Why this place? Why these people? Why me? One of my favorite projects this year was collecting first-person reflections from volunteers, staff and board members of the Urban Ministry Center.
Development Team, UMC
“When I was a volunteer here, a neighbor asked if I would call his children’s doctor. I invited him to use my phone and make the call himself. ‘No,’ he said. ‘When people hear my voice, they stop listening. You have a voice people listen to.’ That broke my heart but turned up my volume. And that’s when I knew I had to be part of this place.”
Housing Readiness Coordinator, UMC
“When I was a volunteer working the upstairs phone, I had a gentleman finish his phone call, and headed down the stairs crying. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, and he came back upstairs to tell me his story. He just arrived in Charlotte, was six days sober and had nowhere to go. Fortunately a staff member knew someone who was formerly homeless and running a sober halfway house. He stayed there that night and for some time until he moved into his own place. He’s been sober ever since and has moved back to Canada to be with his family. This is only 1 in 1000 stories why I do what we do here.”
Curriculum Coordinator, UMC ArtWorks
“I started volunteering at ArtWorks945 because of my passion for creativity and its healing qualities. I quickly learned that the common passion for art soon turned into friendships. One day an artist came in to the studio, tears streaming down her face, I asked what was wrong. While living in her car, she was attending classes. There had been an incident with one of her teachers and she was extremely upset. We talked about solutions, after she calmed down. The next day she came in with a huge smile on her face, hugged me and thanked me for taking the time to help her work out her problem with positive results. I was so touched by her gratitude and perseverance, I knew I was where I belonged.”
Facilities Manager, UMC
“I returned to UMC for a third tour of duty for three reasons: 1) the money is great 2) I love cleaning toilets 3) I love Dale Mullennix. Okay maybe #3 is somewhat true. Dale did ask me to come back this past Spring. I had just completed a prayer in the parking lot of Park Road Shopping Center asking God what He wanted me to do with my life after taking a step back from the company I had started. Seven months later I remember just how special this place can be. Sometimes, not every day, but sometimes, I am privileged to have a direct impact on our neighbors. Particularly important to me are those whom I drive to detox, or had a special conversation with out in the yard or in my office. 28 days, two months, or even two days later, they come back to me or I see them somewhere else and they are sober and tell me it’s what I said to them that got them sober. And my response is always that I don’t have that Power. It has nothing to do with me. No one ever accused me of being the most religious man on the planet and I certainly don’t have a direct line to God. But the Urban Ministry Center reminds me He doesn’t need a telephone.”
Sarah R. Paris
Volunteer & Founder, UMC HousingWorks Culinary Arts Program
“I didn’t necessarily choose Moore Place – it sort of chose me. I heard Dale Mullennix speak one day and he talked about the many ways people can give: They can give their financial resources, they can give their time, and then…then they can share their passion. At that moment a light bulb flicked over my head and even though I am not a professional chef, and even though I’ve had little in the way of formal culinary training, I love food and I love to cook and I asked Dale if there was a way for me to bring that passion to UMC. It started out simple – I began by teaching cooking classes once a month at Moore Place. Within a year the HousingWorks Culinary Arts Program was born and I am now focused on not only teaching students how to cook once a month, but introducing them to culinary professionals and trying to broaden their overall culinary experiences. It is like no other community work I’ve ever done and it brings me an incredible sense of gratification knowing that by sharing my passion, I am having a positive impact on someone’s life.”
Medical Outreach Coordinator, UMC
“If I had to be honest, I’d have to say, I’d never thought in a million years my social work path would involve working to end homelessness. My compassion grew during my time as a volunteer. I found myself wanting to give more of my time each week. However, my fire wasn’t lit until one cold snowy night in January; when a man very medically fragile; asked me ‘What are two girls doing in the woods on a night such as this? Why did you care to find me?’ His words were of concern and genuine fear for my coworker and me. Here this man was living in the woods, homeless for eight years; worried about our safety as women. It was at that moment I knew I had a heart for Outreach work. I learned that day people who have decent character generally do not lose it because they become homeless. Good people are good people no matter their circumstance.”
Chair, UMC Board of Trustees
“When I was young I learned a valuable lesson. There ARE people in the world who need help and are not always or ever capable of helping themselves fully. Everyone is worthy of a roof over their head, whether they can help themselves or not. I lived with an Aunt and Uncle for awhile. I was lucky to have that. Not everyone has the loving family I had. I always had food and shelter, but I could see the fragility and the potential to lose it. I want to make sure no one has to worry about that. I have seen lives transformed with the support systems that UMC offers, people enabled to reclaim their lives. We are making progress and can end homelessness here in Charlotte.”
UMC Security Officer
“As a 34-year police veteran that worked the west side of Charlotte, I thought I was tough. Once I started working at the Urban Ministry Center I realized the tough people are the neighbors that live on the mean streets of Charlotte. I have learned and continue to learn from each of them on a daily basis.”
Retired Executive, Jeld-Wen, UMC Volunteer
“I have served at Urban Ministry and Moore Place for several years. It all began after attending a Bridges Out of Poverty class where I received a wake-up call. Since then, I have served as a church host for Room in the Inn, a RITI coordinator, Moore Place volunteer, a True Blessings table host, and a donor. I have seen the importance and impact of getting to know the neighbors and residents. Becoming their friend and being able to call them by name. It puts a smile on their face (and mine) and makes them real.”
Associate Director, UMC
“I got to inform Fred, a veteran who has been homeless for nearly 20 years, that he would be getting a housing voucher in just a few days. With as much disbelief as joy he told me, “Something different is going on. It seems like those of us have been out here a really long time are getting housed.” While I know the data shows us we are making progress, the numbers are not nearly as satisfying as having Fred notice we are on our way to ending chronic homelessness.”
Volunteer, UMC Showers & Laundry
“I started in the mail room a year ago, but it was working the shower desk those afternoons that drew me even more into the hearts of the neighbors at UMC. My drive home every Wednesday afternoon is filled with so many thoughts and concerns for the neighbors I interacted with that day. The simplest gesture, a smile or just being a listener is always appreciated by the neighbors as well as the wonderful staff at UMC.”
ABZ Creative Partners
“My first contact with UMC was 12-plus years ago. It was a forced encounter through an affiliate organization with a group of neighbors doing the art wall project. I came full of unkind preconceptions about the homeless. I left totally transformed. Each time since I have a UMC experience it has been equally powerful. I am constantly taught a lot by the neighbors… about life, about gratitude and most of all about faith. My experience caused me to involve our firm in various UMC projects over the years. I love to bring new staff to UMC encounters. To a person, they come away transformed.”
Will Summerville, DDS
Volunteer, UMC Dental Van
“Why I do what I do? A toothache can really be a problem for people without access to care and dental infection can cause life-threatening complications. If I can assist a homeless patient with one of these, then maybe I can fix the one thing that prevents them from focusing on the real issues that are holding them back.”
Director, UMC Soup Kitchen
“I began working at Urban Ministry Center on Day Two of its opening, when the security company I worked for assigned me there. My previous assignment had been at Crisis Assistance Ministry, so I saw many familiar faces; that helped me to do a good job right away. Of course, I wasn’t content just doing security – I quickly jumped in to help with the showers or laundry, and I had a special place in my heart for helping in the kitchen, especially those special meals like Thanksgiving. Eventually, I came on staff at UMC and that was the moment my thanks really began.
I was always an inch from homelessness myself until I worked at UMC. I moved frequently and, raising two children on my own, I was always making hard choices. . .light bill or rent? Working here helped me find stability and I’ve been in the same place for 11 years now. I’m proud of what I’ve built and how my children show the same work ethic. Being so close to homelessness helps me have deep compassion and sympathy for our neighbors.
I do what I do because it’s my way of giving back. I don’t have the money or the resources to support our neighbors, but I can share my talent. UMC never asked me to provide a hot plate lunch twice a week. I started doing that as my own way of ‘treating’ our neighbors. Long lines for the Soup Kitchen and comments afterwards show me that they appreciate my talents. I am ‘full’ when they are full.
I’ve seen many neighbors succeed over the years and one dear to me is Peaches. When I first met him, he was a hustler, conniving, and stealing to feed his addiction. He’s been clean for five years now and I know I am helpful in him creating and maintaining that sobriety. I have supported him and never judged him or held his past actions against him. Now, he’s one of the first for me to call when I need help because I know I can always rely on him – I trust him in my kitchen and that’s a big deal. Just today he helped this morning and left to head home when my regular volunteers failed to show – no excuses, he didn’t hesitate to turn around and come on back.”
Caroline Chambre Hammock
Director, UMC HousingWorks Program
“When I was just out of college, I landed a one-year assignment with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, serving at the nation’s largest supportive housing development for individuals who had experienced long-term homelessness in New York City. Many of the tenants had severe (and often untreated) mental illness, others had long histories of addiction, and many were living with HIV/AIDS in an age when there was still enormous stigma attached. I didn’t know what to expect and was more than a little nervous. My office in Tenant Services was right off the lobby, and very quickly tenants came to visit me. There are more stories than I can recount here, but one stands out.
A senior citizen named Wilma was schizophrenic and very paranoid. She usually came to me to complain about her various conspiracy theories. She also claimed that she had been a published author before she became homeless. I was naturally disbelieving but loved our frequent (and frequently bizarre!) conversations. One day she called me and asked me to come to her apartment so she could show me where the ‘bugs’ had been planted by the US President. When I walked into her apartment, I expected to find chaos. Instead I found her highly organized modest home – and sure enough, copies of her published books on her bookshelf! I asked her countless questions about her life as a writer and if she had any advice for me as a budding writer. In a rare moment of lucidity, she said, ‘Keep a notepad with you at all times. When you hear words that are intriguing or you just like, write them down. A writer never stops learning.’ Wilma challenged my stereotype of mental illness and homelessness. I never knew the story of how she initially became homeless. I just knew she was resilient and one of the most fascinating people I would ever meet. I do what I do because homelessness, mental illness, and addiction don’t define people. Behind every face is a story, and the best part of my job is seeing past the stereotype and getting to know the person within. And thanks to Wilma, I still write down words.”