SALT LAKE CITY — As Jeremy Hafen, wearing a hard hat and a yellow vest over his suit, toured the dusty construction site where his company was prepping the ground for a 200-bed women's homeless resource center, a thought struck him.
While his construction crew was literally laying the foundation for the shelter, they were also helping lay the foundation for something larger.
"We're seeing the foundation here, but there's a tie to the foundation of building something better for this community," said the president and CEO of the construction company Sunroc Corp., a subcontractor on the 131 E. 700 South shelter site. "It will help people change their lives."
"It's just starting from the ground up," he added. "And the fact that we're the ones that are building the foundation for this ... it's pretty amazing."
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who joined Hafen his walk of the site Thursday, also reflected on the years of work and struggle that preceded the groundbreaking of the three homeless resource centers that are expected to replace the troubled downtown homeless shelter next summer and therefore transform the county's homeless system.
"They're finishing laying the foundation right now, after we spent the last several years laying the foundation of the services and the new model," McAdams said. "I guess I get chills thinking about the lives that will be blessed by what's happening right here."
Hafen was not only helping move earth to lay the physical foundation of the building, McAdams said, but helping in an even bigger way.
Hafen had recently decided to donate $25,000 of Sunroc Corp. cash to Shelter the Homeless, the future homeless resource centers' owner, to help fund the operations of the shelters when they open their doors July 1, 2019.
Hafen's donation will be matched by Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller's pledge to double all community donations up to $10 million, bringing the donation to $50,000.
Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, said his organization is grateful to Hafen and "all of our generous donors for their commitment to help reduce homelessness in our communities and improve the lives of those in need."
Hafen's pledge comes at a time when state, city and county leaders have urged community members to donate to help fund programs and services inside the three shelters. The hope is that donations will eventually match Miller's $10 million maximum.
Hafen said he hopes to encourage other community members to do the same.
"As a matter of fact," Hafen said. "I'm going to reach out to some people that I know in the business community and see if we can ask them to also contribute."
Hafen's company — which won a bid to do excavation work for the 131 E. 700 South women's homeless resource center — is doing the work for Shelter the Homeless "basically at cost," Hafen said, noting that any profits from the work will be "slim."
"We're talking single-digit thousands," Hafen said. "The donation we're making is far up and above any profit we make coming out of this job."
Hafen said sometimes businessmen focus only on "the all-mighty profit" and "start to lose sight" of what it means to give back. To him, "it's all about being a balanced contributor to society," he said.
"You have to do it," he said. "You have to give back. It's how the world works, you know?
But also, Hafen has some history — dating back more than two decades — with McAdams, and he said the mayor "was extremely influential" to his decision to make the donation.
Hafen and McAdams were companions during their LDS mission to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the 1990s.
Hafen surprised McAdams on Thursday when he pulled out an envelope with several photos from that mission, and the two men joked together as they reminisced about their time in Brazil.
"Look how skinny that guy was," McAdams said, laughing, as he held a picture of himself. In the 1995 photo, Hafen poses side by side with McAdams during a service project where they dug out "2 feet of weeds," as Hafen described it.
McAdams and Hafen re-created that photo while at the construction site, posing in front of a backhoe.
While mulling the donation, Hafen said he thought to himself, "'I need to call Ben," because "Ben has led out on homelessness."
"Well, that was your first mistake, calling me," McAdams joked.
Hafen shook his head, laughing, but said on a more serious note that McAdams was "influential in my life 23 years ago, and now, 23 years forward, I look at him as a mentor, in a sense."
Hafen said he's a registered Republican, and yet he's backing McAdams, a Democrat, in his bid to unseat Rep. Mia Love in this year's 4th Congressional District race because he said he believes in McAdams' efforts to change the county's homeless model.Comment on this story
McAdams said he wasn't surprised by Hafen's donation because he said he's always known him to be "generous and kind," but McAdams said he was "very appreciative and humbled" by his donation.
"We live in a community that is very generous with time and very generous with money, and (Hafer's donation) just came at a critical time as we're underway on these facilities," McAdams said. "We know we've got a lot of work to make sure we've got the funding we need to provide these services we're hoping to provide in this new model, and we're hoping the community will step forward."