The Ladder Project

The highest level of the ladder of charity is to provide an individual with the means to support himself, to become self-sufficient, so that never again will he need to rely on the generosity of others to maintain his independence.

On Kol Nidre, 5779, Congregation Shearith Israel launched the Ladder Project—an ambitious congregational initiative to lift up the life of one homeless person, in accordance with the teaching in our mishnah that whoever saves one life, saves the universe that life can create. This pilot program, conceived by Laura Miller and our klei kodesh, and already supported both practically and financially by a terrific executive committee and a 30-member advisory committee, is based on a simple, yet profound premise: transition one homeless person from the streets to self-sufficiency. “If our 1,000 Shearith Israel families can’t lift one person out of homelessness,” Laura asked, “who can?”

Meet David Corn

David is a 58-year-old resident of The Bridge, Dallas’ 24-hour, downtown homeless facility. After 17 months of homelessness, David is about to move into his own studio apartment. Thanks to you – the members of Congregation Shearith Israel.

A unique, holistic approach to homelessness
On September 18, during Kol Nidre services, Shearith Israel launched The Ladder Project, a pilot program that approaches the problem of chronic homelessness in a unique and holistic way. The Ladder Project empowers our 1,000 congregant families to lift one person at a time out of homelessness. As a congregation, we will take responsibility for this person financially and socially until he or she can accomplish self-sufficiency, however long that may take, so long as that person is making progress. During this time The Bridge will continue to provide caseworker services.

The Executive Committee, Jeff Hoppenstein, Larry Krasner, Marsha Lev, Laura Miller, Andrea Solka and Sally Wolfish, selected David to help first, with the hope and expectation that many others will follow.

David’s Story
David was born in Oak Cliff. His father worked at the local box factory for thirty-eight years. His mother, a homemaker, was the only true constant in David’s life, supporting him with unconditional love. David graduated from Kimball High School in 1978. With no money for college or technical school, he began a lifetime of short-lived, dead-end jobs that, combined with unsuccessful personal relationships, found him returning to his parents’ house again and again throughout his adult years.

In December 2011, David’s life was shattered when his parents were in a car accident that killed his mother and left his father physically and cognitively injured. David became his father’s full-time caregiver. The two men subsisted on David’s father’s pension of $600 per month.

In November 2013 the police knocked on the door and arrested David for failing to appear in court for a child support case for his 15-year-son. David says he told the police that his father was alone and disabled and would not survive without someone to care for him. With no way to contact his father, since there was no landline at home, and no phone numbers memorized for his sister or other relatives, David was unable to help his father, or himself. David sat in jail for 110 days. No one visited him during that time. Upon his release, he found a cousin had moved his father out of their home and put the house on the market. Unable to hire a lawyer, David lost all legal rights to the home he grew up in. His father died within a year, in a nursing home. David lived temporarily with a neighbor, sleeping on his couch, then took a bus to The Bridge, where he has lived ever since.

David’s best friend is his Bridge caseworker. David has learned from her that the path to self-sufficiency is “to get a job and keep it.” David has followed this advice. After washing dishes at a bar in Deep Ellum, David moved to his current janitorial job at El Centro College in downtown Dallas. He earns $9 an hour, some of which is automatically deducted from his paycheck to fulfill his court-ordered child-support obligation to his son Jordan, now 20.

Until now, David had little chance of making it on his own: his low hourly wage and high child support payments made saving money nearly impossible; an apartment – with utility bills, a security deposit, and furnishings to buy – was a remote dream. When the synagogue offered to help, David called it “a secret miracle.”

Congregant Michael Ochstein stepped forward as the first part of that miracle, agreeing to rent a $705-a-month studio apartment to David with no security deposit, credit history, or rent history required. Although David’s name is on the lease, Shearith has agreed to supplement David’s income enough to cover his rent, utility bills, and public transportation until he can pay for all of it himself. He will attend a financial management class every Saturday morning in October and share his paystubs and expense receipts with the synagogue.

You Can Help
Most importantly, we are looking for congregants who can offer David a higher paying job at a Living Wage of $12 to $15/hour. This will be the key to his transition to self-sufficiency. If you can help, email Laura Miller at

$36 from every Shearith family.  Our goal is to have 100% of all Shearith Israel families make a donation of $36 or more to a Housing/Transportation Fund set up specifically for The Ladder Project. All donations are charitable and tax-exempt. You can donate HERE or mail a personal check to the synagogue, 9401 Douglas Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75225 and write The Ladder Project on the memo line.

To donate all in-kind items or to donate your time, please email Laura Miller at

Donate these items:
We will pick items up from you. Email Laura with your name, address, phone and which item you can donate.
(We will remove or revise the number of items needed as they are donated)

1 small bedside table
1 standing corner lamp to brighten a room
1 coffee table
1 small couch (loveseat size)
1 reclining chair, OR easy chair with ottoman
1 TV stand with shelves
2 bar stools
1 vacuum cleaner
2 Queen-sized blankets
1 Outdoor fall jacket size Large
1 Outdoor winter jacket size Large
4 Pants (jeans or chinos) size 34/30
6 Collared polo-type shirts (short or long-sleeved) size Large
1 Sports jacket size 40R
2 round-neck or v-neck sweaters size Large
2 Belts size 34 waist

Purchase these items:
Help David set up his studio apartment with basic necessities. Visit our registry at

Donate your time:
One other crucial opportunity is to give David a sense that people care that he succeeds. Email Laura with your name, email, phone and when you can help.

Help with apartment move-in on Saturday, Sept. 29
Help with apartment move-in on Sunday, Sept. 30
Future restaurant lunch, dinner or coffee with David
Future transportation to and from David’s apartment at LBJ and Greenville for a Shabbat dinner at shul
Future grocery shopping trip with David
Future phone conversation, just to check in with David

Thank you to the congregants who have donated so far!
Updated 9/17/2018
Jay and Fonda Arbetter, Julia Carpenter, Marna and Roy Edenson, Charles Ginsburg MD, Roslyn Goldstein, Hailey Hoppenstein, Dr. Jay & Carole Ann Hoppenstein, Jeff and Janet Hoppenstien, Josh Hoppenstein, Larry and Leslie Krasner, Laura Miller and Steve Wolens, Elaine & Trevor Pearlman, Maxine & Martin Pomerantz, Nancy and Joel Roffman, Lisa and Charles Siegel, Rena & Bud Silverberg, Harrian & Stephen Stern, Andrea & Steven Solka, Dorothy Wolchansky, Paula & Marc Wolens, Lisa and Mark Zale.

Thank you to the Ladder Project Advisory Committee
Fonda Arbetter, Marna Edenson, Dr. Charles Ginsburg, Ros Goldstein, Carole Ann Hoppenstein, Hailey Hoppenstein, Janet Hoppenstein, Josh Hoppenstein, Bruce Laves, Marvin and Cynthia Noble, Elaine Pearlman, Jamie Pink, Maxine Pomerantz, Chana Robinowitz, Charlotte Schuman, Charles and Lisa Siegel, Rena Silverberg, Harrian Stern, Herb and Donna Weitzman, Dorothy Wolchansky, Marc Wolens and Lisa Zale.

Please start today by making a charitable donation to The Ladder Project