Eric Evans has service coursing through his veins. Helping others seemed inevitable for the Colorado Springs “semi-native,” as he calls himself. Evans has two brothers and a brother-in-law with a history of military service, and Evans’ father retired from the U.S. Air Force following his final assignment at the Air Force Academy. And while the new executive director (as of May 1) of The Home Front Cares never joined the military, he said he is still able to serve his country by lending a hand to those who were willing to sacrifice it all.
Are you from Colorado Springs?
I was born on an air base in Japan, but I’ve lived in Colorado Springs for more than 30 years. Colorado Springs is what I know. I grew up here and went to school here. I graduated from Rampart High School and went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where I studied history and political science. After that I came back here and decided this is where I wanted to work and raise kids.
What does your wife do for a living?
My wife is a teacher. She‘ll be teaching science at Coronado High School next year.
Our initial plan was for us both to teach and have summers off. But I veered from that path professionally as I started in the nonprofit world.
After school I had an opportunity to work with youth at the Emily Griffith Center in Larkspur. I worked with teens who had been in trouble with the juvenile justice center. I knew early on I wanted to work with youth in some capacity.
I did that for a couple of years, and it was tough working with kids who had committed some serious crimes. … I decided I wanted to work with kids in a different capacity — more preventative rather than getting them after they were in legal trouble.
That’s when I was introduced to Urban Peak.
Did you help start Urban Peak?
I was part of the startup of the program. It was just introduced to the Springs via Denver and it was myself and a program manager. We helped get Urban Peak off the ground. … We were doing street outreach to homeless and runaway youth, trying to connect them with services and obtain housing. We grew the staff from two to about six and helped with a capital campaign to get a shelter. In 2005 we moved into the shelter on Cucharras [Street].
I also worked as children’s program manager at [the domestic violence social services organization] TESSA. That was a great experience, keeping moms and children safe. … I started there in 2006 and was under contract for a year replacing [an employee] who left for school. She came back and put me out of work. But I was pretty determined to stick with youth.
How did you end up at The Home Front Cares?
I spent the last seven years as vice president of income and relief services at Catholic Charities. I was developing programs and working out of the Marian House.
I started as client services director before I became vice president and helped put together a program that put folks back to work. I think, when I left, we’d helped more than 180 folks who had been homeless obtain jobs. I oversaw outreach and client services programs there.
This opportunity presented itself, and I had heard of The Home Front Cares. I thought, for where I wanted to go professionally, this was a great opportunity to serve our military families and veterans. It hits home for me because I’m a military brat. … I didn’t move around a lot but my dad was deployed for long periods of time. My dad had to spend a year in Greenland and my mom was working to support my brothers and sister and I. … We never missed a meal, but I know what it feels like to have a parent deployed.
That spoke to me — being part of an agency to support military families and vets. And I think you do make the most impact at the executive level in this kind of agency. As career progression goes, I tried to put myself in the position to be an executive director.
Talk about the agency.
We provide an emergency financial bridge to military members, veterans and their families, and supportive services to those affected by deployment and service to our nation.
There’s a financial piece, which could help with housing, transportation and utilities. And there’s quick turnaround. We can have funds ready within 24 to 48 hours. We have a strict vetting process. Our program team looks at each case, looks at service, looks at hardships. It’s a one-time financial assistance and we look at each case individually. … Even if we can’t help someone, we’ll refer them to an agency that’s better equipped for that purpose.
We’ve helped vets going from homelessness into housing and in some cases avoid evictions.
Is housing the biggest issue?
Housing is very expensive in Colorado. We’ve seen lately a trend of veterans having trouble in the Denver area and an increase in calls by our partners like the [Veteran’s Administration] in Denver. We serve the entire state of Colorado and are finding ourselves having to be more responsive in the Denver area as well.
We have a virtual office in Denver, but it’s not staffed. Our case managers can use that space to meet with clients.
What impact has your agency had locally?
Last year we helped more than 1,000 individuals with about $340,000 in financial assistance. That’s pretty much status quo, year-to-year. I expect us to meet — if not exceed — that next year because of high demand right now.
Where does funding come from?
Donations, grants and corporate funding. We work with Boeing and Northrop Grumman, they’re big supporters. The HuHot [Mongolian Grill] restaurants and owner Jay Warwick are doing a fundraiser the last day of September — HuHot Cares Day — where we get 100 percent of the proceeds.
How challenging is it to compete with other nonprofits?
Very challenging. We’re seeing across the board, not just here, but agencies that support veterans, seeing a decrease in financial assistance. I don’t think that’s just Colorado. We can’t really determine why we’re seeing less funding, but we’re still seeing deployments. Among the public in general, maybe that’s forgotten.
Did you ever consider going into the military?
I did consider the military, but nonprofits are what I know and I’ve been in service to this community for years. My calling just happened to be in the public service field. I feel I’ve made an impact with more people than I can count. At least I hope. And I’ve had great fulfillment from helping people out of difficult circumstances. Working with The Home Front Cares now allows me to give back to the military in a very unique way.
How did your career working with at-risk youth prepare you for this job?
A lot of these jobs have meant having to empathize with people going through some really tough circumstances. And helping empower people and giving them a hand up is a big deal.