PEOPLE OF PRIDE

By Rev. Robert Parrish

What is pride?  Sometimes it looks like appreciating the clothes that you have to ware in spite the fact that they are out of style or even torn.  Maybe it looks like a basket ball team playing hard even though they are down by thirty  points.  Pride then, is having respect for yourself or a group of people.

Part of my growing up years were spent in Bryson City, NC, which is located near the Tennessee boarder.  My family, and the African American community we were in, were very poor, but, that did not stop the matter of having pride drilled into me.  In fact my mother would say “Son, you may not have the best clothes, but at least they are clean”.

This kind of pride spilled over to older relatives who looked after my brothers and I.  I recall very vividly, a relative that was referred to as “Uncle Doc”.  You see, in the Bryson City adults were often referred to as aunts and uncles as a matter of respect.  UncleDoc expected a lot from the people in our community; this was especially so for the kids.  One day, while two of my brothers and I were setting outside of a community café, Uncle Doc approached and noticed that our hair was not combed.  He asked us why our hair was in such a state.  We could not give him a satisfactory answer.  He then turned around and left us.  However, it was not long before he returned with three combs.  As he gave each of us a comb, I remember him saying “You represent me and this community.  I don’t ever want to see you with your hair uncombed again”.  I never forgot this lesson.

It could be that you are wondering what does this have to do with people who are homeless?  Many homeless people grew up in families and communities just like mine.  In spite of being homeless they hold on to the pride that was instilled in them.  A true illustration of this came to me when one of the staff members at Love Wins named Blu told me about how some homeless people plant flowers outside of their tents.  She went on to say how the space in their tents are often kept neat and clean.  I would imagine that there are those who would wonder how could such a thing be.  What this says to me is that pride shows up wherever you are.

The fact that homeless people indeed take pride in what they have should tell us that they have hope.  Perhaps this pride and hope will lead to a house and yard, or even a job.  This pride and hope helps homeless people take care of those in their tent communities, and to never give up.  I pray  for the day the more of society will see this kind of pride and give them what they deserve.

Pastor Robert Parrish is Chaplain for Love Wins Community Engagement Center, providing spiritual counseling, leadership and Wednesday service.

The Lesson of Small Gifts

*This blog was written by Pastor Robert Parrish, Chaplain of Love Wins Community Engagement Center.  

As pastor, or chaplain, of Love Wins Community Engagement Center, I often give out Bibles to those who request them.  Like many people, homeless people see the need for spiritual nourishment in their lives. 

On one such occasion, a person named G asked me if she could have a Bible.  I gladly got her one.  Upon opening its pages, she stated that the print seemed a little small, but that she might be able to read it in brighter light.  Upon hearing this, I mentioned that I just might have a magnifying glass that she could have.  As a person who is legally blind, I seem to have several magnifiers laying around, and do not find it hard to spare one from time to time.  G was happy to hear that I might be giving her this gift.  Indeed, I did find a magnifier that I thought would be just right for her.  It has level two power and has an (led) light in it.

 When she arrived back a Love Wins a couple of weeks later, I gave her the magnifier.  Now, even though I could not clearly see her face, I could feel the beams of happiness and gratefulness coming from her.  As she tested its visual capability, G found that the magnifier was perfect for her. 

No, I did not give her a million dollars.  Yet, some how, I feel like I gave her something more.  Who knows how being able to read the Bible more easily might make a difference on how G will be guided in her life.  Can one really say how the wisdom that she might gain from reading the Bible might help her guide some one else?  

Gratefulness in receiving things that most might consider as small or even trivial, is something I see from the people at this engagement center.  Items like a canvas bag or a shirt or blouse are received as gold.  What this seems to say is that nothing is taken for granted.  Gifts or blessings, no matter how great or small, are really appreciated.  Although the clients of Love Wins Community Engagement Center don’t have a lot, they  teach the lessons of appreciation and gratefulness. 

In general, our American society is bombarded with the false notion that you’ve got to have this material thing, or that material thing.  Some how, if an item is more than a year old it is “out of style”.  Also, there is this thought that says “you are entitled to the very best”.  Thank God, or if you prefer, the Universe, that many homeless people teach the lesson of being satisfied with simple things. These marginalized people teach us the value of making items last as long as they can.   They teach us the lesson of being thankful and grateful, even for the small gift of a simple magnifier. 

Growing in Nonjudgemental Love

*Written by Pastor Robert Parrish, provider of services and counseling for Love Wins Community Engagement Center.

I find that most people, when asked, would tell you that they love and accept everyone.  They will say that they don’t pass any judgement. However, study after study shows that human beings do this on a subconscious level.  To confirm this fact, one only has to take a racial bias test. It could be that human beings think that if it is said, acceptance of all people is true.  But, all one really has to do is take a good look at society, or listen to the news, and see that this is not the case. Walking and living in nonjudgmental love takes practice and work.  It is not only what we say about accepting human beings, it is what we do in relationship to them.

Love Wins Community Engagement Center is a place that offers and gives nonjudgmental love.  But admittedly, it is at times not easy. As the pastor of this engagement center I talk with and sit with people from various backgrounds.  It ranges from being thrown out of a home from an early age, to spending significant time in the prison system. Struggles with drug addiction, to living with mental illness is also a part of the above.  How does a person like me who has not experienced these kinds of life experiences give acceptance and love?

The first thing I do, along with other staff at Love Wins, is to be aware of my biases.  This awareness helps me to step away from my prejudice and better enables me to listen to the homeless people more clearly.  I also find a way to recall my own experience when I have been judged, and not accepted as a person who is blind. Being around people in society who have low expectations of me is something that I have to live with every day.  This connection helps me to better understand how people blame homeless people in making their own problems, or how they ” won’t amount to anything”. Thus both of us are accepted for who we are.

A second way that enables me to accept and love homeless people at Love Wins is to walk with them in where they are in this journey called “life”.  In writing this I mean that they don’t have to meet some expectation of what I think they should be. In doing so, a kind of trust develops. It is when trust develops that I, along with other staff, may have the opportunity to help people experience areas of growth or different life choices.  

Nonjudgmental love then seeks to be with people where they are.  This opens the avenue for all of us to grow in relationships and experience growth in ways that we never knew.

Community Garden: Community Market

Our budding Horticulture club is taking the Community Garden very seriously this year.  We started by planning a mixed color heirloom cherry tomato garden, in order to be able to provide an attractive product to bring this summer to the Rebus Works Saturday Market.

 

Our baby tomato plants.

We’ve planted red cherry, brown cherry, orange grape, white grape and red heart tomatoes. When they get larger, we’re going to transplant them, and I’ve purchased a small grow lamp so that they can get up to a viable size. Then we plan to plant what we need, and offer up the rest of the seedlings at the Saturday Market at Rebus Works, so that you can plant your own garden too!

Our folks are getting really creative. One community member even came up with the idea of taking some of these cans that we use, and planting tomatoes in tomato soup cans, corn in corn cans, green beans in the green bean cans, and calling the booth “The Food Pantry”, which I think is brilliant, but we’re gonna have to drill a lot of holes in those cans, and no one can figure out what to do with the spam cans (hahahahahaha).

In the meantime, our first crop will be a beautiful selection of greens to braise, planted last fall by one of our awesome volunteers. We’re excited about the new hot pepper we just seeded, and the spring garden of radishes and carrots that should be available soon. When the community comes together, we can fight food insecurity and learn how to sustain our neighborhoods!

Family Within the Homelessness.

Volunteer K-1 teacher, teaching shapes and colors for our youngest clients.

*This blog was contributed by Pastor Robert Parrish, Love Win’s spiritual counselor and pastor. He’s contributing a series of insightful blogs about his experiences within the community center.  To learn more about Pastor Robert, click here for Alyssa Chamblee’s interview with him.  

I have been a pastor for Love Wins Community Engagement Center a little better than five years now. I count it a privilege to walk with homeless persons through the toughest areas of life. As I provide ministry to them I see the injustice of our society and the many complexities in being homeless.

One day, about a year or so ago, I overheard one of the members of this community say , “We are family”. What; homeless and family? Within the context of this conversation I heard how one homeless person was helping another homeless person find medical support. I heard another person guide someone to where food could be found.

As the pastor here, I’ve learned how homeless persons are family and community to each other. This is something that the greater society does not fully realize as well. In fact, they take on a level of being family that people everywhere could learn and grow from.

Maybe the lesson here is that one does not necessarily need a roof over their heads to be family. It is making connections and helping others where you can.

*Pastor Robert Parrish provides counseling on Tuesdays and Fridays, Tai Chi class on Thursdays, and leads our worship service on Wednesdays at 12:20 pm at Open Table Methodist Church’s beautiful sanctuary.  

Ready to Rent

We’re starting our New Year off with a fledgling program we’re calling “Ready to Rent”. Our newest associate, Stefanie Mayes, has been working with people who have obtained or are obtaining their section 8 vouchers, and spends time calling each place to make sure our folks are still on the list, and how close they are to being renters. This work has been ongoing, and as it evolves, we’ve found some things that simply “go together”.

Stefanie also checks for available rentals, be it rooms or apartments for people who are ready to rent. She’s working on a list of private landlords as well, and we’re starting from base on this list- all previous lists available are long outdated, so if you know a private landlord who would like to fill their space, please email Stefanie here, and we’ll see if we can make a good match for them. This is a fledgling program, and we’re starting from square one, learning as we go.

We often find that paperwork can be daunting for people. It’s confusing. It can be overwhelming. It’s a lot more manageable with a friend to sit with you, look up things that are unfamiliar, and help you figure out what you need to be a future tenant. Some of what Stefanie does is as simple as navigating rental applications with folks. It’s simple, just requiring patience, a computer, and the ability to talk one person through, but it’s invaluable to people navigating housing for the first time. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.

We’ve discovered, along this journey, that when people get housing, they’re excited, and we want to help them! We get a lot of donations, food, clothing, and housewares. Stefanie has started taking inventory and putting together those housewares for our folks who get housing, and it’s a blessing- there is so much to keep up with, we realized that this was a department that we were sorely lacking. I know where we keep towels, but I couldn’t tell you what size sheets we have or exactly where they are, what plates match, and how many sets of cutlery we have. I’m unsure of how many toaster ovens and blenders we have. We needed a person for this.

We want to be with you at every step of your journey. We’ll transition with you through the shelter and tents, to those first job interviews, through that first paycheck, to that first room for rent, to your first set of kitchen pans. We want to walk this journey with you, and if nothing else, as Hugh used to say, “We can’t pay your light bill, but we will sit with you in the dark”. We’ll walk with you through the path.

Stefanie Mayes, “Ready to Rent” program leader.

The Story of the Miracle Pants

Once upon a time, there was a young man named Jonah who worked 2 jobs and had just gotten into a boarding house.  One of Jonah’s jobs was in a kitchen, but the other job was as a sales person.  He worked hard to be able to afford his rent, and pay his phone bill, which he always answered very professionally because he also used it for work.  He kept gas in his moped and paid off his loan.  He was making ends meet and was proud of himself.

One day, Jonah came to work, and his big, corporate bosses were there to check on the store.  They got to know Jonah, they liked him, but they sent him home early because his pants were too faded to look professional anymore and told him not to come back to work in those pants.  Jonah only had 2 pairs of pants.

I got a phone call because he didn’t know what to do.  His check was going to just cover his rent, and if he bought pants, he couldn’t pay his loan.  He wore a very difficult size to find, so we came up with a plan.  We would go get some black dye, and we would dye his pants!  What a great idea!  For only $5, Jonah could have 2 pairs of pants that looked brand new!

We went searching for black dye and dyed both pairs of pants in my sink.  Jonah loves dogs and cats, so he had a great time playing with my pets and having coffee with my neighborhood friends.  When the pants were done, we put them in the dryer and noticed, they were better, but definitely not professional looking yet.  It was still an improvement.

Then we both got texts messages at the SAME TIME!  Mine was my friend Dory at Walgreens, telling me that our donation bin was full, and Jonah’s was his corporate bosses asking him if he accidentally took the store keys home.  We made a plan to drop off the store keys and then pick up the donations.  Jonah’s bosses asked him, “What are you doing right now?”  He said “Dying my pants for work tomorrow”.

When we arrived at his workplace, both of his big, corporate bosses were standing outside waiting for us.  The world is a small place because I knew one of them!  He used to live in North Carolina before getting this huge promotion!  I told him that the pants came out much better, definitely not perfect, but we could try to dye them again.  His bosses were named Larry and Joe, and Larry said, “Come with me”.

We didn’t know what to expect, but Larry and Joe took Jonah to store after store to find pants that were professional and fit him well.  Joe and Larry were so impressed with Jonah that they had made a plan, and bought him 3 pairs of pants, which they purchased with their own funds.  Then we were whisked off to a tailor to make the pants fit just right.  Larry said to me, “This is my purpose in life, to help people.  He needs this job, and he’s doing everything he can.”  Joe was equally supportive.  He said, “We like him and he’s doing a good job.  We want him here working with us.”

Then came the BIG SURPRISE, as if we weren’t already vibrating with energy; Larry’s mother is a hair dresser, and had offered to give Jonah an entire professional hair, beard, style make-over!  At this point we separated, Jonah to get his hair done, and I went to pick up the donations at Walgreens.  About an hour later, my truck was full of donations and Jonah was getting his newly cut hair washed.

I picked up some Jamaican food, because no one had eaten since lunch and it was now 8:30 pm.  Jonah emerged from the hairdresser looking like a young, professional salesman and smiled.  He looked absolutely amazing.  We thanked Larry and Joe for all of their help and headed back to my house to take the faded, re-dyed pants out of the dryer and eat dinner because we were famished.  The re-dyed pants are now kitchen pants, and Jonah has 3 pairs of tailored slacks for his sales job.

I cannot tell you how many employment stories I hear that end with “I didn’t have the right shoes/pants/shirt”.  This story could have ended the same way, but these big corporate bosses cared.  They saw something in Jonah, and they knew, all he needed was just a little thing.  Something that about $160 total could solve, which is a fortune when you are just starting out.  He needed “the look”, he was already successful in raw material, friendly, kind, and smart.  I’ve met many corporate bosses in my day, but I’ve never met any like these, and it gave me life and faith in society.  It gave me hope.  For Jonah, it gave him a well earned chance.

*Jonah is a pseudonym

From Homeless to Housed: Billy Goes Shopping For His New Apartment

Chef Billy Garrett started his lease on his apartment on November 1st, but came into the space early to start painting.  Billy has great pride in his place.  He’s painted his bathroom a pretty green and coordinated a shower curtain and accessories with it.  His kitchen is now painted an appetizing orange color that brightens up morning breakfast and evening dinners.  His bedroom in now a bright, sparkling white with a fresh white ceiling.  Today he’s tackling the living-room with a warm, light yellow.  It’s a cheerful, homey space.  

Today, Billy and I went to the Green Chair Project, a non-profit that helps people furnish their homes.  It was LOVELY.  They put so much effort into coordinating displays and creating warm, inviting showroom areas.  All of the furnishing and accessories are in excellent shape, clean and attractive.  The entire space is stunningly decorated by volunteers with an eye for coordinating rooms.  They even have volunteers who create these beautiful gift baskets, and if you’re a person with an eye for making beautiful gift baskets, this would be an EXCELLENT place to volunteer your time!

 

 

 

Beautiful gift baskets created by volunteers and staff at Green Chair.

Look at all of this talent!

The staff a Green Chair really gets to know the tastes of each client.  They know Billy’s color palate, what colors he’s chosen for his walls, and that his favorite interior decorating color is “Wine”, a rich burgundy.  He likes warm golds, deep yellows, jewel tones and surrounds himself with a feeling of warmth.  Billy chose a deep, warm loveseat and ottoman with warm, dark side tables, and a stunning rug to pull the room together.  

Billy’s warm couch with throw pillows, stunning carpet, and framed Van Gogh print.

Billy also chose a perfect little breakfast nook table, complete with table runner and flower arrangement, a whole set of new dishes, a bathroom gift basket with pretty towels to match his colors AND, I really think that they went into the back, after he chose his items, and created a gift basket just for him, because it could not have been more perfect.  All of his colors, a lamp that matched, a cute candle, a big, beautiful vase and another perfect throw pillow.  

Then, a bunch of strapping young men, loaded up a truck and delivered the furniture to Billy’s apartment!  They even helped him get the rug down BEFORE the big couch and tables were brought in!  I was SO IMPRESSED with Green Chair that we have begun the paperwork here at the center to be a partner agency.  Often times, we are the first point of contact when someone becomes housed, and we do everything we can for them, but we don’t have the space or volunteer power to pull off anything close to this beautiful, dignified shopping experience.  Green Chair really believes in agency, and lets everyone choose, exactly what they want for themselves, and that is so huge!

If you would like to help, we are still looking for a mattress and box spring for Billy.  I think we can find a bed frame, but the mattress and box spring has been like the holy grail- no one can find it right now.  If you or someone you know has one that they need to donate, please let us know, so that we can get Billy off of the air mattress and in his own bed!  We’re so proud of our Billy and our amazing team here at the center.  If you would like to contribute to Billy’s salary, please click here and leave us a note! Billy works hard for the money, and his hard work has paid off.  

Welcome Stefanie!

We are pleased to introduce everyone to our new Operations Associate, Stefanie Mayes!  Stefanie has a passion for food and helping others.  She and her husband hold a fish fry once a month, where her green beans have become a thing of legend.  She enjoys helping Chef Billy in the kitchen and the community members love everything that she creates back there.

Stefanie was previously a Property Manager for The Magnolias, which is a housing complex for people with disabilities who are approved for Section 8 housing.  She is extremely helpful with helping our folks navigate Section 8 housing once they attain their vouchers, and helping people find rooms for rent that they can afford.  Her focus, here at the center, will be assisting people with finding rental properties.  She’s already hit the ground running by finding a room for one of our housed people who was about to lose his housing.  If we can PREVENT someone from becoming homeless, it truly changes a life.

Her desire to help others makes Stefanie an excellent fit here at the center.  Before being a property manager, her career was managing restaurants and bars, which we’re found to be an excellent background for managing the constant movement here at Love Wins- we have to be fast on our feet, good problem solvers, and have the ability to interact with all different types of personalities.  The community already loves her; I knew that they would.

One year ago, I first interviewed Stefanie for a future position here at the center, but we didn’t have the money to hire anyone else at that time.  This past month, I took a leap of faith, to ask the world for forgiveness instead of permission.  I’m so glad that we did, because looking back, I can’t imagine how we got along without her.

Stefanie needs a laptop of her own to be able to look up rental properties and resources for people.  We, being a non-profit, can buy a refurbished one for $300.  If you would like to donate towards our folks transitioning out of homelessness, and our Homeless Prevention Program, please click here, and feel free to leave us a note about your passion.  Giving Stefanie the tools to help our folks be successful is so important, our ability to do good is only limited by the tools we have.  Come on down and meet Stefanie, take a tour of the Community Center, and see all of the new things that we’re doing here.  We would love to have you!!!

Seasons of Change

Here at Love Wins, when the season changes we find that the needs change too. Since Hurricane Florence came through, a lot of our folks have had runny noses, coughs, and have been going to the emergency room because they don’t feel well. In turn, they have needed help getting medications filled.

We have an account with Person Street Pharmacy, and they are amazing with us. We have the ability to help our community get medications that they normally wouldn’t be able to get. We try to make sure that they get all that we can provide to help them live happy, healthy lives. Sometimes that means they need their psychiatric medications, and sometimes that means a RIT lice kit.

We are blessed to have a place that tries to accommodate us with all of the help that they can provide for us, however, over the past month or so we have run up a bill with them for close to $300. We pay little bits at a time as we can. If you want to help us with any of that bill you can go to Person Street Pharmacy and tell them you want to help pay some of the bill for Love Wins Community Engagement Center.

We have also noticed the need for coats, hand warmers and toe warmers have started. Over the past week the temperatures have started to drop at night into the 60’s. For most people that sounds like a great break from the summer heat, but for our roofless community members that means that they are outside in the evenings when the dew falls on them. Then the temperature drops, so they are outside, wet, and chilly. The hand warmers and toe warmers are one of the best things we can provide for the chilly autumn nights. The warmers don’t take up much space in their belongings, and they last for almost 8 hours. The need for coats is a thing that will only grow from here. As the nights get colder, then so will the days. Right now we don’t have any long sleeved shirts and are running low on long warm pants, so if you are going to do a closet purge, we would love to have any of your unwanted autumn/winter clothes.

We love what we do at Love Wins CEC. We want our community to be the best version of themselves that they can be.  We are firm believers in relationship building and one on one conversations. Everyone’s needs are different, so it takes a variety of different resources to try and help them navigate the crazy world of homelessness. We do all that we can. If we take just a few minutes out of the day to sit and talk to someone about what is going on in their life, then they don’t feel like they have been just passed by for the day.

They want be acknowledged. We will acknowledge them.

If you would like to donate to our bill at Person Street Pharmacy, click here, or go on down there and tell them that you would like to help someone at Love Wins with life-saving medication.