From CNN Writers Michelle Toh
(CNN) — It’s interesting to think of how things have changed since Rhea Coon joined a community-based nonprofit toilet-cleaning organization more than 20 years ago.
“I learned that not everybody has good feelings about toilets,” said Coon, who is now the president and CEO of Land O’ Lakes Communities, Inc. “I learned it’s very important that we respect people’s most private areas.”
First and foremost, it’s important to respect that job comes with a price, she says.
Working and living in a home with a communal bathroom might not seem like a hardship to some of us. But it is for people who are homeless, living with mental illness, struggling with addiction, or who simply can’t afford to pay for a toilet.
“It’s very frustrating for the individuals that come to our office, we work with 24/7 for three days in a row and they tell us that these things are just very frustrating and that they don’t have access to public toilets in their communities.”
This can be why people end up in the hospitals, she says. It’s a different level of isolation.
It’s an isolating experience, and Coon’s colleague Theresa Steele said that a lot of people don’t like to be reminded of where they came from.
“Most people don’t want to be reminded of past trauma,” Steele said. “They don’t want to think about their destinies, or their lives after they die.”
Coon agrees with this sentiment and as land o’ lakes serves as a recruitment and resource center for its residents, it’s very important that it convey the message to people they are a part of a family.
“We’re all members of this family and we all go through some difficulties and are we able to support our family in their journeys to find out whether they’re able to live with dignity, to live the life that they want.”
Our work is a continuum. Land o’ lakes expects the issues of most to be those of chronic homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and substance misuse, addiction and issues with youth sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment, she said.
It’s one of the largest community-based nonprofits in the country, with 14 residential communities across the country, but it also has the impact to serve as a home base for people getting back on their feet.
“When we say this is a resource, because if you want to have a resources then this is where it’s going to be,” Coon said.
In addition to improving people’s housing situation, the position also brings attention to land o’ lakes’ very real impact on improving physical, mental and spiritual wellness.
And right at home
Land o’ lakes teaches skills for self-reliance. Being around people with similar levels of desire and ability helps others open up and open up more, Coon said.
When they’re not at land o’ lakes, Coon and Steele say there are many opportunities for these individuals to become involved in their own communities — almost like a mini job.
In housing programs in Land O’ Lakes’ programs, she says, “the people that are being healed are often the ones that are now developing this ability to help others.”
And this is not just confined to the Land O’ Lakes.
“If you’re not here or if you don’t have an opportunity then your family and your community is going to be impacted, so this is where it goes,” Coon said.
Why these organizations exist
When I asked Steele about why land o’ lakes became an organization, she said the position was always part of the CEO’s role.
But when Steele joined Land O’ Lakes after a 25-year career working at Dana Corp., she said she had “to admit” how important the nonprofit work was to her.