Gift giving that helps

Santa CatToday, many of you are going to be at the stores, lined up to grab gifts for people you love, taking advantage of sales that only come along once a year.

We hope that, when you get home from that and are trying to decompress from the Holiday mania and you are warming your toes and drinking hot chocolate, you can check out this years Holiday Gift Catalog!

We served about 1,000 people with hugs, food, smiles, and clothes. We welcomed them, listened to them, laughed with them, and validated them.

We have made a list of special things to help you figure out what to put under the tree. These are things that out community needs, and ways that we spend money all of the time, and this is a chance for you to help us help more folks.

Whatever you are doing today, we hope you are happy and warm and feeling loved. We are sure grateful for all of you.

Meet MaRanda!

Ever since the Community Engagement Center was spun off from Love Wins Ministries in the spring of 2016, the plan was to find the perfect person to run it. It took a while, but we have found our person.

Meet MaRanda Kiser, the new Executive Director of the Love Wins Community Engagement Center!

We first met MaRanda a few years ago when she was working with the Crape Myrtle Festival, an all-volunteer nonprofit that raises money for HIV services and the LGBT community. When the crisis happened in April and we were unsure we would be able to stay open, MaRanda showed up, and showed up big. She has worked tirelessly in the five months since then, working a full time job and then coming in to work at the Community Engagement Center more than 25 hours a week, every week, without pay.

There is no way we could have survived the last five months without her. She has leveraged her contacts and resources to make sure we have stayed open, and our community, staff and board of directors all love her.

When we were looking for who to groom to take over, she was our first choice. So we asked her, and she said yes! Her first day was this past Friday, and she has already hit the ground running – here she is setting up the table at our information table at Trophy Tap and Table Friday night.

We are so glad MaRanda came on board to head up our new team!

What happened to Hugh?

When we spun off the Community Engagement Center as its own organization in the spring of last year, the agreement was that Hugh would serve as the unpaid Executive Director until we were able to hire and train a new person to do so.

So now that we have, Hugh’s role is changing. He will now be a member of the Love Wins Community Engagement Center Board of Directors, and continues in his role as pastor at Love Wins Ministries. 

Over the next few months, he is going to be working heavily with MaRanda to ensure a smooth transition, and to help her as she makes the role her own. She has his full support, and he is excited about her leadership of this organization that is very dear to his heart.

Open house this weekend!

We’re hosting an open house and inviting you to come visit, play and eat with us Saturday, August 26th from 11 am-4 pm at 824 N. Bloodworth St!

We’ll be hosting a cook out style lunch, listening to live music, tye dying t-shirts and enjoying balloon creations and face painting by Twisted Events! Here’s a preview of their awesome balloon art. Come take a tour of the center, enjoy a suggested donation based lunch, meet our amazing volunteers and get to know us!

If you’re interested in helping us throw this shindig, we have a sign up genius for donations, food and volunteer time.

If you’re a new friend, we can’t wait to meet you!

(There is a Facebook event page here, with all the details.)

His Shoes Look Better Than Mine Do

Note: This is a guest post from our friend Maranda, who has really stepped up to the plate to help us stay open. Expect to hear more from her soon. – HH

We have a donation clothing closet; it’s small, about the size of a descent walk in closet.

I imagine its previous lives as perhaps a small office, a small nursery room for infants, a storage room for assorted sundry. All of our clothing and shoe donations are sorted into this small room, which contains a mirror and some hand-lettered signs denoting “shirts”, “pants”, “shoes”, etc.

Volunteers have tried to keep it organized, but some shelves are so bare than whatever we have in excess fills in the gaps. Right now we have a lot of women’s size 7 fashion shoes. We hardly ever have men’s pants. When we do, men flock to the closet to replace torn, ripped, dirty and ill-fitting items for something that is more weather appropriate and durable.

Our donations come directly from the public, and we’ve seen some amazing things. We’ve gotten brand new Nike Jordan’s, new Timberlands, a Coach bag with the tags attached, a slew of IZOD sweaters in assorted pastel colors. We’ve gotten new Vera Bradley purses, Nautica T-shirts, prom dresses, stiletto heels, Doc Martens with no wear and silk ties. We have golf shoes, golf bags with no golf clubs, shirts from a local private school gathering, some suits, church dresses, Uggs and Chacos. For every donation that only has one shoe, socks with holes, an old rug, and my favorite, a framed poster of Eminem (the Real Slim Shady hangs in our Quiet Room), we get a donation fit for a consignment shop. All of these donations go straight to the community.

Shoes are important. When you walk everywhere you go, and folks shoo you off from all of the sitting places, shoes are your transport. When you get a job in a kitchen, closed toed kitchen shoes are required. If you get a job working construction, you need steel-toed boots. If you happen upon some landscaping work, hiking boots or mucking boots keep your feet dry.
Even if you don’t do any of these things, comfortable sneakers are your cab, bike and bus when fare is scarce. Even a donation of new bedroom moccasins can be put to good use, especially if it’s the only pair of shoes in your size, and we have someone wearing them gratefully until we can find him some landscaping appropriate boots in his size. Without shoes, you can get nowhere, and shoelaces are like gold around here.

Yesterday, a man we call “The Boss” (because he always dresses up, button down shirt and tie, every single day) showed me the bottom of his shoes. He had two large holes through the sole that had, in turn, worn two large holes in the same spots through his socks, and I could see the flesh of his bare feet. He walked on those holes until his socks wore through to get to the center in hopes that we had a pair of shoes in his size. I call that a “shoe-mergency”. We had luckily received a very nice pair of hiking boots in just his size that day, and I’m fairly certain, they’re nicer than your hiking boots. I know they’re nicer than mine.

They’re nice because someone who had enough material income decided to give their gently used, name brand boots to the center, and because of that person, The Boss has shoes and he won’t suffer blisters than can quickly get infected and turn into a medical emergency.

When someone approaches you, asking for bus fare, and you notice maybe that they’re wearing brand name shoes and a nice, clean button down shirt or a Nike T-shirt, please remember everything you’ve ever donated to help people living in poverty. Did you give them your stained T-shirts, or did you give them that really nice shirt your aunt got you for Christmas that wasn’t the correct size? Did you really purge your closet thinking “This is far too nice for homeless people”?

Chances are, you didn’t- you wanted to give some nice things; maybe you didn’t even think about how fancy that Ralph Lauren Polo shirt looked because you bought it at Marshall’s for $10 and never really wore it. Perhaps those baby blue Uggs didn’t go with a single thing in your wardrobe and you just wanted them gone. Whatever the reason, thank you.

Because of you, our guests have durable, quality shoes that will last through all of the hard times.

Tomorrow we’ll cross our fingers for men’s size 11, 12 and 13 shoes, because we have two men wearing flip flops with tube socks as their primary footwear. Tomorrow maybe one of our community members will help another with an extra bus pass. Maybe Jerome* will get that
landscaping job after he gets his shoes. And maybe someone with better shoes than you won’t need to ask you for bus fare tomorrow.

*names changed for privacy.

Love Wins CEC gets 501 (c) (3) status!

Good news – the IRS approved the Love Wins Community Center for independent IRS 501(c)(3)status. And it did it in record time – just 37 days after they received our application!

What this means to you is that now checks that are written to the Love Wins Community Engagement Center (or Love Wins CEC, if you are into that whole brevity thing) as donations are deductible. Information on how to do that, where to send them and so on can be found on this page.

And the truth is – the CEC really, really needs you to do that. Under the best of circumstances, summers are hard. And all of the controversy a few months ago really hurt us financially.

If you would consider going to this page and signing up to be a recurring giver, we would be grateful, and it will help us continue to provide a place to be for our guests who have nowhere else to go.

Joint Statement of the Boards of the Love Wins Community Engagement Center and Love Wins Ministries

Over the last eight weeks, we have felt the support and prayers of so many people who have reached out to us. Thank you for that – we have been grateful beyond words. The Love Wins Community Engagement Center continues to be open and serving our community, those experiencing homelessness. We are grateful for new staff and dedicated volunteers who are so welcoming and caring every day, who help us create a safe place to be for those who have no place.

Now to address the recent upheaval:

Our Process. Following the April 17, 2017 public allegations made by then-employees Rev. Michael Raburn and Rev. Laura Foley, the Love Wins Community Engagement Center (LWCEC) Board of Directors in concert with the Love Wins Ministries (LWM) Board engaged in an extensive investigation. We have collectively spent well over 450 hours since April 17 in this process. We have consulted with outside experts as needed.

We are disappointed that the concerns raised by the disgruntled former employees were never brought to the members of the LWCEC or LWM Boards. The LWCEC Board routinely meets at the LWCEC, and all of us are available by phone and email to staff. We are confused as to why these allegations were made in the hurtful and frankly unprofessional manner they were, and in a way that jeopardized the ongoing mission of the LWCEC and relationships the LWCEC has with other community organizations.

Organizational Structure. To clarify: LWM is organized and legally established as a church, not a 501(c)(3) entity. The IRS does not require a church to have 501(c)(3) status in order for donations to the church to be tax-deductible, and the Board of LWM decided long before the LWCEC was a dream such status was not necessary for LWM.

As to LWCEC, the process of applying for that 501(c)(3) status was done by submitting a Form 1023 to the IRS. That application was received by the IRS on or before May 18, 2017. Meanwhile, the LWCEC has been operating since its inception as a mission program of Love Wins Ministries, the church. Anyone who has donated to the work of LWCEC has done so by donating to LWM, the church. Then the income that makes up LWCEC’s operating revenue is given by the church to LWCEC.

April 18, 2017 Statement. The LWCEC Board made a statement on April 18, immediately after the statement made by Revs. Foley and Raburn, incorrectly asserting that a “staff member” was responsible for failure to pay withholding taxes. We were wrong. The failure to pay withholding taxes was not her fault. The fault lies with the executive director of the LWCEC, Rev. Hollowell. The Board is very sorry for its mistake, and hopes she will accept our sincerest apology.

Current and Former Staff and Contractor Grievances. LWCEC Board members have offered to meet with numerous former employees and former independent contractors of Love Wins Ministries and the Love Wins Community Engagement Center. The Board has met with or otherwise heard from nearly a dozen former employees of both organizations. Others declined to meet or to comment. Several former employees do not have fond memories of working with Rev. Hollowell. At the same time, current LWCEC volunteers and staff are very happy to be contributing to the work of LWCEC.

Rev. Raburn and Rev. Foley claimed that Rev. Hollowell was “not an ethical steward of monetary gifts” and “may have misappropriated thousands of dollars of donated funds.” They gave the LWCEC Board copies of LWM bank statements with numerous transactions marked to indicate what these former employees alleged to be examples of unethical behavior or misappropriation. They did not provide any explanation of how they got these bank statements from LWM. Neither Raburn nor Foley had access to nor were they entrusted with the bank statements as part of their work with the LWCEC, a separate organization from LWM.

Nevertheless, the LWCEC Board Officers in concert with the LWM Treasurer conducted a thorough internal financial audit with counsel from an outside CPA and outside legal counsel. The Officers examined all questioned transactions for 70% of the period in question and randomly sampled questioned transactions for the other 30% of the 13-month period in question. We found the following:

  • As to the claim that, withholding taxes had not been paid; in fact, withholding taxes were delinquent in part, but were completely caught up by May 12, 2017. New procedures have been installed to ensure this does not happen again.
  • The Board found no evidence of “unethical stewardship” or “misappropriation of funds.” However, one instance was found in which Rev. Hollowell used the Love Wins Ministries debit card instead of his personal card to purchase coffee while on vacation. We determined this was a simple mistake. He has subsequently reimbursed LWM the $7.98.
  • As regards some of the other questioned transactions, some appeared to be reasonable concerns. For example, Rev. Hollowell uses a taxi from time to time to go from Love Wins to a work-related meeting when his wife needs the family car. While most organizations reimburse for work miles driven, LWM does not. Instead, therefore, Love Wins Ministries covers the cost of taxis as needed. This has always been LWM’s practice. While some may disagree with this practice, it is not illegal.
  • Some former employees also raised questions about Rev. Hollowell’s out-of-town travel. Rev. Hollowell speaks all over the country — nine events in 2016. Love Wins Ministries values engaging in dialog on issues of homelessness and housing vulnerability, and these speaking engagements serve that value. In addition, they enlarge the church’s potential donor base. Thus, covering such travel costs is an appropriate practice. Each out-of- town travel episode was examined, and confirmed to be appropriate, and related expenses were deemed reasonable.
  • Foley and Raburn flagged numerous restaurant meals as questionable. We do not understand why. Some of these meals were off-site meetings. Many, if not all of these meetings, were attended by one or both of the reverends. Some of these meetings were actually staff meetings. These expenditures were routine.
  • The former employees questioned three payments made to Duke Progress Energy. From time to time, Love Wins Ministries pays to keep the power on for housing insecure families. These transactions were examined and deemed appropriate.
  • By the same token, to prevent homelessness, Love Wins sometimes assists with rent to forestall eviction, or pays for a few motel nights under special circumstances, such as if one is discharged from hospital with no home to go to during further recovery. Again, no evidence of anything other than appropriate financial assistance was uncovered.

These practices were not a secret from staff of LWCEC. Rather, they were a routine part of the work of LWM. It is puzzling that these routine expenditures drew such concern from the former staff. The audit revealed that some finance-related systems, including the petty cash systems for both LWCEC and LWM, need to be improved. Steps for improvement have been identified.

Rev. Hollowell. We have seen instances where policies could be improved, to be sure, but we have found no evidence of financial wrongdoing. Instead, we find that repeatedly, Rev. Hollowell attempted to do too much by himself. Rev. Hollowell is a gifted preacher and storyteller and his vision for the healing power of community is contagious. He’s something of a prophet, speaking hard truths no matter how receptive folks are to them, and no matter what the cost to him, personally. That gift is a double-edged sword and it is an important calling.

Rev. Hollowell, however, is not a great manager. He has failed to delegate work to competent staff, failed to maintain sufficient staffing levels, and the organization has suffered as a result. As executive director of Love Wins Community Engagement Center and the pastor of Love Wins Ministries, ultimately, every shortcoming is going to be his responsibility – the buck stops there. As the Boards of LWM and LWCEC, we recognize the need to increase oversight to ensure that these lessons learned result in changes.

Conclusions. As a result of what we have learned, the following steps will be taken:

  • Just as the LWCEC has done since April 24, the Center will remain open a minimum of four hours per day, with paid staff and volunteers under the leadership and the supervision of the Boards.
  • Financial management and reporting will be improved. A member of the CEC board will meet with Reverend Hollowell monthly regarding finances.
  • Employee and volunteer relations will be enhanced through strengthened policies and Board supervision. A member of the board will be assigned as a staff liaison.

Prior to this upheaval, the LWCEC was open for 36 hours a week. Our greatest sorrow has been that the LWCEC has reduced its hours to 20 hours a week. Our greatest solace has been that our community, both housed and unhoused, has continued to show up and make this thing work now that we have reopened, even if we can no longer provide services eight hours a day.

Thank you so much for your interest in our community. Those of you who have provided faithful financial support have made it possible for the Love Wins Ministries and the Love Wins Community Engagement Center to continue serving this vulnerable community. And during this season of stress and change, your gifts are still greatly needed.

Love Wins Community Engagement Center

Sarah Jessica Farber

Carolyn McClendon

Al Reberg

Love Wins Ministries

Brian Ammons

Scott Bass

Chris Simes

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Our Current Wish List

Here is a list of things we always need here at the Community Engagement Center. The brands don’t particularly matter, but there are links to items on Amazon for illustrative purposes.

If you want to have items shipped here, the shipping address is:

Love Wins Community Engagement Center
824 N. Bloodworth St
Unit B
Raleigh, NC 27604

The phone number to put on the order form is 919-835-2777

If you would like to bring items on this list by, please come to the address above between 9:00am and 1:00pm Monday through Friday. To make arrangement at other times, please give us a call.

Street Survival

Toiletries

Hospitality Supplies

Cleaning Supplies

We survived the flood!

In the last 72 hours, downtown Raleigh got around 8 inches of rain. That is just a little under 20% of what we get in a normal year.

This was the scene outside the door of the Community Engagement Center this morning.

We had a packed house again today, filled with soggy people with no place to go, many of whom were outside the night before. Our meager clothing closet was raided hard as people looked for dry clothes, and friends brought a new supply of towels and foot powder to help deal with all of the cases of waterlogged feet.

Our new volunteers have went above and beyond this week, helping us make sure we provide hospitality and relational space. They all bring their gifts – organizing, medical knowledge, conversation, the willingness to be there – and together, it all adds up.

One scene from today particularly touched me:

Around 9:30 this morning, caseworkers from another local agency brought a 26 year old man, let’s call him Jimmy, to the CEC. Jimmy had just gotten out of jail in a small town, and the jail had given him a bus ticket to Raleigh, and he got in early this morning, with a bag of clothes, no relationships with anyone, and in the middle of a flood.

“He doesn’t have anywhere to go”, the caseworker said.  “Can you take him from here?”

“We got it,” I said.

I asked Jimmy where he was planning on sleeping tonight. He told me he had no idea. He had family in Virginia, but he didn’t want to go back there yet – he wasn’t sure they would take him in.

Anthony was standing nearby. “Man, you gotta go to the men’s shelter tonight. You ever been there before?”

Jimmy: I’ve never even been to Raleigh before. Where is it?

Anthony: Man, stick with me. I am going there when we leave here – I will hook you up. Stick with me.

Later that day, I watched as Anthony and Jimmy walked away, after the rain had stopped and the sun began to shine, headed off together to find Jimmy a place to sleep tonight in a city strange to him.

That is what we do here. We provide space where the stranger can enter and become a friend. Where Jimmy can come in the midst of the storm and find shelter and someone who can help him move forward. Where Anthony can share his knowledge and contribute and help others.

But most of all, on a stormy day, both Jimmy and Anthony had a place to be, and that opened up doors for both of them.

We will reopen on Monday – and need your help.

Since the dramatic departure of two employees, the hijacking of some our social media accounts and the resulting closure of the center three days ago, some 70-100 vulnerable people – people who are, for the most part, chronically homeless –  have had no place to go.

Our first priority is to not focus on the drama, but to focus on the people who actually need our help. Our first priority is to reopen the center.

To do that, we are going to need some help.

Over the last few days, dozens of people have reached out with their offers of help, which is good, because we are going to need it.

On Monday morning, volunteers and members of the remaining staff will reopen the Community Engagement Center, probably on a six hour a day schedule.

The reality is, the Community Engagement Center isn’t about any one person, or any of the staff, or even about what we call it. The real idea behind the Community Engagement Center is that it is about creating a place where everyone can belong, where people who have no place to go can have a place, a place where the stranger can enter and become a friend.

And that, all of us can do.

If you would like to help us in that – if you can work a three hour shift, if you can come by for an hour, if you can help us make lunch on Wednesday, or pancakes on Monday morning, or anything else, please go here and give us your contact information, and someone will be in touch with you in the next 48 hours or so.

Thank you so much for your support.