An Uplifting Friend

Being the Peer Support Specialist at Love Wins Community Engagement Center gives me a look into the lives of our community members with a unfiltered eye. I get the opportunity to sit with quite a few of them on a one on one basis, learning their hardships, what makes them who they are and why they are in the positions they are in. My job is to listen with no judgement and a open heart.

Ally* was 19, living alone in a tent after her boyfriend went to jail. We did our best at Love Wins for her to get her resources, but there was only so much we could do. So we threw it out to the Universe (and Facebook!) that this young girl was alone in the woods and had potential to do great things if given the chance.

Someone reached out to me the next morning and offered to help. I got up, put on my shoes and started looking for her – our people are hard to track down at times. I managed to find her at The Oak City Outreach Center. As soon as I told her what was going on I could see the excitement in her eyes.
Ally was being given a chance. I went with her to go talk to a couple of people about a place to lay her head for a little bit and the possibilities of jobs. She got to take a shower, eat a good meal, and sleep in a safe environment.

For the next week I saw her less than I normally do, but I knew she was going to be ok. She checked in with me regularly and let me know that she was making new friends. I was so happy for her.
For our folks, living arrangements can change fast, and they did for Ally. I got a phone call at 10:30PM that she was going to be outside, in downtown Raleigh.

I got out of bed and put my shoes on. I wasn’t going to let her stay downtown with nowhere to go. I would have wanted someone to come be with me, to answer to my call when I was homeless, alone, and unprepared. I know the gut feeling you get alone at night as a young woman. I told her to stay where she was I was coming to her.

I was walking so fast I was probably running. I told her it would take me 20 minutes, tops, to get to her, but I was determined to get there before 15. I think I ended up getting there in 12. As I walked up over the little hill I could see her in the distance in her bright blue interview blouse she had worn all day while job hunting. She did a little hop and started in my direction.
I let out a sigh of relief when I knew she was safe, but now we had to discuss what was our next move, which was to get Ally a safe place for the night.
By 5:30 the next morning she was up and going. We developed a list of things that she needed to do that day and we sent her on her way. She hustled hard that day, found a side job to make a little cash and was able to find a safe place to be. All on her own.

It’s not the place she wants to be but it’s a safe place to be for now. She has a job working on Saturdays and Sundays and every now and again she picks up a side gig. She hasn’t given up. She won’t give up. Even though she looks like a porcelain doll, she definitely isn’t, for she can’t be broken.
Ally* and I will keep doing what we can to keep her moving forward. And I’ll be there with her as her friend that uplifts her. As Hugh Hollowell put it so beautifully once, “I may not be able to pay your light bill, but I’ll come sit in the dark with you”.

I will sit in the dark with her. Or anyone else that doesn’t want to go through it alone. That is what I do. I am a Peer Support Specialist.

This is What SUCCESS Feels Like

This blog was written by Blu Honeycutt, our Peer Support Specialist.  To read more about Blu’s journey, click here for her very first blog post, or here for her blog about getting her first glasses in years.  

This Friday, June 8th 2018, will be 2 years that I have been a dopeless hope fiend, and looking back on what I have accomplished in those two years is amazing. I now have a full time job that I love. I have an apartment that I pay for all on my own. I get to see my kids regularly. And I have a network of people that believe in me.

I was sleeping in Mount Hope graveyard for the first 4 months or so of my recovery. I wanted to stay clean but knew I couldn’t be around other people that used, so I decided to isolate myself from the rest of the world. On that journey, I stayed in tents on the Greenway, slept under sidewalks at Moore Square, hid behind churches at night ’cause there was no where for me to go that would be safe from me.

When I found Love Wins, it was like the universe told me, “this is your new place to call home.” I could get warm food, take a nap, have someone notice that I was alive. I had started to earn a little money by flying a cardboard sign, and I started putting it into a savings account… I wanted out of that tent.

I used some of the money to pay for essential oils, made custom blended oils and sold them. I was hand-making business cards at Love Wins, when one of the staff members saw all the hard work I was putting into them. They passed around a hat to a bunch of other homeless people and asked them if they could spare any change, ’cause they wanted to help me get business cards ordered. By that afternoon everyone pitched in, and I had “Blu’s Bottles” business cards up and running.

I managed to save enough money to get an apartment, so I came back to Love Wins again. “I need help finding a place to live. I have money.”
That’s all I had to say, and they started helping me look. A week later I got an e-mail from Hugh telling me to come see him. He pulled me to back office and told me the good news: they had found a place I could rent and afford, but I HAD to show that I had money to do this. I moved into my apartment 2 days later on July 18, 2017!!

As I left the center that day with a shower curtain, pots and pans, I heard Alyssa tell someone that I was a success story. I went from living in a tent to having my own apartment. I was a SUCCESS!! I did something worth being proud of, and other people were proud of me too. When you are able to succeed at a goal, and get to see it happen, it is an amazing feeling that can’t be replaced.  I have had the wonderful opportunity to watch it happen for other people while i have worked here too.

I’m gonna tell you a little bit about Freddie. He was a gentleman that came to Love Wins on his last string. He had a loss in his family, and he was far away from them. He was from Florida. Alone, and not sure what to do or where to start, he came to me and asked if we could just talk. It turned into a friendship that will always stay with me.

Freddie cutting hair at the center.

He needed work. So I found him a list of hair salons that were hiring. He needed somewhere to sleep. So i gave him the address to the shelter. He needed someone to listen. So i just sat with him. I began to see him almost everyday and watched his confidence grow each time I saw him. He eventually got a full time job at Sports Clips and even got himself into an Oxford house. He came back to Love Wins once or twice a week and cut our community’s hair for free. I was so proud to watch him grow as a human being again.

He came to us last week, to tell us that he had a medical emergency and he had to get back to Florida. He could actually afford to pay for himself to get a Greyhound ticket, and it was an amazing thing to see him doing self care. As Peer Support Specialist for Love Wins, that is my biggest thing for our folks. Self Care. He had done it! He is a SUCCESS!!

This is what makes my job so awesome! I get to see people take a journey that is similar to mine and succeed at making it out the other side. It can be done with the right people around you, and support in all your hopes. We see some people just once and they disappear, but then once in a “Blu” moon (hehehe), we get to have someone like this remind us of why we do what we do. We help people become human again and build meaningful relationships.
Love Never Fails, It Always Wins!!

If you would like to contribute to Blu providing continued support to our community members, click here to donate to our Peer Support Fund.  

A Whole New World

I spent a good amount of my life just “dealing” with my eye sight. I had noticed there were problems, but nothing I couldn’t handle by just closing one eye or squinting really hard. I was prescribed eye glasses when I was in elementary school but refused to wear them because I hated the way I looked in them. There were plenty of times I couldn’t see but I just didn’t say anything. I knew that it would come down to having to get my eyes checked and get glasses again.

Through my adolescence and adult life, I had a few different pairs of glasses, and it seemed to help but over time I either lost them or didn’t wear them. I was in my mid-twenties when I started to notice that I was starting to see a gray spot in my left eye. I didn’t want to address it because my father had a blind spot in his eye, and it made me nervous that I’d suffer the same fate.

I was blessed to have gotten this amazing job at Love Wins, but that also entails me having to read e-mails and look at tiny numbers on a daily basis. It became more and more difficult to deal with my sight. As I was sitting at my desk one day, Hugh asked me why I was sitting so close to my computer screen to read a blog. It was time to tell the truth.

I started to explain the situation to him and I could see the look on his face. He seemed stunned that I had been handling this, and not saying anything to anyone about how bad my sight really was. That afternoon he took me to make an appointment to have my eyes checked again. It scared me. I was worried that I was going to be told I was going to have to wear an eye patch to read or something like that.  I made an appointment for the next day.

When I showed up for my appointment the next day it was a mixture of excitement and stress. The doctor took me back and began to tell me that it sounded like a problem that could be fixed. As he went through the routine test I began to see clearer and clearer. I honestly teared up and began to cry as he got to the end of the test. I could see! I wasn’t going to have to see a spot for the rest of my life. He informed me that I had a severe astigmatism in my left eye that reflects the light differently than normal shaped eyes would. With just the right lens, and a prescription, I didn’t have to worry about my sight.

A few days later, Hugh and I went to pick up my glasses. I cried, again. It was an emotional thing to see the leaves on a tree. The shape of the clouds. Seeing pebbles in the parking lot, and they had definition to them. I started reading the serial numbers on the tires of the car next to us at the stop light. I had to refrain from staring because the man in the car wasn’t understanding the amazement that I was going through.

Since I’ve had my glasses, I’ve read aloud morning e-mails from the Universe to Alyssa from the back of my office space because I can. I’m blessed to have those moments now. I see things more clearly than I ever have. And thankfully I don’t have to wear an eye patch…

Our campaign this month is “The Eyes of March”.  If you would like to help us help others experience the amazing clarity of sight, please donate here, and please bring us reading glasses and prescription glasses that we can find new owners for.  

Jersey in his newly adopted glasses. He’s been smiling ever since.

Community

Community- a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interest, and goals.

When I come to work every day, I am blessed to be surrounded by people who are just as happy to see me as I am to see them. We can have anywhere between 50-80 people come through the door every day, and they are coming “home” when they come through that door. It’s a place they can relax, rest, eat, socialize, cut their hair, wash up, and enjoy being safe.

Our community is full or all walks of life. Each one is different, but we all have something in common, we need each other. I can sit and watch these people be themselves, and have other people around them that understand what they are going through. Hearing them laugh after a long cold wet weekend outside brings warmth to my heart. I can hear the joy they are sharing with each other, as well as the staff members.

I was told once “we are holding up walls to give them a space to be… to be themselves.” For me, that meant we were there to help allow someone to let down their guard for a moment, and just BE. In allowing them that space, they become a blooming flower; opening up and sharing with us their wins and failures, letting us into their lives like family. When it’s cold and wet outside, my heart is with them. I think about my community like my family.

I have had my share of ups and downs while working here, and the community has been there through it all. They have embraced me and picked me up when I fell, and rejoiced and loved me in my accomplishments. In return I have given many hugs to the ones that needed an extra lift that day, and did dances with others that have great things happening in their lives. When you begin to see the same faces on a daily basis, you begin to know personalities. You know who is gonna say what, and which one you can get a laugh from. I need each personality in my life, personally, to make my day complete.

Working in the kitchen, I’ve gotten to know our community in a different way; through their stomachs. We have our diabetics, our carrot allergies, our lactose intolerant, the ones that will eat anything as well as the ones who are picky. I find that knowing all these individuals and what they like or don’t like, brings me that much closer to them, and remembering all these things shows that I care for each of them, just like if they were my own family. They aren’t given many choices outside of Love Wins, so we give them as many choices as possible. I make lots of meals, and each is thought out carefully to make sure everyone is able to eat. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but it can always be done.

Love Always Wins

This blog update was written by our newest employee, Blu Honeycutt.  You’ll be hearing more from her in future posts, so stay tuned!

 

I already had a vision in my mind of this collaboration of meaningful words that I wanted tattooed on my arm, and then this happened and it became something so much more…

I had been part of the Love Wins Community for a few years now, and over time, found that I didn’t need to go there anymore, (or so I thought). I began a journey to get my life together, a home, getting to see my kids, staying in recovery for over a year. I felt lost still. Something in my life was missing. I was fortunate enough to run into one of the Love Wins Community members, and I was told my help was needed, and that’s all I needed to hear. I needed purpose. I needed to be needed.

I showed up ready to do something, anything, I just wanted to stay busy, and I sure did. Washed dishes, cooked some food, folded clothes, just kept moving. I had a purpose: to help. After a few weeks of volunteering, I was standing in the kitchen with MaRanda and Alyssa, and began to tell them about this project I had in mind of getting inspirational words tattooed on my arms. I thought I needed to add Love Wins to that list of words. “I know right!!! I had been thinking about that!!! Love Wins right here!!!”, as Alyssa draws a line across her arm. “I’m gonna rock it right here!!!”, and MaRanda puts up her double fists. That was when the plan was hatched. We were on a mission and it was going to happen.

When the day came to go get the tattoos, I knew what it meant to me, to have something that I would share with two people that share my passion for making “Love” the “winner” in our lives. On a daily basis these two ladies give a part of their hearts to our community, and the people in our community see and feel that. That’s why they show up every morning before the doors open, and stay after they close to help. They have made love the big win in a lot of failures. I was honored to be part of something so grand.

As we got tattooed, we shared some great stories, and made plenty of new ones to share. That day we came together to share the heart and soul of our community, and to show that this is something we all need in our lives. This community is the purpose. We bond together over our desire to make Love Wins a great place for so many people. I will always be part of something bigger than me…. Love Always Wins.

For more about the tattoo process, check out “Giving away Privilege” , a blog post by MaRanda, our ED.  

Meet Blu!

We knew that when the time was right to hire someone, it would be someone we already knew. Someone who knew and loved our community. A person who had given of themselves, selflessly, through volunteer work and dedication, expecting nothing in return. A true believer in the mission of Love Wins and our 6 principles of hospitality. We asked the universe to send us our person, and the universe responded with Blu.

“Blu was made for this job! She’s a perfect fit,” Jill* said as she was gathering her things to leave for the day. I couldn’t agree more. Blu’s title is “Operations Associate”, because it’s the broadest title we could think of for the wide swath of talent that she brings to the table here at the center. We have a busy winter ahead and a newly implemented meal plan.

Hugh overheard me tell another volunteer “Check with Blu, she heads up our nutrition program”, and he said,“We have a nutrition program now? That sounds official. And fancy.” He’s right, it does, and we’re all really proud of it.

Blu is easy to talk to and has a natural talent for listening and really hearing people, it’s no surprise that she would like to be a substance abuse counselor. Our folks love her and trust her, often seeking her counsel to talk about challenges they face as well as celebrating their wins with her.

She’s profound in her wisdom and I learn something new from her daily. Her practical camping knowledge is invaluable when trying to meet the needs of people living outside during cold weather, and if there is anything more needed in this community than an outdoor enthusiast, I don’t know what it is yet.

Her resume is as fearless as she is, from dancing with the Moscow Ballet, to apprenticing as a body piercer, to learning to frame houses, working her way up and managing her own framing crew; she’s as strong as she is kind, and that’s Love Wins material. Welcome to the family, Blu, we’re so lucky to have you!

*Names of community members are changed to protect privacy