Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

2003 EVE AWARDS; Meet the Remarkable Women Honored by the Times-Union for Education, Volunteer Service and Employment Passionate, Pragmatic about Homelessness

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

2003 EVE AWARDS; Meet the Remarkable Women Honored by the Times-Union for Education, Volunteer Service and Employment Passionate, Pragmatic about Homelessness

Article excerpt

Byline: Judy Wells, Times-Union staff writer

LINDA LANIER

EVE for Employment

Linda Lanier stands up to a hulking, crazed man one minute, then comforts a 6-month-old frightened about going to the doctor the next. As president of the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, her average day reads like another verse to the Etta James classic "W-O-M-A-N."

According to Michael Munz, the center's chairman of the board of directors, Lanier can go from facing down a client who refuses to take his meds at 8 a.m. to handling a staff stress meltdown at 10, from lunching with a major contributor at noon to working with the city council on rewriting the homeless ordinance at 4 p.m. After a killer day, she'll schmooze potential donors over cocktails or dinner.

"And she's married and raising great kids," said Munz. "She can transcend more issues in a day than anyone else I know."

Transcending her initial reluctance to tackle the job was the first hurdle for Lanier. Having been a volunteer, board member and executive director for Planned Parenthood since arriving in Jacksonville in 1971 from Cincinnati, she was ready for a new challenge, but . . .

"I knew there were children here with their families and I was nervous about how much they would haunt me," she said, before laughing at the non-problem. "I'm so encouraged when I see children thrive the way they do here. They arrive dirty, stunned, shell-shocked and hungry; two weeks later they look like any bright youngster. They can return to the world of children quite quickly. Our babies here have more aunties and uncles picking them up and cuddling."

Although a never-ending stream of homeless children and their families arrives at the center's doors, 632 of them were returned to self-sufficiency last year through programs developed since Lanier arrived. Since beginning work there in 1997, two years after the facility opened, Lanier has gone from its executive director to president and CEO.

Health care is the key for the homeless as well as the under-insured, and Lanier has worked to have the Federally Qualified Health Center designation added to the center's credentials. Dental, vision and psychiatric services plus outreach to unsheltered homeless and HIV positive clients are all available. This year, the center has provided 22,000 patient visits to residents and clients from 30 other agencies. Rather than resting on laurels, Lanier's efforts are targeted to the $3.5 million capital campaign to expand medical, dental and educational services on campus.

Her efforts extend beyond the campus to all of downtown, and she is an avid member of the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Vision Inc. Moving from Cincinnati, she said, was like going back 10 years in time and knowing what could happen.

"It's so exciting with the museum opening and restaurants and things happening on the riverfront. …

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