More than 25 years ago, a group of people in Durham had a vision. They wanted to create a place where families with children who were experiencing homelessness could find shelter and resources to help them regain their independence. On February 1, 1989, that group succeeded in opening the doors of Genesis Home to families in need.
I had the opportunity to sit down with two people from that original group who also served on the first Board of Directors: Bob Jackson, an IT manager in the Department of Sociology at Duke University, and Nancy Rosebaugh, a nurse practitioner at Croasdaile Village. The following is an excerpt of our conversation as they shared their memories of Genesis Home’s beginnings and their thoughts on our progress throughout the past 25 years.
Cindy: You both were there from the beginning, and I think you had a lot to do with getting Genesis Home started.
Nancy: There was a whole group of people. It was a constantly evolving and growing group of folks who were interested and committed.
Cindy: What made you decide that we needed a family-oriented site?
Nancy: I worked for the Durham Presbyterian Council, which was a consortium of all the Presbyterian churches in Durham that wanted to do ministry together. I would receive people who came in asking for whatever kind of help they needed. I encountered people who were moving to Durham for work because they heard it was a great place to live and there were jobs. There were also people who were very poor—chronically poor—who had to leave wherever they had lived. They came to us for help, but there was nothing we could do for a family with children who had no place to stay.
I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about how to help these folks. We started talking about it at First Presbyterian and the Council, then we took it to Durham Congregations in Action (DCIA) with the help of Joe Harvard who was the minister of First Presbyterian at the time. That was my motivation: I was trying to figure out how I could sleep at night.
Bob: In the mid ‘80s, Watts Street Baptist Church had set up an overnight women’s shelter that functioned for about four years. We’d go downtown every night and pick up whoever was outside the courthouse. That could be two, three, four, five women. We’d bring them back, give them a meal and a place to take a shower, and they’d sleep overnight there. Then the next morning, we’d take them back downtown. In the course of doing this, we became very aware that families were being affected by homelessness as well. Bob McClernon (the pastor at Watts Street Baptist Church) made me aware of what DCIA was doing with the committee for a family shelter. I joined their group and started meeting with them.
Nancy: I do remember [that getting the house donated to us] was the catalyst. Everybody said, “You could’ve done this from scratch and spent less money.” But I’m not sure we could’ve raised the money for a “from scratch” project. We got the house and the land donated…people mobilized and gave money to complete the facility and start the program. It was really a hand-to-mouth existence. We moved the house without having all the money to pay the house mover. Every time we reached a place where we had no more money, we started another process of reaching out. We went to the United Way, and we were accepted as a member organization. We went to the Self Help Credit Union for a construction loan. Throughout each of these steps, we had to develop our structure as an organization with a little more sophistication. We had to apply for nonprofit status and set up a board of directors and bylaws and find a financial auditor —all the things that an organization needs to survive. Before the house was donated, we were just a committee that kept meeting and saying, “What can we do?”
Bob: At first DCIA was ]our umbrella organization. At a certain point, I think we felt it was important for our project to go out on its own. None of us had done this kind of work before. We were just figuring it out as we went along.
Cindy: How many families were able to stay at Genesis Home at the beginning?
Bob: It was 4 or 5, depending on how many people were in each family.
Nancy: I remember the first night that Barry Greever (Genesis Home’s first executive director) was staying in the home with the residents. Arabella Meadows-Rogers (a Board member at the time) went to the grocery store and came back with supplies to cook supper and breakfast—what a leap of faith!
Cindy: Do you recall any of the families or any stories of families who were residents back then?
Bob: One story I remember that was very poignant is from the year I was president of the board. There was a family who had experienced a SIDS death while at Genesis Home. That was a very sad occasion. It was just very difficult to go through. Maybe 15 years later, I was over at the house for a volunteer event, and there was a young woman there to volunteer. She was a teenager—probably 16 or 17. She said, “My sister died in that corner room.” She was a member of that family. I remember her pointing to the room and telling me that.
Cindy: Fifteen families can be housed at a time now. We’re always full. If we have one moving out, we have another one ready to move in. I’m curious to know—was it always full back then, or did you ever have any open slots?
Bob: There were openings at times, but it stayed mostly full. I remember a couple of instances when we had families where there was some issue with a husband, and he had to be sent out of the house but the rest of the family remained. He might have been a drug user or there were issues that had arisen during their stay. I can remember some of those guys would set up a tent in the woods beside the house and actually stay there.
Cindy: When you first started this 25+ years ago, did you think that it would go for 25 years? What were your expectations?
Nancy: I certainly hoped that it would. I don’t imagine homelessness will ever be gone. One great thing about working on this project was that nobody ever said, “Why do we need that?” Everyone appreciated that it was something that was needed, desperately needed, and they wanted to be part of it.
Cindy: Is there anything you would like to say to all the donors, volunteers, and staff who have helped over the last 25 years to make Genesis Home what it is?
Nancy: Thank you for making our dream come true! There’s no better investment than in the future of children and their families.
Bob: Keep the faith. I’m just amazed that Genesis Home has lasted this long and remained healthy and such an integral part of the community.
Cindy: Thank you both for your contributions. There wouldn’t be a Genesis Home without you. I know there were many other people so when I say thank you, I’m saying it to everyone who was involved. There’s a lot more work to do. It isn’t over.
Nancy: That is how it goes in this business. We’re grateful for the folks who come after us and pick up whatever needs doing next.
Bob: The work is never done.
Did you know...
Children who experience homelessness are sick twice as many times as other children, have four times the rate of asthma and suffer twice as many ear infections.
To help homeless children beat the odds, Genesis Home created the “5K to $40K Challenge: On Your Mark. Get Set. Achieve!” as part of its participation in the 19th annual Great Human Race. The first $10,000 we raise will send all school-age Genesis Home children to summer camp. Any additional dollars we generate over $10,000 will go toward supporting other youth and family enrichment programs:
“Homelessness shouldn’t be a handicap for our young people,” said Genesis Home’s Executive Director Ryan J. Fehrman. “Supporting Genesis Home in the Great Human Race gives us the resources to ensure that all of our young people have the support and services that they need to be successful.”
Genesis Home is in its 25th year of working to end homelessness for families with children by providing housing and supportive services to foster independence. In 2013, the agency served an all-time high of 110 children through its three programs: Family Matters, Turning Point and Durham Circles of Support.
For just $120, we can send one homeless child to summer camp for eight weeks. Please make a donation today and help homeless kids beat the odds.
 Ellen L. Bassuk, MD, and Steven M. Friedman, Ph.D., Facts on Trauma and Homeless Children, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, http://www.nctsnet.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/promising_practices/Facts_on_Trauma_and_Homeless_Children.pdf (2005).
What can you achieve in a month? For Ebbini, a recent graduate of Genesis Home, she and her newborn were able to go from homelessness to permanent housing in just 28 days.
In August 2013, Ebbini was homeless and eight months pregnant. “Throughout my whole pregnancy I was homeless,” said Ebbini. “I was in foster care all my life so I don’t know my family. I had to live in a car and in motels until I could find a place to stay.”
The need to find housing became critical when her doctor said there were complications with her pregnancy and that they would have to induce labor a month earlier than her due date. “I thought I would have to leave my baby at the hospital,” said Ebbini. Fortunately, that was not the case. When her baby arrived, Ebbini called the Durham County Department of Social Services’ Coordinated Intake Program and said that she needed shelter immediately because of her newborn. Thankfully, Genesis Home had room and Ebbini and her baby moved into the shelter in mid-August 2013. During her time here, she worked through our Family Matters program with her Family Services Coordinator Tammy Mauldin and attended therapy sessions. She also continued taking classes to earn her certified nursing assistant (CNA) license.
Through hard work and determination, Ebbini graduated from our program just 28 days later, one of the shortest stays for a household exiting to permanent housing in the agency’s history.
“I would’ve never been able to do it without Miss Tammy,” said Ebbini. “I thought I’d be staying at Genesis Home a lot longer than I actually did, but she really worked with me. Miss Tammy helped me with budgeting and resources to help me get daycare. She helped me get the place I’m staying in right now. She’s still working with me on therapy and other plans.”
In fact, one of the resources Ebbini had access to after graduation was a means to reliable transportation. Genesis Home partners with Wheels4Hope, a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping low-income families and individuals by providing them reliable, affordable vehicles. Genesis Home referred Ebbini to Wheels4Hope, and in December 2013 she received a car.
When asked how she felt when she received the keys to her car, Ebbini exclaimed, “I was so excited! I can’t even explain how happy I was.”
It also was a great experience for Executive Director of Wheels4Hope John Bush. “To celebrate the gift of independence that a car provides with someone as hard working and gracious as Ebbini was a special moment. When a client has persevered and stands tall through the support offered by Genesis Home, taking hold of the keys to a car is in fact taking hold of a new lease on life. This is why our partnership is vital. It opens the doors to employment, stability, education, and housing options.”
And according to Ebbini, receiving those keys did in fact help her take hold of her new lease on life. Between her job and taking her son to doctor appointments, the car was crucial in her path to independence. “I had been catching the bus everywhere I was going, and it was just starting to get very cold right before I got the car,” said Ebbini. “I didn’t want my son or me to get sick because I wouldn’t be able to go to work. Now I’m able to drive him to his doctor appointments, and I don’t have to rush around to catch the bus to meet clients for work.”
Today, Ebbini is working as a nursing assistant at a local nursing home and is living in her own home. As far as her future, she said she wants to keep moving forward. “I’m hoping to never be homeless again and to make sure my family is safe and healthy. I want to continue my therapy and do what I’m supposed to so that I can do something with my life.”
In the midst of so many challenges, Ebbini achieved housing stability and independence in less than 30 days through perseverance, a commitment to herself and to her family, and a positive attitude. In her actions and attitude, Ebbini has shown all of us the true meaning of the word “fortitude”.