ImmaCare's board of directors
ImmaCare’s board of directors, from left to right: Sheila Azor (vice president), John Mayo (outgoing president), Jennifer Allis Vazquez (secretary), Catherine Thomas, and Thomas McCabe. Credit: Contributed photo / ImmaCare

John Mayo, president of ImmaCare’s Board of Directors, has seen the nonprofit through renovations to its emergency shelter for the homeless and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He’s been president for the past eight years, but also has been on the board for a total of 20. Part of the continued evolution of the agency, Mayo said, is for him to step aside and allow someone else to lead.

“I thought, you know, when you have been around that long and eight years of leading the board, I think people can get stuck. Not just me but the whole board. They get used to me, how I operate, hopefully as a leader and so the real big reason I wanted to do this is I want to drive some change at the board level, with someone who will do things differently from me. I embrace that,” Mayo said. 

The board expects to vote in favor of Jennifer Allis Vazquez, who currently serves as the board’s secretary, as its president when they meet at the end of the month.

ImmaCare is celebrating its 40th year helping the homeless. Besides the shelter, ImmaCare also operates a mobile outreach program as well as a “Permanent Supportive Housing” program, which provides support to individuals so they can eventually move into their own homes. 

ImmaCare’s completed Shelter Renovation project
ImmaCare’s Shelter Renovation project on Park Street in Hartford – the completion of which is shown here – was presented with a merit award at the 2021 Connecticut Preservation Awards in May. The location was for many years known as the Immaculate Conception Church. Credit: Richard Cadan Photography for ImmaCare / ImmaCare.org

The emergency shelter – which ImmaCare transformed into a Housing Navigation Center – reopened in November after the 125-year-old Gothic structure was restored and brought up to code. Besides access to a place to sleep, meals, and showers, people can get referrals for mental health and substance abuse counseling. The 75-bed facility is now at 40 based on COVID restrictions, Mayo said.

“I can remember times back in the early days when we had bitterly cold nights and we had 125 guys jammed in that basement, sleeping on chairs, sleeping on the floors,” Mayo said.

The state’s Preservation Council awarded ImmaCare a 2021 Connecticut Preservation Award for the work on the former church, which was built in 1894.

Mayo said it’s important to connect with the clients, by doing things like serving meals at the shelter, to remember how homelessness can happen to anyone. 

“When you connect with the clients, you see how amazing these people are and how it can happen to anybody to be in a situation like that,” Mayo said. ImmaCare’s staff use its programming to help clients get support and hopefully, their own apartments and jobs, a real source of pride for many, Mayo said.

“It’s just amazing. It really is,” Mayo said.

When you connect with the clients, you see how amazing these people are and how it can happen to anybody to be in a situation like that.

john mayo

In 2010, ImmaCare opened Casa de Francisco on Hungerford Street. The building has 50 apartment units, 25 of which are home to formerly chronically homeless individuals, and the remaining 25 are low-income rentals. 

In 2021, ImmaCare, working with the Root Center for Advanced Recovery, started HARBOR (Housing and Recovering Build Our Roots), which offers Root Center clients housing and support opportunities to individuals in recovery.

Louis Gilbert, ImmaCare’s executive director, said Mayo was able to achieve a good balance between keeping informed but not being a micromanager in the day-to-day operation of the agency. Gilbert added that Mayo was a good one to vent to if he needed advice on how to handle a difficult situation.

“It was having that grounded person to be able to say it’s not that big a deal or it is a big deal,” Gilbert said.

Mayo, a communications and public relations professional with his own company, said he hopes to stay involved on some level with ImmaCare, perhaps in helping the organization with its written materials.

“It’s time for new leadership. They had me long enough. They listened to me. It’s time to have a new style come in and take over,” Mayo said.

Anyone interested in learning more about ImmaCare can check out their website or call 860-580-5644.