Shawnee Mission Faces: Cotton Sivils, VP of Hillcrest Transitional Housing and believer in ‘small miracles’

Cotton Sivils, vice president of development for Hillcrest Transitional Housing, is responsible for securing resources the faith-based organization needs to deliver its transitional housing program, which serves more than 70 homeless families, singles and young adults in the Kansas City metro area, including some in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. He sees their role as helping homeless families fulfill their dreams of self-sufficiency. A short plug for Hillcrest: It still needs volunteers, including “handy guys” who can make quick fixes in the organization’s homes and also help run thrift stores for Hillcrest, like the one at 7824 Quivira Road in Lenexa.

My job is to ask people for help, but you have to ask them in such a way that they understand what it means to help us.

It’s a transformative experience to go through the program.

I feel like my job is to help people and to connect resource with need. And I’m very consistent with that on a daily basis in everything that I do. It looks different a little bit here and there, but as I go throughout my day, the good Lord watches out for fools and small children, and I’m sort of guided through my day and I show up where I’m supposed to be. And if we need some piece of resource, it tends to show up. I get to see those aspects of faith, little miracles, on a regular basis.

When someone completes the Hillcrest program, we hold a graduation; it’s a day of great celebration. Many times their families can be reunified, because our residents tend to come to us because they make bad choices. So as they begin to demonstrate making those better choices, their family members can reconnect with them and sometimes, custody of their children can be restored because the courts will recognize that they’re making better choices. We’re looking for the families who want to change.

And when we hold the graduation, we invite them to share a little bit of their story with the support community that’s helped them to graduate from the program.

The residents don’t see the apartment before they move in. So this one resident had moved in. She was kind of close-mouthed, she was quiet. When invited, all of a sudden she becomes talkative. She said she walked into this apartment that was fully furnished with everything you need to set up a household. Each of her children had their own bed. The church had brought flowers. They’d stocked the refrigerator. They brought a hot meal, and they left her a note welcoming her into the program.

She started to tear up, and the case manager said are you OK? And she goes, people that I don’t know have prepared a place for me. This must be like what Jesus does for us in heaven.

The end game for staff and myself is if we’re able to get Mom stabilized and get her into a place of her own, we’ve changed the lives of her kids forever. That’s generational and very rare in the nonprofit world.