back: Gatehouse Grapevine

How community and business built a 96-apartment center for abused women and children in Grapevine.

Lisa and Matt Rose were looking for ways to be more purposeful about their charitable giving several years ago when they were pitched an idea. To hear about it, Matt Rose had to agree to sit through one of those dinners. “Honestly,” Rose, executive chairman of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, says, “there are a lot of people who have ideas for your money.”

The idea: a center where abused women and children displaced from their homes could heal in safety and follow a two-year path to being self-supportive. The pitch struck the couple. Lisa Rose had founded a Grapevine women’s group that put on personal and professional workshops, and she volunteered at the Dallas jail and GRACE, a Grapevine nonprofit that helps people in need. But she was looking for something with greater impact. She and her husband were also contemplating how much wealth to leave to their children, ages 28 and 30. “Our family wanted to be intentional about our giving,” she says. “We want to see it work.”

“We have been very blessed by my job and the wealth we’ve achieved, and we really don’t want to leave it all to our kids,” Matt Rose says. “And so, all this collided at about the same time.”

With the Roses working their contacts and Lisa Rose on board as president and top staff member, Gatehouse Grapevine opened in 2015 with 96 apartments and several other buildings on 61 acres in Grapevine on the west side of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Amenities include a chapel, sports court, advising and community centers, and trails. More than two years in, the faith-based program is yielding results. Families are completing it and able to move out, and the first “graduation” ceremony is in early September. Gatehouse is growing an endowment to cover half of operating costs.

Gatehouse’s ascent has been a story of how community and business came together to build what they think could be a national model. The capital campaign raised the $31 million construction costs in 18 months. The Roses donated the land. Individuals, corporations, foundations and churches piled on.

Executive director Deborah Lyons

“The Gatehouse is now past the point of having to introduce ourselves,” says Deborah Lyons, Gatehouse’s executive director, who wrote the independent life program Gatehouse is built on and managed a transitional housing program at GRACE. Lyons was the one who pitched the Gatehouse idea to the Roses. “Women are graduating. Children are being healed. People know who we are. We view this as a prototype. Within five years, we’ll have the stats we need to present a global picture on outcomes. We believe it will be a pretty picture.”

Gatehouse says it has 25 graduates so far and has supported 301 women and children since inception. The average stay has been 19 months, says Lisa Rose. “I really think it’s God working,” she says. “It’s a place and a program for permanent change. It’s working, but it’s going to take all of us as a community.”

The Gatehouse plan grew quickly from Lyons’ original vision of 24 apartments. Bruce Benner, the Fort Worth architect, contributed his services. Donors quickly understood the concept, Matt Rose says.

“They really wanted to know one question: How much are you in for?" he says. "And Lisa’s intent was to be there. That’s when people said we’re willing to partner with you. People in business intuitively know they’re blessed to be here.” About 40 percent of contributions today come from individuals, the largest source of support, Gatehouse says.

Matt and Lisa Rose

“We’re all in”  The Roses haven’t said publicly how much they’ve given; Lisa Rose does not take a salary. “We’re all in,” Matt Rose said. “This is our No. 1, 2, and 3 issue.”

One of Gatehouse’s numerous unusual aspects is that it’s not an emergency shelter. Potential residents – Gatehouse uses the word “member” – are typically referred by police, family, churches or other organizations. Gatehouse says it works with more than 60 referring agencies. Members often come from shelters or affluent homes, thrown into poverty by divorce. Most were abused. “They’re having to flee,” Lyons says.

Applicants must be able to work (Gatehouse requires its members to work, at least part-time if  in school), be willing to participate in Gatehouse’s program, and have no violent felony background. The application process takes about a month to receive a decision by Gatehouse.

“They’ve had goals, they’ve accomplished goals, and now a crisis arose, and they’re having to get back on their feet,” Lyons says. The process is “very intrusive. We’re learning so much about this person from what they say, and so much from what they don’t say.”

Gatehouse eschews words like client and case, in favor of referring to residents as members, viewing the former as demeaning, and it uses terms like self-supportive instead of self-sufficient, a nod to God's power. “We’re a faith-based organization,” Lyons says. “No one can really live without Him.”

Lyons’ independent living program has 12 components, including work, education, financial, health, legal, and transportation. Members live in the fully furnished, well-appointed apartments and are given budgets to acquire food and clothing from the onsite General Store and Keeps Boutique. Members spend their first three months in assessment, evaluation and healing. As the program progresses, members visit with their adviser once a week, while continuing their path to self-support, including working or going to school. Primary and secondary schoolchildren attend Grapevine public schools.

A Gatehouse adviser – it has 10 – tailors a two-year plan to each member’s needs. “It takes time to heal,” Lyons says. And if a member lacks adequate education – a gap for most – her adviser will help her enter school. An associate degree, for one, can take two years.

The majority of Gatehouse members have college degrees or some college. “It’s really trying to help them finish what they started,” Leticia Cavazos, Gatehouse’s independent life program manager, says. “It may not be a degree. It may be a certification.”

Texas Health Resources provides medical care, lab work and vaccines to Gatehouse members, and it’s contributed software and 100 licenses to THR's  inhouse career development portal Fuel 50. Lawyers have donated services such as divorce representation; Gatehouse wants to expand that network. Dentists have provided care. Auto dealers and individuals have donated cars Gatehouse gives to members in need.

Besides THR, other major sponsors include the Jones Lang LaSalle commercial real estate firm; IBM, which contributed $200,000 worth of skills assessment software and volunteer hours to help develop Gatehouse’s career program, “HR Circle” of human resources executives, and social media plan; Kimberly-Clark, which contributes paper goods; and Bank of America, whose support includes a $200,000 grant over two years for operations. The  grant includes training for the executive director and other emerging talent.

“What we’re really trying to do is build leadership capacity in the nonprofit,” says Mike Pavell, Bank of America’s Fort Worth market president. Bank of America historically has supported causes in domestic violence and workforce development, he said.

Mike Pavell, Fort Worth market president for Bank of America

Gatehouse has trained more than 1,700 volunteers, including 600-700 considered very active, says Kim Taylor, Gatehouse’s community engagement director. It has 350 volunteer shifts per month. “We are very heavily run by volunteers,” Taylor says.

In the General Store, about 75 percent of the merchandise is donated, estimates Greg Garner, Gatehouse’s operations director. Major donors include Central Market, Kroger, Aldi, and the Tarrant Area Food Bank, which Gatehouse also buys from. Gateway Church donated a refrigerated truck, which opens up the partnerships Gatehouse can pursue.

Kimberly-Clark donates toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, feminine hygiene products, and diapers. “We’ve never bought a diaper,” Garner says. Suppliers like Ben E. Keith and Sysco “work with us on pricing as best they can. We are always strong with everyday items. We get a lot of prepared foods. But we need staples” like condiments, trash bags, laundry items, toiletries, toothpaste, and Band-Aids.

Members get a card with value assigned by their adviser. They use it to shop in the store; as they become more self-supportive, Gatehouse encourages them to shop more at grocery stores.

Greg Garner, operations director

Garner’s responsible for Gatehouse’s relationships with police and fire and auto dealers and mechanics. Constables accompany members to court. Berkshire Hathaway Auto group − parent Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company that owns BNSF, Rose's employer − has put on a golf tourney two years for Gatehouse, last year raising $260,000, which Gatehouse uses to buy cars from Berkshire.

The Keeps Boutique is run by Emily Avedikian, who started the nonprofit 10 years ago at age 15  in the back of her father’s Southlake offices. “I wanted to give clothing,” she says. The first donation she got: 10,000 pieces in a Tulle line, sold at Nordstrom. She let the store go dormant while attending Baylor University. Her parents moved it to Gatehouse, and Avedikian agreed to run it.

The store secured a large gift of clothing from Fashion Delivers, a nonprofit that distributes clothing to the needy. An online baby store closed and shipped 30 boxes of onesies to Gatehouse. Tory Burch gave 1,100 items through a contact of Lisa Rose’s. “Bras and plus-size clothing are our biggest needs,” Avedikian says.

Members are allowed 15 apparel items and five accessories per season, and 10 items during season-ending "sales."

Jerry Haden, career development manager, is one of several longtime friends of Lisa Rose, who now works at Gatehouse. Haden, former HR director for Saks Fifth Avenue in Texas, put her 40 years in HR to use, creating Gatehouse's HR Circle network of HR leaders. Nine Gatehouse members are unemployed, she said. Haden coaches members how to prepare resumes, burnish interview skills and search for jobs. She doesn't hunt jobs for them. "Finding them a job does not help them in the future; they might need to find a new job five years from now."

Emily Avedikian, director, Keeps Boutique

Sustainability: “I worry”  Gatehouse’s leaders are working on sustainability. “I worry about it all the time,” Matt Rose says.

Gatehouse launched an endowment a few years ago with no public goal. “Our goal is to have it take half the operating burden,” now $4.5 million annually, Rose says. The Roses declined to say how much is in the endowment, launched with agreement it wouldn't be tapped for five years. It was formed with $16.4 million in contributions in 2013 and had $18.6 million in assets at the end of 2014, according to its 2015 IRS filing, the most recent available.

Other revenue streams are kicking in. Off-site childcare is one of Gatehouse’s largest costs – “and one of the top barriers that keep women from being self-supportive,” Lisa Rose says – and Gatehouse recently broke ground on a new on-site childcare academy that will comprise 50 percent Gatehouse children and 50 percent community. Premier Academy, a private Christan-based school with several locations in the region, will operate it. “The profit off the community kids should allow the Gatehouse kids to come in at half the expense,” Matt Rose  says.

The academy will solve one problem. “We didn’t realize how many kids would be coming through this program,” he says. Not only did that result in higher-than-expected childcare costs, it also means a number of apartments designed for single members with no kids aren’t occupied.

Seventy of the 96 apartments are occupied; available units include ones for singles and families, Gatehouse said. Sixty-seven women and 98 children live at Gatehouse today. The population is about equally white, black and Hispanics, Lyons said.

Gatehouse also owns a commercial strip center on the property. When fully leased, “it may throw off a couple hundred thousand [dollars] a year to help,” Rose says.

Gatehouse has developed three major fundraising events annually that generate several hundred thousand dollars. Gatehouse also is interested in developing social enterprise on the property.

An old house Gatehouse owns could become home, for one, to a user like a coffee shop or store, Lisa Rose says. She’s looked at models like the noted Thistle Farms in Nashville, Tennessee, where women who’ve emerged from addiction, prostitution or trafficking are employed in social enterprises the organization owns, including a line of body and home products sold in Whole Foods stores.

Gatehouse is looking for an academic interested in analyzing outcomes, Matt Rose says. “The women here have a great opportunity to change their lives. The real thing is the kids. If those kids can get a foundation that prevents them from following in the cycles of abuse, that’s a huge deal.”