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KENOSHA — For Tamarra Coleman, her efforts as the executive director of the nonprofit Shalom Center in Kenosha have always been about doing the work.

Tamarra Coleman
Tamarra Coleman, Executive Director of the Shalom Center in Kenosha, Wis. – Credit: Shalom Center

And it’s never been about anything more than that, than leading a staff and a group of 400 volunteers in the only homeless shelter in Kenosha County.

So when word came out last week that Coleman, who has led the Shalom Center since February 2019, was honored by BizTimes Media as one of Southeast Wisconsin’s Notable BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People Of Color) Executives for 2023, needless to say, she was quite taken aback.

Coleman started with the Shalom Center in 2015 as its director of programs and operations.

“I’m humbled,” she said in a telephone interview Friday. “I’m honored to be among some amazing individuals. When I looked at that list, ‘I’m like, wow, like I’m not worthy,’ because you just do the work. You don’t look for recognition, you just do the work.

“To be honored and considered among some of the most amazing individuals across the state was very humbling. I’m extremely honored.”

Coleman: a dynamic, transformational community leader

The honor is well deserved, Shalom Center Board Chair Andrew Pitts said.

“As a dynamic, transformational leader, Tamarra is deeply passionate about improving the lives of others,” he said. “The Shalom Center has a motto of ‘HOPE – Helping Other People Everyday.’ Tamarra exemplifies that motto as she works to support individuals and families in need.”

Executives chosen for the honor have “demonstrated excellence in their field and the ability to effect change within the organization and community,” according to a press release announcing the honor. In addition, chosen executives have assumed leadership positions outside of their own organization.

And Coleman’s resume since she joined the Shalom Center shows just that.

Coleman currently serves as board chair of the Kenosha Community Health Center/Pillar Health, executive board member for Building Our Future and is a board member of the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce, Kenosha Area Business Alliance and Advocate Aurora Community Board.

Along with being Kenosha’s only homeless shelter, the Shalom Center also serves as the largest food pantry and longest-running nightly meal program.

Shalom Center annually distributes 1.1 million pounds of food, provides 18,878 shelter nights, serves 55,848 meals and coordinates 400 volunteers.

Needless to say, there are many hands in the team effort of helping the homeless the best way possible, Coleman said – and at the top of that list are the extremely dedicated volunteers.

“We cannot do any of the work that we do at all without our volunteers,” Coleman said. “They are what makes this train move. As amazing as our staff (is) and as hard as they work, we don’t have enough funding to be able to fund a full staff that needs to do what we do.

“Without our volunteers, it’s really difficult. We are extremely, extremely grateful for our volunteers. We’re just thankful that they are committed to our mission and are consistent. We really depend on them, and they’re always there.”

The Shalom Center also has formed a solid partnership with each of the county’s post-high school institutions, which serves as a win-win, Coleman said.

Not only do students get real-life experience as interns and those in need of community service hours, but they also fill another staffing need.

“That’s huge, too, because it actually gives them a little bit of a taste of the field they’re going into,” Coleman said. “We kind of feel we’re able to give back to the community a little bit in that way to be able to help those students advance their education.”

Those statistics of how much impact the Shalom Center has each year give Coleman pause, she said, as they continue to show the ongoing problem of homelessness — but in another breath, also proves the importance of the work itself.

“It’s not always exciting to see those numbers because it means the demand is great out there,” Coleman said. “But then I also get excited when I read those numbers, because it’s nice that we have a great opportunity to help people who need it. … I’m glad that we’re here in Kenosha County to be able to support (the homeless).

“I keep thinking, ‘What would it be in our community if we weren’t here? Where would these individuals and families go if we weren’t here?’ That quick second or minute you think about (those numbers), it’s very quickly forgotten about, and you’re just grateful that you’re there to serve.”

The Shalom Center was recently the recipient of an anonymous $2.5 million gift to expand its physical building, which will allow for the expansion of its services to the community. Read the story here:

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