Faith, time, resources and health: These four pillars guide Gainesville’s Doug Hanson

Hanson took the position seriously. He was the first one in the role to ask for personal business cards — a form of identity he needed to help him conduct research. He was known for making regular trips to the Atlanta airport where he would record the number of homeless people for the task force.

His experiences in the city motivated him to move his efforts even closer to Gainesville. He began tabulating local shelters, food distribution centers and resources to figure out exactly how equipped the city was to deal with the homelessness issue.

“I got more and more involved in the homeless community here in Gainesville to try and mitigate the condition,” Hanson said.

Hanson and his wife even began personally taking homeless people to church — and afterward, lunch — to get a better understanding of who they really were. While the two used their personal family vehicle to start out, it wasn’t long before they had to upgrade to a 15-passenger van.

“That tested our faith and gave us a look into the darkness of homelessness,” Hanson said. “We found out that (some of the) men had never ordered off a menu before.”

North Georgia Works was inspired by Georgia Works, a similar reformative program in downtown Atlanta. After seeing the first 35 participants graduate in 2014, and an additional 72 the following year, Hanson decided to bring the idea to Gainesville.

“On the way home, we were buckets of tears,” Hanson said of he and his wife. “We said, ‘We have got to make this happen in Gainesville.’ It was kind of a marital agreement.”

Hanson was able to lease an underutilized Hall County building after boxing up and organizing over 7,000 old court records. It wasn’t long before the dorms were sponsored, and the work of North Georgia Works was transforming lives.

“North Georgia Works, Hall County Collaborative, Family Promise, Promising Future — these are just some of the things they felt I needed to be recognized for,” Hanson said. “These contributions were things I liked doing. They were the true answer (to) ‘How can we make this a more enjoyable and delightful place to live?’ That’s the bottom line.”

The men of North Georgia Works are often estranged from family and friends, but they graduate from the program with at least one family member: Hanson. He views the men he works with as his own grandchildren and hopes to leave a similar legacy to that of his own grandfather.

“Now that I’m a granddad to the men at North Georgia Works, I want to leave that same legacy to these men who see me as their grandad,” Hanson said.

To this day, Hanson is still approached by those he has helped. Every visit to church or a restaurant has the potential to become a heartfelt reunion between someone who needed help and the man who was there to offer it.

His work stems from an acknowledgment of himself and a history of being held to a higher standard.

“Where did that come from? That came from a granddaddy that always told me that serving others was a very high calling,” Hanson said. “I listened to what he had to say, and I would try to practice it.”

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