36 Stories

About two weeks ago, Urban Ministries of Wake County had their fall event, called Stone Soup (after the old folk tale in which some hungry strangers, and the whole town, are fed after the townspeople each make a small contribution of ingredients). It is their big fundraising event for the fall (there are two events planned in the spring). They had quite a few local chefs prepare different soups that could be tasted, a performance by a children’s theater group, and a “potter’s village” with pottery for purchase, with the proceeds all going to Urban Ministries.

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It was held at a local church, White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. I went to help out with some of the set-up and take-down, took some photos and worked the raffle table, where there were six different dining experiences that could be won. For part of the evening I shared the table with a volunteer who also happens to be on the Board of Directors of Urban Ministries. She’s a remarkable woman, a local resident in Raleigh, has two jobs and runs an event planning and booking company, as well as volunteering. She even gave an impromptu mentoring session to a couple of high school girls that were there volunteering!

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So going back to the mission of the organization – I mentioned in my last post that Urban Ministries has three main areas of focus, being hunger, health care and homelessness. The last post looked at hunger; today it is HOMELESSNESS.

The Helen Wright Center for Women is a shelter for women that first opened in 1984. In 2000 it changed to allow only women. There are a number of other homeless shelters in the county that allow men, families and/or youth. The Helen Wright Center (named in honor of the first Director of Urban Ministries) has 36 beds that are available, and there is always a waiting list to get in to the shelter. Those 36 beds are filled with 36 different stories of women that find themselves in need of shelter. Reasons may range from loss of a job, domestic violence, depression, divorce, or health issues. For many people living in poverty, they walk a razor-thin line to have enough income to sustain a minimal living. A single event that you or I may see as an inconvenience, perhaps a car that won’t start one morning, could be catastrophic for someone living in poverty. A car repair bill may be too much to be able to pay which can set off a chain reaction of debt. One day late to a low-paying job may be enough to get fired. North Carolina, and most US states, have “at will” employment, which means an employee can be fired for any reason, or no reason, without warning (so long as the reason is not unlawful, e.g. discrimination, retaliation, etc). The United States is one of the few countries, if not the only country that allows termination of employment “without cause”.

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There are basically four large rooms at the Helen Wright Center – two large sleeping areas with cots, a dining room, and a common room with several sofas, a television and books. The shelter helps about 300 women each year, providing transitional shelter and food (prepared by volunteers), as well as case management and special programs and workshops. The goal is to help get them back on a path that leads to job, housing, health, etc. As you can see from the pictures, it’s not exactly the Ritz. But for a woman in need, it just might be the difference that gets her back on her feet.

Which brings us back to the raffle table at Stone Soup and my partner in ticket sales. What would likely surprise you is that she is also a former client of Urban Ministries of Wake County. For this vibrant and successful young woman, the shelter was a helping hand right when she needed it the most.

And I’m happy to report that Stone Soup was a success, exceeding their goals by raising more than $38,000 to help fight poverty in Wake County. That might not seem like a lot of money to those used to looking at clinical trial budgets, but every bit is a tremendous help and can make a huge difference in the life of someone who is walking that razor-thin line.