Aspirations & Charity
February 4, 2019
Who is Angel Miri ?
February 4, 2019

Valencia

Making a Difference... One Smile at a Time

We have superheros in our own backyard and don’t even know it. The Pulpit caught up with one, Valencia “Vee” Gunder, the Founder of MTHS: Make the Homeless Smile. She wasn’t wearing a cape or fighting crime with supernatural abilities, but she is using her voice, her talents, and her story to make her community a better and more empowered place. Chatting it up while grabbing a bite to eat at the Lil Greenhouse Grill in Miami, we talked about her nonprofit, her motivations, and her vision for her organization.

First, a little about Vee. She works as a Soros Justice Fellow, strongly supporting efforts to end gun violence, being motivated by the death of her goddaughter, Jada. She also works with inner city youth, recently taking them to Washington D.C. for a March for Our Lives event, as well as women who were formerly incarcerated. Inspired by her own homelessness in 2010, she also founded MTHS to advocate for the homeless. “I spark into action when something hits me close and cuts deep. Those are the times I decide to be way more verbal,” she says.

Founded in 2014, MTHS “has served over 38,000 meals between Miami, FL and Atlanta, GA. It is important to us that the population we serve feels welcomed, and understands that a lack of a physical address does not negate their dignity as a human being” (cited from their website). With chapters in Miami, Atlanta, and Chattanooga, she is looking to launch another in New York very soon. Her goal is to make her 501c3 an internationally recognized brand, feeding and responding to food deserts and famine year round in low income areas and even third world countries. “No red tape. Food to mouth,” she says.
Averaging anywhere from 20-25 volunteers a month, sometimes reaching hundreds on special occasions, Vee’s goal per event is to feed at least 125 people. She says that it can cost around $950 to fund food, clothes, haircuts, and other activities and accessories. While she has not yet sought after any grants or federal funding, nor does she make it a habit to ask her volunteers for money on top of their service, many of them still contribute money so that needed items can be purchased.

She credits this level of commitment and support to being accessible and consistent. “A lot of times people don’t know that this work is being done, so we need to be more accessible and visible,” she says. “Also with MTHS, we always have something going on every third Sunday. So nothing changes. It’s the same day, time, and place,” she says, adding that these elements are helpful in gaining and keeping volunteers.

Noting her biggest counterpart being Camillus House, she mentions that the bigger homeless organizations are limiting how the homeless are to be helped. She suggests that we should not just give homeless people food, housing, and clothes but instead help train them to restructure their way of life so they won’t be homeless again. “Don’t train them to be an employee, train them to be entrepreneurs.”
As she grows and continues to plan for the future, she says that she wants to develop a program to help the homeless with their mental health and to also bring more innovation and technology into helping them. “The days of the typewriter are gone,” she states. “People need to begin learning beginning level code... The homeless are already at a disadvantage, so why put them even further behind?”
Already with a lot of heartfelt work on her plate, she mentions that she also mentors about 20 people. She says she’s currently training two mentees to take over other MTHS chapters. “I create the vehicle. I’m not the driver,” she insists. “My biggest fear is to die with all of my dreams in my brain. I’m trying to drop every seed in the earth so that the day I leave the seed can still grow. Just create the vehicle.”
We told you not all superheroes wear capes. For more information on MTHS or to see how you can volunteer, please visit www.mthsmile.com.