Meet the staff: Leann

We have four new staff members at Love Wins Community Engagement Center. Over the next few weeks, each will introduce themselves here. First up, Leann Rafferty, our Office Manager, tells us a bit about herself:

13512100_10153923316031865_6514260881780027650_nI always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. My parents never quite liked the idea of their only daughter going into a field that doesn’t come with a corner office and a six figure salary, but they have always been supportive of me even if my mom does email me applications for law schools every few weeks. I know she only wants the best for me, but sometimes it’s just really hard to explain to her that my best life looks nothing like the picture she painted in her mind when I was handed to her at four weeks old and told that this was her daughter now, and what were you going to name her? She named me Leann Rafferty and I deeply disappointed her when I announced at age five that I wanted to be an artist.

My dad always understood. He’s had every career under the sun from pilot to restauranteur to professional handyman. He taught me how to use power tools, cook, and plant a garden. But most importantly he taught me that it’s ok to let your heart lead when it comes to your career, that a woman can do anything that a man can do, and that money is only as good as the good you can do with it. Needless to say, this last bit has always been a point of contention in my parent’s marriage, especially since he retired and bought a lake cabin with no indoor plumbing. What I find funniest about our relationship is that my father is deeply disappointed in the fact that he never managed to impart conservative values in me and completely fails to see that he is the reason why I am who I am and where I am today.

I always wanted to be an artist because I like creating. I like taking nothing and making something. I went to Appalachian State to get my BFA in metalsmithing so I could do that very thing, but I found upon graduation that even artists get boxed into little cubes. Creativity is not welcome in corporate spaces. Trying the spreadsheet a different way results in a reprimand. I started making tiny sculptures out of the red wax that comes on soft cheese just to sate the hungry artist inside, but that didn’t help enough.

I discovered volunteer work on accident. I was introduced to the LGBT Center of Raleigh by my boyfriend who does a great deal of volunteer work for them.  I started hanging out there and going to events and one day I realized I had become part of the community. People knew my name and I knew theirs. I was thrilled when they put me in charge of the monthly First Friday event because it combines my two loves; art and people. But still I wanted more. My job was crushing my soul in a beige cube and then I was forwarded a job application for Love Wins.

Creating community is still creating something from nothing. Helping to create a space where people can come and be themselves with no stipulations or caveats is turning absence into presence. Getting to wake up every morning and come to a place where I get to do things instead of sit quietly is a dream come true. I am still an artist, but maybe now my medium has changed.

Out And About In Raleigh

We recently participated in Out! Raleigh to help get the word out that IMG_0257our Community Engagement Center is a place that is open and welcoming to everyone. Hospitality does not include exclusion, and when a disproportionate number of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBT in orientation, we hope to especially offer welcome to the most vulnerable among us.

Right out of college, I pushed overpriced mochas at Starbucks for a living. Several of my co-workers became some of my best friends – one of happened to be gay and one a lesbian. We had the best time when we were scheduled to work together, and after work, we still hung out with each other over countless meals, movies, and conversations.

IMG_0273Through the course of our friendship, I asked many bumbling and probably awkward (and hopefully never offensive) questions about what it was like to be out in a rural-esque Southern suburb halfway between Atlanta and Alabama.

Thankfully, both sets of parents had responded positively and affirmatively when my friends came out to them. They weren’t treated differently, were not kicked out, or abused emotionally, or physically. They weren’t threatened or asked to change. They didn’t feel they had to run away to find acceptance. Thankfully, their parents responded with love.

If the numbers are right, this is not everyone’s story. I met more people than I can count over the course of my several hours at Out! Raleigh who were excited to hear about us, who seemed relieved to know that we were a place where they could come, be themselves, and belong.

We may not be in the business of ending homelessness. We may not be a soup kitchen. Or a shelter with beds.  But we ease loneliness with acceptance and relationship; ease hunger with peanut butter and jelly; and ease fatigue with a place to rest. I’m so grateful to be a part of my community.

IMG_0270  Related: Always Welcome

Always Welcome

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“The ache for home lives inside of all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou

In every decision that we make, we work to sew safety into the fabric of the Community Engagement Center’s day-to-day activities and life. It’s a part of our core values: we believe that true hospitality involves loving people as they are, without agenda or pretense.

Roughly 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Many of them experienced either conflict, abuse, or rejection from their families, and it landed them on the streets.

In our current political and social climate, the LGBTQ community is still fighting for equality, and teens are some of the most vulnerable among us.

And always welcome here.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Related: Who Is NOT Welcome Here

Remembering Names

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There are several essential lessons I learned upon my first couple of weeks here at the Love Wins Community Engagement Center:

  1. Avoid asking a guest about the sports team on their shirt
  2. Hot coffee is an absolute necessity
  3. Anything can be used as a bargaining tool

One thing that I was not explicitly told to do, but has possibly become the most important aspect of my job (besides making sure we have hot coffee), is learning the names of our guests.

Our friends here are welcome to come and go as they please, and sometimes we don’t see some of our guests for weeks, maybe even months, at a time. This is part of the beauty of what goes on here at Love Wins. Even if a guest has gone to work across the state or to visit family, when they return to community, it’s as if they never left. In some cases, like in my relationship with Tom, remembering his name after his two month absence was a profound moment for both of us. I admitted that I didn’t remember his name on the spot, and it took me a moment to remember who I was speaking with. But once his name popped up from the back of my mind, he appeared surprised that I’d taken the time to remember his name and face.

He went on to share his good news about a potential job opportunity and about a friendship he’d forged over the past couple of months. I find that remembering a name and then using it, and using it often, elevates the level of community we have achieved here. By doing so, we are able to open up a line of communication that isn’t always open to our guests, and they suffer when that kind of communication isn’t offered to them. This type of interaction is so valuable; knowing someone’s name changes the context around the relationship.

It eliminates strangers. It allows friendships to blossom.

I am learning everyday from our friends here that their names are just as much a part of who they are as my name is a part of me.

Related: I Was Sorry, Naming People Who Are Poor

Relationships Are The Key

A reflection from way back in the early days of Love Wins Ministries that Hugh writes on the importance of strong relationships. If you’d like Hugh to share more stories with your community group or church, please email Jasmin here. Thanks! – Jasmin

 

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Today, I spent the afternoon helping a 55 year-old man move his worldly possessions from a mini-storage unit to the rooming house room he rents. There is so much I could say about the experience and the lessons that could be derived from it, but the biggest thing that hit me was that here we had a 55 year old man who has lived in the area his entire life and he had no relationships strong enough to help him move his stuff.

How does this happen? How is it that in 55 years you have not built any lasting relationships that you feel good enough about to ask for help? Instead, you are reduced to asking for help from this crazy missionary guy you barely know, who is more than willing to give up two afternoons in order to help you move the stuff you should have moved months ago, but you did not know who to ask for help.

People get tired of hearing me talk about relationships, but the longer I do this the more convinced I am that the key is in the strength of our relationships. I know a little of his story – the broken promises, the lost potential, the misplaced faith, but still: 55 years and I was the only one he felt comfortable calling.

Related Content: The Principles of Jazz and Relationship Building, All Before 10AM

 

Come Work For Us

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As I said last week, there are changes afoot at Love Wins. Our decision to separate the hospitality house (now known as The Love Wins Community Engagement Center) into its own organization was huge, and has lots of implications for our community.

Here is one of them: We need someone to lead the new organization. The title is Director of Operations, and the goal is for us to hire someone to run the daily operations, to manage the small staff, and to provide a calm and grounding presence for our community members.

This isn’t the Executive Director, which is more of a legal role, but more like a Chief Operations Officer, if we were a gagillion dollar organization. The link to the actual job description is at the bottom of this post, but I wanted to talk about the job for a minute.

Hiring is always difficult for us. We want people who are compassionate and have a genuine sense of vocation around working with our population, but we also recognize that there aren’t a lot of places like us, so the odds of finding someone with the exact skill set we need isn’t high.

We have tended to hire people young in their career, with the idea that it is easier to train someone to do a specific skill than it is to train them to be kind, or to listen. If you have spent 32 years at the Holy Gospel Rescue Mission, and liked it there, it would be really hard for you to work here.

So here are some real world, no corprate double-speak thoughts on what this person needs to know to be successful here.

  • This work can be emotionally draining and demands emotional health. We will fight to make sure you have plenty of time away from the office to rejuvenate, but you will have to be good at protecting your time off and maintaining healthy boundaries.
  • We tend to avoid micromanagement and would much rather come alongside you, helping you set goals to accomplish. If you need help achieving them, we are happy to help. So don’t be afraid to ask. No one has ever lost their job here because they asked for help!
  • We believe the stuff we say about community. We aren’t just asking you to work with us – we are inviting you into our lives, and the lives of our guests. Hiring new people scares us – a lot – simply because we are very protective of our guests. If you’re willing to commit to being a part of something like a large, loud, fun, complex extended family, than we are the place for you. If not, you should look elsewhere.
  • We don’t have clients. Clients are transactional, and the language opposes the language of community. Instead, we have guests, who we invite to be part of our safe space, where, as Henri Nouwen puts it, “the stranger can become a friend.”
  • We need applicants with a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn. And please note: if you believe that you can “fix” our guests and community members with said strong work ethic, this is probably not the place for you.
  • We really, really need you to want to care about our guests, and you also need to really, really care about the team you work with, too. We have a very collaborative team of people here, who have developed strong relationships with each other. Like working with a team of awesome people? Then we need you!

In short, we want someone who is passionate about this work, and who isn’t afraid to make decisions. The ideal candidate will know how to respectfully delegate. You should like people and conversation, and especially important, be able to actively listen. If you apply, you need to be willing to suspend your judgement. Our guests do not need one more person in their life who is going to judge them, but crave people who will accept and respect them.

As we are fond of saying, the opposite of homelessness is not housing. The opposite of homeless is community. If that not only resonates, but you want to shout, “Yeah!” and throw a clenched fist in the air, we invite you to apply.

You can see the job description, and application instructions, here.

Changes at Love Wins

Yesterday, a version of this announcement went out to our newsletter subscribers. If you want to be sure you get the latest updates on our community, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter here.  – HH

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When Love Wins Ministries started, we didn’t have a Hospitality House. For nearly five years, Love Wins lived entirely on the streets. We counseled and listened, had a chapel service, shared food in the park on the weekends, and trained faith communities in how to do this work. But we didn’t have a home.

Over the last five years, we have worked to create safe space, a true home for this diverse and thriving community that has formed around our Hospitality House. Our offices are there, our staff has grown up there, and we are very proud of what we do there.

It is also incredibly expensive to do it. It accounts for more than 85% of our budget and 90% of our time. It requires at least three trained full-time people. For the last five years, I have been one of those full time people. This means that I am not writing things, or counseling nearly as many people. I am not training faith communities to do this work and, most importantly, I am not working on making the organization sustainable. All of that puts the safety and stability of our community at risk.

So, we are making some changes.

Over the next few weeks our Hospitality House, a program of Love Wins Ministries, will transition to become an independent nonprofit corporation, The Love Wins Community Engagement Center. We are in the process of applying for 501c3 status for it, and it has a separate governing board. We are becoming two separate organizations: Love Wins Ministries and The Love Wins Community Engagement Center.

Love Wins Ministries will initially employee a part-time administrative assistant and me. Its mission will remain the same, to provide a ministry of relationship and presence to the homeless and housing vulnerable population of Raleigh, and provide training and education around how to do that in your community.

The Love Wins Community Engagement Center will employee three people to run the daily operations, manage the volunteers, care for the community, and provide hospitality. Just like we have always done.

Some of us will be changing staff titles and roles over the coming weeks, and initially, I will temporarily be the Director of both organizations. And while I will always be involved as the founder of both organizations, eventually my daily life will be less focused on running a Community Engagement Center and more focused on running Love Wins Ministries.

As far as funding goes, Love Wins Ministries has committed to be the primary funder of the Community Engagement Center the first year, and a major funder after that. In other words, continue to make your donations as you do now, and we will fund the daily operations of the new facility. But eventually, it will transition to raising money on its own, and we also intend to pursue outside funding from grants, foundations, and other organizations. We will keep you informed.

I should also say that the transition will cost us a couple of thousand dollars in administrative costs. If you want to help us cover that, you can donate here.

To be clear, we are not abandoning the Hospitality House. It is just growing up. Love Wins Ministries will always be involved. We have three board seats on its five-person board, of which I am serving as chair. I am committed to remaining there as long as I am useful. The ethos and community based nature of the Hospitality House will not change. The only change will be our ability to do this work for a long time into the future.

Love Wins Ministries will be even more active as we use the newfound margin to develop ways to do large scale street outreach; focus on our worshiping community at the weekly chapel service; and create materials that teach others how to do this work, in both secular and faith-based contexts.

Next week, I will use our blog to answer lots of questions about how this will happen and share more details. Until then, please know that we think this time of growth is scary, but important.

We are so incredibly grateful for your support that enables us to do this bigger, better thing for our community.

 

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.