Making Homelessness History
Written by Claire Callaghan ‘71
Nonie Brennan is a people person. She’s the one who strikes up a conversation with the cab driver, the waiter, or the person in front of her in line at the grocery store. So it’s not surprising that she often encounters people who are going through difficult times. Brennan, a King’s graduate from ’84, is able to make a difference in the lives of others for the simple reason that she is the chief executive officer of a new organization formed by the consolidation of the Emergency Fund and the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness. All Chicago, the coming together of both organizations and resources with a new direction, will stand by its motto of ‘making homelessness history’.
Overseeing public and private funds, as well as programs for housing and homelessness, Brennan ensures these resources help individuals and families in critical need. At the Plan 2.0 kickoff event, held on August 13, 2012, and attended by the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, Brennan commented enthusiastically that “we are building on our approach by providing the homeless with the tools for independence, like job preparation and placement, and giving homeless youth the leg up they need to reunite with their families, enroll in school, find housing, and other critical supports that will give them what they need to lead dignified lives. This is a major step forward for the City of Chicago.”
To Brennan, working in the non-profit sector is a blessing. Every day she knows that her work is making a difference in someone’s life. “Every day, we pay someone’s rent, which allows them to stay in their home instead of ending up in a shelter or on the street. Every day we move a family off the street or out of a shelter and into stable housing. Every day, we work to strengthen the system for housing and homelessness in Chicago. Life doesn’t get much better than that.”
Brennan has come a long way from her early days in London. Growing up near the University, she was aware of the community spirit at King’s. While a student at Catholic Central High School, she was inspired by John Ruypers, a ‘69 King’s alumnus, whose enthusiastic lectures spurred an interest in history. She recalls three of her professors with great fondness. She took every course taught by Eric Jarvis who brought history to life. Vivid memories of the inspiring teaching styles of Gary Paterson and John Orange influenced her studies and love of literature.
Upon graduation, Brennan worked at the London Regional Art Gallery in rentals and fundraising. This experience was crucial in instilling a love of non-profit work. She relocated to Battle Creek, Michigan and Manchester, UK with her husband and their two daughters. While waiting for her green card, Brennan became a committed community volunteer and, in time, was appointed executive director of the Volunteer Centre in Battle Creek, Michigan (1997-2002). In 2002, her husband was transferred to Chicago and in 2003 she assumed the role of executive director of the Emergency Fund.
Recognizing the importance of life-long learning, Brennan completed her Master of Public Service at DePaul University and her Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. In addition to working full-time, Brennan is a part-time faculty member at DePaul University’s School of Public Service where she teaches students enrolled in the Masters of Public Service program. She was part of a community development team from DePaul University that worked with government and non-profit leaders in post-Katrina New Orleans. Brennan associates DePaul University with King’s and appreciates the Catholic mission of both institutions. The importance of community and making connections led her to King’s, and she feels that the social justice concepts learned throughout her studies contributed to her interest in the non-profit sector.
Brennan continues to spend time in London and at her cottage in Bayfield, Ontario. Ultimately she would like to return to Canada and teach part-time in the areas of Non-Profit Management and Leadership. Perhaps she will end her professional career at King’s. Isn’t that a nice thought?