Saturday, May 19, we opened our doors to the public. It was quite a dreary day but our volunteers and I had big smiles on our faces as we worked on different swag stations in all the rooms. We enjoyed some coffee as we “knocked on wood” that the rain would stay away. It didn’t.
We welcomed a few strangers and gave some tours. We blew bubbles with the littles and did chalk art under the overhang. The rain didn’t wipe off anyone’s smile or drown our attitudes but it didn’t help with the overall attendance of “new to us” folks. At noon we welcomed 60 friends to share a hot dog lunch with. Billy knocked out over 150 hotdogs and sides for us to enjoy and man, we were stuffed!
As the volume in the fellowship began to rise MaRanda gave a speech before handing the floor over the Hugh. When Hugh speaks I can’t help but take in all his words, even the dad jokes. He really has a way with words. As he was wrapping up his talk we were all “cutting onions”.
Hugh is my friend, mentor and a man I highly respect and have learned so much from over the last year. I will miss hearing his keyboard clicking away or our conversations using only grunts and sighs after a long day or week. I’m going to miss Hugh but am excited for his next adventure. A road trip to Missisippi might be in order.
Towards the end of the day I was reflecting on everything. My favorite moment was being in the kitchen during lunch and hearing the laughter, the smiles, seeing all the hugs and feeling the love. It hit me that all these friends were not only here to support Hugh, but also to support me, Blu and MaRanda. They have confidence in us and have our backs in the work. It was humbling to know that Hugh saw something in me when I was a volunteer to hire me. And I’ve survived the first year!
Love Wins isn’t just a Community it’s a way of life, every day.
I greet our friends with a warm smile and give many hugs within minutes of opening every day. We catch up on our evenings, weekends and joke while we pour our coffee. Some of our folks will play cards with friends while others prefer to keep to themselves and stay in the shadows. We see these faces, sitting in the dark, and allow them their space. The Community Engagement Center provides space for you to be you.
Every once in a while a face will come out of the shadows. Earlier this month, Tony emerged from the shadows and started taking care of the community kitchen. I smiled and joked with him about coming out of his shell and helping. He took pride in keeping the kitchen clean, asked how to make coffee, refilled supplies as needed and helped close the center every day for a week. The following Monday morning he asked when he was getting his volunteer name badge. I smiled and told him I’d be right back. I returned with his name badge. He wears it proudly and every day would ask what else he can do.
The following week our friend Tyler asked me what he could do to help out. I asked him to sort donations and help organize the clothing closet and food pantry. He followed me around as I handed out toiletries, pain meds and supplies. We got him a name badge and he shared volunteer keys with Thomas who has been volunteering for a month or so.
As volunteer coordinator, just one of my many roles, I realized we had more volunteers than keys. That was quickly remedied and I was happy to see the smiles on the “T-Trio” when each of them realized that their badge came with keys. I simply smiled and said “Thank you for helping, now get back to work!”.
As our day comes to a close we see many faces emerge from the shadows. More and more folks are washing dishes, checking bathrooms and organizing the clothing closet. Our smiles are bigger than ever and the laughter is real and uninhibited.
We are a big family called Love Wins Community Engagement Center. Come by and see us in action! If you’d like a tour or want to volunteer please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can make that happen.
Pastor Robert Parrish was born in Bryson City, NC. He has been legally blind since birth. He is the second oldest of 4 boys. At age 6 he started attending the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind. He was on the track team, President of Student Government and graduated 2nd in his class.
After high school he attended Appalachian State for his undergrad degree of BS in Speech Communications and minored in psychology. He was heavily involved in the Baptist Student Union on campus as well as the Speech and Debate team. He received his masters of Divinity from Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC where he was also involved in the student government. He did residencies at UNC Hospitals and Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, TX as a chaplain.
He is currently President of the Wake Federation of the Blind here in Wake County, NC. This group helps advocate for the rights for those who are blind as well as help our legislature. He is involved with the Clergy at the Community United Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC.
When he has free time he enjoys reading, playing guitar, practicing yoga and tai chi and plays basketball.
Pastor Robert has been a volunteer with Love Wins Community Engagement Center for about 5 years. He heard about us through a former employee who was a guest speaker at his church. The sermon moved his heart to find out more about us. He enjoys being directly involved with folks that are going through a rough patch and lending his ear and prayers.
I have enjoyed seeing Pastor Robert on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He usually greets me with a good Amish joke since I am Mennonite (not Amish, more on that another time). I enjoy seeing him engage with the community members and watch relationships form and grow week by week. On Thursdays we “get our Chi on” as he leads a beginners Tai Chi class in the common room. Whether he is leading 1 person or a dozen, all are invited and feel a sense of accomplishment when finished.
No matter what is happening at the Center on Tuesdays or Thursdays, Pastor Robert always brings his infectious smile, contagious laugh and plenty of hugs for everyone.
If you are ever wondering what to do on a Thursday morning, please stop by and join Pastor Robert for Tai Chi at 10:30. We look forward to seeing you!
The Center has come along way in the past 6 months. Many things have changed for the better, and the community has embraced the subtle changes together.
The past 2 months we have seen many positive changes. We are serving breakfast and lunch every day, which means LOTS of dishes need to be washed. The community has taken it upon themselves to work together to keep the kitchen clean and fully supplied. With the temperatures being low in the morning we go through about 180+ cups of coffee, 5-8lbs of sugar and 2lbs of creamer a day. The community makes the coffee and encourages everyone to wash a dish so we can have enough plates and bowls for lunch. Lunch is made and served by our community guests.
Most of the time we have enough for 3rds!
We have also seen a surge of “new to us (as MaRanda and I say)” folks who heard through the grapevine that LWCEC is up and running and the changes and new staff and volunteers are great. They catch up with friends, chat with staff and some have said “Man, had I known you all had food everyday I would have stopped by way before now”. We look forward to seeing new folks becoming old friends.
We have had a big surge of folks wanting to help out. Almost every day a guest will approach me and say “Ms. Alyssa, I’m bored. Do you have anything that I can do?”
My response is “Of course! We need help sorting donations!” or “It’s time for all bathrooms to be checked for supplies”. Often times towards the end of the day we see dishes being washed, trash emptied and someone with a broom in their hand. This makes for a smooth clean up after we close the doors at 1pm. Many folks are willing to stick around and help prep for the next day preparing coffee for the morning, washing stray dishes, mopping floors and emptying the trash.
The community is really coming together and embracing the center as their own. They are looking out for each other well. Friends will help those who are having a bad day and need to take a walk and talk. Friends are encouraging each other to do the right thing, to not miss appointments, to go and apply for the job that just became available at their place of employment and it makes my heart swell with pride and love for all of them.
Team work really does make the dream work! By embracing these positive changes our attitudes are cheerful and the center is full of love and laughter. Come by and join us for a cup of coffee, a story and a laugh. We’d love to show you around!