A history lesson

If you watched the video for the Southwest Airlines LUV Grants for Good competition, you saw our new building which we happily purchased last year.  And you also know that it needs a lot of work and how important that $25,000 will be to  the future of Good Mews.  So I thought it was a good time to revisit the past.  Following is an article that was published in our newsletter, Purrs and Prattlings, back in 2008 to commemorate our 20th anniversary.

 

In the 1980s, our founder, Gloria Skeen, was working as a flight attendant. One night, after a long trip, she returned home to find a shivering cat on her front step. “She was the most beautiful little cat I’d ever seen,” Gloria recalls.  Although she had always been more of a “dog person,” she took Sara into her home, reminiscing how “she marched right into my house and my heart.”

After rescuing Sara, Gloria became more aware of the plight of unwanted animals in the Atlanta area. She read an article in Cat Fancy about Tree House Animal Foundation, a cage-free, no-kill shelter in Chicago. Inspired by the article, she called the shelter to set up a visit, determined to learn as much as she could in order to start a similar shelter in Atlanta. Studying every aspect of how Tree House functioned, she quickly learned that good intentions were not enough to operate a shelter and that it was much more involved than simply saving and housing animals.

She started asking everyone she met for advice and took classes from the United Way on forming a non-profit organization. While preparing her application for a 501(c) 3 status, Gloria asked her neighbor, Sally McDowell, if she would help form a Board of Directors. After soliciting a few volunteers, Gloria called the very first board meeting to order. Only Sally showed up but she made it worthwhile— the shelter’s name, Good Mews, was her creation!

In 1988, Good Mews was granted non-profit status. The first fund-raiser was a flea market held in a Steak & Shake parking lot. The event made $2,200 and officially Good Mews was up and running. Gloria had originally intended to wait until she had a proper facility before she started accepting cats. She wanted, as she was advised, to do it right. But with just one fund-raiser and no one willing to rent her a facility, she made the decision to start taking homeless cats into her condo. She moved her living area to her sunroom and turned her master bedroom suite into a make- shift shelter.

In 1990, through word of mouth, Gloria found out about an available unit on Sandtown Road. It wasn’t the best location and it needed a lot of work, but the landlord was willing and the price was right. Good Mews moved in, and, eventually, the organization was able to expand into another unit which became known as the Annex.  For a while, things went smoothly. There was a lot of enthusiasm and many heartwarming adoption stories. Interest in the organization was growing, but soon, in Gloria’s words, “Good Mews took off too big and too fast.”

Dee Dee and Smoky at Sandtown

Dee Dee and Smokey at Sandtown

Like any business, non-profit or otherwise, Good Mews went through several years of transition before emerging as the successful shelter that we all know and love today. Long- time Good Mews volunteer, Christi Fisher, remembers the years that Good Mews struggled to keep its doors open and kitties fed.

Christi started volunteering with Good Mews in June of 1992 on a feed and clean shift. She soon became involved in fundraising, accounts payable, and practically every other facet of shelter operations. She recalls that when the founder of Good Mews, Gloria Skeen, moved out of state, there was no one to manage the shelter on a daily basis, and since she had the time to do so, found herself filling that role. During this time, Christi says there was a small core group of volunteers who were instrumental in handling adoptions, bookkeeping and clean and feed duties.

By the mid 1990s, Good Mews was struggling to survive. At one time, the shelter’s power was turned off because there wasn’t enough money to pay the bill. More cats were being abandoned than Good Mews could support. In fact, at one point, the shelter was housing over 200 cats! Medical records were not consistently or accurately kept, and there was little to no communication between the volunteers (this was before e-mail or the Internet). Christi recalls that, at one point, she was putting in 60 to 70 hours a week of volunteer work at Good Mews. Although she loved the work, she started to suffer from burnout.

Joan Peterson, President of the Board, also remembers this as a time of transition for the shelter. Although everyone’s hearts were in the right place, Joan recalls there were differing ideas when she joined the board in 1995. Without the focus the shelter so desperately needed to stay in operation, the volunteers feared for its future. Change was needed, and quickly. Christi approached the board for help, indicating that the organization was in desperate need of a full-time employee to oversee the shelter. She and her husband raised $7,000 so that Good Mews could fund a full-time position, and the shelter was able to hire its first Executive Director in 1995.

Micheline Johnson, Good Mews’ attorney, assisted the board by helping to rewrite the Bylaws and Article of Incorporation which enabled Good Mews to run like a business with structure. She and Joan met with the landlord, who agreed to waive several months of past-due rent.  Medical protocol was desperately needed as well. Dr. Melinda Merck, founder of the Cat Clinic of Roswell, was instrumental in organizing the cats’ medical records and evaluating their health. The board and various committees began to create and enforce policies by writing manuals, launching the Scratching Post (the volunteer newsletter), implementing volunteer orientation training sessions, and working to create a professional, marketable image. In the late 1990s, starkwhite, a local design firm, worked with the board to give the quarterly newsletter, then named The Good Mews News, a makeover and a new logo. It became Purrs and Prattlings and the first issue was dated July, 1999.

Good Mews was finally on its way to turning things around!

Good Mews survived the tumultuous years, and emerged a stronger organization. Lori Trahan started volunteering as an adoption counselor in 2000, back when Good Mews was still at the Sandtown Road location in west Marietta. By that time, Good Mews’ lease was about to expire and the area had started to deteriorate. Lori said several events triggered Good Mews’ decision to move: gunfire in the parking lot one day, the shelter being broken into, and the recent sale of the shopping center. These events spurred the creation of the shelter’s Relocation Committee, which Lori promptly joined. She wanted to see Good Mews find a better home, where adopters, volunteers and residents would be safe, and more cats could be saved.  This proved a daunting task, as a landlord needed to be found who would be willing to lease to a cat shelter and zoning for a shelter needed to be approved. In 2003, however, Good Mews found that new home on Johnson Ferry Road.  Good Mews was very fortunate to not only receive donations to fund the move, but also to help purchase much needed items for the new location, such as shelves for the kitties to lounge on, a new washer and dryer, a blood pressure machine and other items for shelter improvements.

Since moving to our current location in Marietta, several new programs have been created to help our cats and kittens. Good Mews has developed relationships Good with many local area veterinarians and touts an intensive foster program. Good Mews ensures all fosters are top-quality by prescreening applicants with home visits and providing 24/7 support to all foster families. In addition to these successes, Good Mews started microchipping all residents before it became a widespread practice.

Over the last few years, Good Mews has reached out even more to the local community, both through coordination with local agencies and with community outreach programs. Many of Good Mews’ recent  residents come from animal cruelty cases. We partner with local animal rescue agencies to provide safe havens for these feline victims.  Tours and educational talks are given to youth groups, including the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, on responsible animal ownership and the pet overpopulation problem. This program also conducts off-site teachings and coordinates booths at events. Good Mews has partnered with Our Pal’s Place, a local dog rescue organization, to conduct a summer camp for kids to educate them on practicing kindness and compassion towards animals.

With the continued volunteer support in the grants, corporate sponsorships, and fundraising committees, and through continued financial assistance from you, we expect Good Mews will continue to grow and make great strides in our community.  Good Mews is living proof that with hard work, dedication, and support anything is possible!

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