A Safe Place for Matthew to Thrive

When I first met Matthew, he came to our yoga class, which was only the 3rd one that we had held (it’s now a staple of our center). When Miss Kayla asked if anyone had any injuries, he raised his hand and said, “I have a bullet in my leg”. Kayla is pretty unshakeable, but even she looked surprised and told him to do what was within his abilities, but if he was in pain, to ease up a little. After class, I asked him how he found us, and he said that he had been to Love Wins before, but he had been in jail and had just gotten out. Matt and I began to form a friendship.

Matt is a tough young man. He was raised in the foster care system from house to house. He calls anyone who was in a foster family with him, his brother or sister. He has over 40 siblings and relations because of this. He was born with a seizure disorder that makes owning a driver’s license an impossibility. He’s tough, he’s damaged, but he’s also kind. He’s great with kids, especially if they’re in that age-group where they want to hang upside-down, be flown around like an airplane, and ride around on shoulders- he shines in that capacity. He has a tiny butterfly tattooed on his body.

We’ve had hard times too. At one point in time, when he was having a very bad day, he lashed out at some volunteers who had made lunch because there was nothing there that he liked to eat. It was a simple lunch, turkey wraps, pasta salad, boiled eggs, bags of potato chips, and he had arrived late, so pickings were few. He proclaimed that we didn’t have anything good to eat (and some other choice words in a loud voice with a full dining room). We had to temporarily ban him, and that broke my heart.

Months later (and another jail stay), his girlfriend came to the center and she was pregnant. Matt met with Pastor Hugh, and they had a serious talk. He was going to be a father, and he wanted to be a good one. He apologized and came back to the community a changed person. He was working hard on himself every day to grow as a person and learning ways to cope with his emotions. He asked for some sharpies and started drawing a mural in the dining room on the wall- we discovered how talented of an artist he was!

Matthew’s trials were not yet over, though. His girlfriend lost the baby, and he took it really hard (they are still together and doing great at this point). He became even more motivated to get his life in order so that one day they could have a child and do it all “right”. He loves his girlfriend, and she loves him. They rarely leave each other’s side. With the help of some really awesome folks, he’s navigating his disability paperwork, getting his seizure medication, signing up for food stamps, and trying to find part-time work and housing. In the meantime, he’s directed his efforts to drawing as a way to channel his energy, and his pictures are beautiful.

He has an “animae” style to drawing characters. He’s inspired by Dragonball Z, and Pokemon. I take pictures of what he draws so that if anything happens to his bag (and often times, our folks bags get wet or damaged), his pictures will still exist. I want to keep him in art supplies as he develops his talent. I want to nourish this part of him that loves to create, because that love can overtake the part that wants to destroy. Matthew was born with many obstacles and challenges, but for now, he has a safe space to be where he can grow into the man that he wants to be.

In my ideal world, I want to foster this passion in each and every person. I want to feed Matthew’s talent as he becomes the kind and loving future father that I know he can become. I want to provide a space, colored pencils, paint, paper. I want him to succeed. I want him to one day know a home that isn’t a cell, a hospital or a tent. In the meantime, we’ll be his home, and I’ll archive his work.

*Matt’s story was written with his encouragement.  Our goal is to have an art show for Matt.  

Family with Newborn Twins Needs our Help!

When Janelle* and Roger* were evacuated from Orlando during the storms, they were hoping that everything would be okay. They hoped that their rental house would be intact when they came home, so they headed to N.C., where Janelle’s sister lived with her boyfriend. Janelle, already very pregnant with twins, packed up their twin 6-year-olds, Alex* and Lucy*, as well as their 1-year-old son, Lee*, and headed to her sister’s house for “just a few days”.

“Just a few days” turned into “Just a few weeks”, as things took a turn for the worse. A tree had fallen on their rent house and destroyed it.  When “a few weeks” turned into “a few months”, Janelle’s sister’s relationship with her boyfriend fell apart, leaving both sisters to fend for themselves. Her sister found a roommate situation easily, but with 3 children and 2 on the way, Janelle and Roger had a harder time. The sudden relocation had left Roger with a job paying a fraction of what he was previously making, and things started to fall through the cracks.

They checked into the local mission, where men are not allowed to be on the same floor as women. They had to meet up outside of the mission for Roger to see and play with the kids. Janelle’s pregnancy was now so far along that she was supposed to be on bed rest, but with 3 young children and without her partner, she wasn’t able to follow the doctor’s orders. The rules of the mission are that people who stay there have to work there every day, but it was proving challenging for Janelle to do even the lightest housework, especially while watching over young children. Janelle gave birth while staying at the mission, and now has twin babies, a boy and a girl.

Roger got to be there for the birth, but then they were separated again. He started sleeping on the streets because it was easier for him to make his 5 a.m. time at the labor pool. Janelle struggled with post-partum recovery, unable to breastfeed because of lack of privacy and judgment from other residents, and all of the challenges that go with keeping up with her other 3 children while caring for newborns alone. She needed Roger’s help, and he wanted so badly to be there, but that was against the rules, so she struggled on without him, seeing him in moments when she could.

Roger had been coming to Love Wins for several months when one day, he showed up with a baby boy, 1 ½ years old, toddling around and chewing on a pancake. We met Lee, and had no idea that Roger had any children at all, let alone 5!

Roger showed us pictures of the new babies and we were excited to meet mom. Janelle arrived within the hour off of the local bus with two of the tiniest, cutest little bags of sugar we’ve had the pleasure of holding in a long time. Roger hadn’t told us about his family because he wasn’t sure that there was much we could do to help, and both parents were deathly afraid of having their children taken away while they were so vulnerable and doing everything they could.

We immediately called Family Promise, the only shelter option in Wake County that keeps entire families together. Our system isn’t really tailored to deal with active dads or, in other cases, families with teenaged boys. Typically, the women and children are separated from the father or older brother, and in this case, this family was about to fall through the cracks. Family Promise got them on their waiting list right there on the phone, and Janelle and Roger felt hope.

Janelle and Roger’s family still wasn’t safe, though.  Janelle had been told several times that she was “on thin ice” at the mission because she had been there for so long, and had been threatened that, if she was kicked out, CPS would be called immediately and all of the children removed. She pleaded for a daycare option so that she could work, but didn’t qualify for one. Her babies were only 2 weeks old; average maternity leave is 6 weeks. We decided that this situation wasn’t safe, and started a campaign to get them, all together, into a situation that was.

Luckily, I have a friend who is the general manager of a hotel in a nice area that is quiet and on a bus line. She gave us an outstanding rate for a room with a kitchenette at only $50/day. This was a safe place. It’s a nice hotel typically frequented by people on business trips near a very big company that often has people in for business. They would have a laundry room, free breakfast every day, wifi to help them navigate their world, and it was within walking distance of a grocery store and a Walgreens. We were so happy and put the word out on Facebook that we needed to raise funds to keep them in housing, and our people came to the rescue. Currently, they have safe housing until Tuesday, March 14.

Janelle and Roger are beaming now. They’re a step ahead of us all the way. They’ve set up appointments with their social workers, the elementary school, Family Promise and hospital visits. We were able to get them Regional Bus Passes, which allow them to travel all of Wake County, not just Raleigh, so that they can make their appointments and get the kids to the bus stop. The older twins are going to school every day, and they were instantly flourishing.

Roger can’t make the 5 a.m. labor call right now without sleeping outdoors (our busses don’t run at that time), so they’re using this time to do every single thing that they can until they get approved for a housing program- the waiting lists are long, but they’re on both Wake County and Durham County waiting lists, so they’re hedging their bets. I’ve talked to all of their social workers on a daily basis, and they’re meeting all requirements. We’ve given them the tools to be successful, but we still need your help.

Here’s what we need:

  • The waiting lists in both counties are long. If you would like to contribute directly to another night of safety, it’s only $50/night for a family of 7. Please email me at maranda@lovewinscec.org for details and I’ll get you the information you need so we can pay the hotel directly. To keep this family safe through April 1st will be $900 total.
  • Regional bus passes (that transfer to Go Raleigh) are $20 each, giving the rider a $25 value. We’ll need 6 of those, totaling $120. Kids ride for free!
  • Sometimes there are problems only money can solve – for example, birth certificates cost $15 each, especially if you have no address. Not everything falls into a box, and sometimes the difference between a “problem” and a “problem solved” is $10. We would like to raise $500 to have funds to throw at problems like this as they come up.

Stretch Goal:

  • Once they can enter a program, they become eligible for Wheels for Hope, a non-profit that provides people with vehicles that they can afford. This family has 3 car seats to deal with for the next few years and will probably need a van or SUV. (If you have a van or SUV that you would like to donate, we would love to hear from you.) I’m estimating total costs of that to be $1000.00. If we can help them cover some of this cost in the future, I think that would be a wonderful house-warming gift.

Here is how you can help:

If you want to help us with the hotel – email me at maranda@lovewinscec.org for details on how to pay the hotel directly.

For everything else, you can just donate via our donate page and we will make sure it gets to the right place. (If you wanted to send the family notes of encouragement or gift cards, you can mail them to the address on the donate page as well.)

Sometimes, it is easy to feel overwhelmed in the world, like a problem is so big that you can’t make a difference. Here is a concrete way for you to make a difference in one family’s life.  Life is hard. Life with newborns is harder, and doing it while homeless is near impossible without a village, or a community. Luckily, now they have that!

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.