A note from Anne Daly: During my summer as Traust’s social media and marketing intern, I was continually impressed by the company’s commitment to the Twin Cities community. Traust supports a variety of organizations, including the Pine Bend Association, University of Minnesota, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, and Magnum Chorum. Recently, I sat down with CEO Mark Peterson to learn more about his corporate philanthropic philosophy, and to find out more about one of the causes he’s most involved with – House of Charity in Minneapolis.

I start off with what I think is an easy question, asking Peterson to describe his philosophy on giving back. As he begins speaking, he turns my terminology around and talks about “giving forward” instead. Curious, I ask him about the distinction.

“I like ‘giving forward,’” he says, “because it’s forward-looking.” Giving back, he says, sounds more negative, and suggests backwards movement rather than progress.

As Peterson tells me about House of Charity, it becomes clear this organization is a good match for his philosophy of “giving forward.” In addition to meeting immediate needs with a food centre, House of Charity also has the longer-term goal of empowering independence in its clients. The food centre, Peterson tells me, serves as the “360 degree beacon” that provides those in need with a warm meal in a safe and respectful environment. From there, other services and programs pick up where the food centre leaves off.

House of Charity is a Housing First Provider, I learn, a national approach that “emphasizes stable, permanent housing as a primary strategy for ending homelessness.” At the local level, the Hennepin County Housing First Partnership targets individuals who “have been homeless for a long time, are extremely low income, and have a disability that prevents them from working.” As Peterson explains, “one of the lessons learned in the past ten or twenty years is that if someone does not have access to stable and safe housing, it’s hard to build from there.”

Changing gears, I ask Peterson about some of his most memorable experiences at House of Charity. There is a long pause, and it is clear picking just a few is a difficult task. Graduations, he decides, of people from House of Charity’s housing program or chemical dependency program, always make an impact, although he clarifies that these aren’t always straightforward success stories – sometimes he will see the same person go through a program numerous times. Still, Peterson acknowledges, “in this area, you don’t always have success.” But it’s clear Peterson believes the effort is valuable nonetheless.

In addition to making House of Charity a priority in his personal life, Peterson has also brought this passion to Traust. The company supports House of Charity with financial contributions and volunteer hours. I ask Peterson about this corporate commitment.

“You know,” he reflects, “to remain motivated in your professional life, after a while, goes beyond chasing a dream, or bringing home a paycheck. What gets me out of bed in the morning,” he says, “is the opportunity to help someone else do better, to experience success and achieve something they never thought they could do.”

At House of Charity, Peterson has found an opportunity to live out this mission. However, there is plenty of work left to do. In March 2016, House of Charity launched an initiative to raise $23 million – $5 million in private capital and $18 million in government funds – for the construction of a new building. This building will include 65 affordable housing units, expanded mental and chemical health services, a new food centre, and upgrades needed for the current House of Charity building. Right now, Peterson tells me, he and other volunteers are “planting the seed” with potential corporate and foundation funding sources about House of Charity and what they hope to achieve. Hopefully, he says, some of those seeds will soon take root with pledged dollars allowing construction to begin in early 2018.

For more information about House of Charity, visit http://www.houseofcharity.org/.

To donate to House of Charity’s capital campaign, visit http://www.houseofcharity.org/donate  and select “capital campaign” under “please direct my donation to.”

To learn more about Traust’s community engagement, visit the Traust website.