By Georganne Sanders
Vice President, Operations and Business Development
90 Degree Design
On the chilly morning of our last Leadership Raleigh Class 35 session, I woke up in my cozy bed in my heated home. I had a choice of several breakfast options out of my pantry and drove in my car to the Chamber. My expectations for the day were to learn more about people experiencing hunger, homelessness and addiction while visiting some of the organizations providing services to those individuals.
What I didn’t expect was the gut and reality check, and the emotions associated with witnessing those challenges and opportunities for improvement in our community. The bubble that I was raised in and live in daily is not something I generally think about, but my experiences from that day changed that.
Our first stop was the Raleigh Rescue Mission, which provides “long-term and emergency shelter, nourishing meals, counseling, medical care, educational opportunities, job training, and an on-site preschool center” to those in need. The Mission was one of the few places in Raleigh where women and children could be served. They currently have 240 women and children on their waiting list.
John Luckett, Raleigh Rescue Mission’s CEO, and his team have implemented a two-year program with the goal of stable employment and housing upon completion.
Around the corner from the Raleigh Rescue Mission is the Oak City Outreach Center, which generously opened its doors to our LR class for a poverty simulation by United Way. Each of us was provided with a back story. There were single parents, people dealing with disabilities, senior citizens on their own or raising grandchildren, and children trying to handle difficult situations at school and home. Over a simulated month-long period, we were to navigate keeping our homes, paying our bills, feeding ourselves and our families, finding and keeping jobs if we were able, finding affordable child care, and getting our kids to school.
There were far more takeaways than I have time to share, but needless to say, it was incredibly eye opening to see the difficulty associated with not just knowing what services were available to oneself, but with accessing those resources. It was easy to see how people could get stuck in a cycle of poverty that seems impossible to get out of.
As we lined up for lunch in the cold, outside of the door to the Oak City Outreach Center, we experienced a small part of what the clients experience every weekend as they walk through the line and are served their meal. OCOC is under the umbrella of the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness. Partnership Executive Director Shana Overdorf is one of the hardest working people I know (as well as one of my favorite humans.)
Shana shared with us that on any given weekend at OCOC, between 300 and 400 unique individuals receive 1,300-1,700 meals. As of Dec. 3, the 69 groups which coordinate, prepare, and provide these meals had served 275,279 meals to the OCOC guests. Over 200 volunteers served at least one four-hour shift. Among those volunteers were 50 Raleigh Police Department officers who regularly signed up for shifts at the center.
Volunteers and community members have transformed the OCOC from a relatively stark building to a welcoming environment, including a colorful mural, paintings, toys, a small library, and a beautified outdoor space.
One of the takeaways of our simulation was that what contributed to the difficulty of many people’s situations was accessing services which were located in many different locations. One way that the Partnership along with our local government is working to address this issue is through the development of the Oak City Multiservice Center. The new center “will provide coordinated access to the countywide homeless services system during weekdays (which) will alleviate the burden on the client of having to navigate the system on their own.” The current target open date is January 2019.
Striving for Recovery
Our next visit was with Healing Transitions, a “peer-based recovery oriented service to homeless and under served individuals with alcoholism and other drug addictions ... specifically designed to rekindle a person’s desire and ability to return to a meaningful and productive life." We were given tours in small groups by men who were working through the program. It made it so much more meaningful to hear firsthand the experiences of people who were striving daily for long term recovery. We were able to see where they started in detox, moved into the shelter, and then the progress they made as they successfully achieved milestones in the process.
Afterwards, Dexter Hebert, executive director for Southeast Raleigh for the YMCA of the Triangle led us on a bus tour of Southeast Raleigh. This historically African-American area of the city is seeing a lot of growth and development. Of particular concern is ensuring that the populations represented in the area are not pushed out, but are part of the economic recovery. Part of the development, led by Dexter and his team, is a 32-acre site that will house a YMCA facility, an elementary school, and other services. They have been working hard at fundraising the $20 million they will need to complete the project. It is going to be a positive addition to the neighborhood.
Making Our Community Better
We rounded out the day with a panel including Dexter, Joey Powell, executive director of the Me Fine Foundation, and Brad Turlington, who is involved with F3 and Healing Transitions. These men are working daily to make our community a better place
The day after our LR35 Human Services day, I woke up in my cozy bed in my heated home. I had a choice of several breakfast options out of my pantry and drove in my car to work. But that day and each day since has been a little different. I’ve been asking myself, “How will I contribute to ensuring our community provides opportunities for growth for everyone and services for those who are striving for a better life?” I have some ideas and I hope you do too.