Connie Mercer, the founder of HomeFront, the local nonprofit that helps families become self-sufficient and break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, will retire as CEO of the organization at the end of September.
Following this leadership transition, Mercer plans to focus on addressing the issue of homelessness more broadly at the state and national levels, she said. HomeFront’s board of trustees is working with Mercer to ensure a smooth transition and has engaged a national search firm to identify Mercer’s successor.
“This is the right time,” said Mercer, who laid the groundwork for HomeFront’s mission 31 years ago with volunteers who sat around her kitchen table. Volunteers went out to deliver meals and clothing to homeless families living in motels along Route 1. Those grassroots efforts then evolved into a nonprofit with offices, a staff, and later a campus in Ewing.
Last year, HomeFront answered 52,439 calls for help for shelter, homelessness prevention, permanent service-enriched housing, job training, children’s programming, food, and other essentials.
“For decades, HomeFront has felt like my child and today I feel like a proud parent whose child has grown up into a capable, mature adult, ready to meet the future,” Mercer said. “Leading HomeFront through a pandemic` during the last two years gave me the opportunity to observe the agency’s strength and resilience. HomeFront’s board of directors and experienced and dedicated staff are ready. We have a strong and vibrant infrastructure that will allow me to concentrate on the growing problem of homelessness throughout New Jersey and nationally.”
For her next chapter, Mercer said a key priority will be working with the Shelter Providers Consortium of New Jersey, an association of homeless shelters and advocacy groups she said has great potential to improve the futures of hundreds of thousands of people. “I am deeply excited to be a part of that,” Mercer said. “By broadening my focus, I will also be supporting HomeFront by identifying strategic partnerships, collaborations, and other development and advocacy opportunities.”
Mercer has been honored at the White House during President Obama’s administration, received an honorary doctorate from Princeton University, and was inducted in 2019 into the New Jersey Hall of Fame for Housing and Economic Development.
“Connie’s extraordinary vision and unflagging dedication have transformed the lives of thousands of homeless families,” said Ruth Scott, chair of HomeFront’s board of trustees. “She has built HomeFront, in strong partnership, with the community, to provide the breadth of services needed to help families break the cycle of poverty. We look forward to celebrating Connie in the months to come and are excited to announce that we are establishing a Connie Mercer Fund at HomeFront in her honor to express our immeasurable thanks.”
A HomeFront client named Stacey said Mercer was the first person to tell her she could make it in life, and that she was beautiful and special.
“I was 48 years old and felt like a failure because I lost my job and we were two weeks from being evicted,” Stacey said. “That was six years ago.”
Today, Stacey and her family are thriving, she is happily employed, her children are college-educated, and she still regularly paints and sews with HomeFront’s ArtSpace.