Twenty-one strangers convene in an unfamiliar place. No cell phones, no TVs, no laptops. They are dropped in the woods late at night with only a map and a mission.
Although it sounds like the promo for a new reality television show, it was the reality for 21 incoming freshmen at Duke University. The nighttime challenge was only the start to an exhausting and exhilarating pre-orientation program in which a team of seven students would spend their week volunteering for Genesis Home.
Project Change, co-sponsored by the Duke Women’s Center and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, is an immersive leadership experience in which new students live, learn, and work in Durham.
Through the program, students compete with a team of peers and select a nonprofit to work with for one week to find ways to solve critical problems.
“Genesis Home stood out because they change people’s lives rather than just giving them something,” said freshman Henry. “They help people change their perception of opportunity.”
On August 13, seven students commenced their work with Genesis Home. Their task: to educate downtown Durham businesses about Genesis Home and entice them to support the organization. Although many of the students had community service experience, corporate outreach was a new challenge.
“We learned that doing the educational part before the fundraising helped them be more receptive,” said freshman David . “The Play House toy store on 9th Street even helped get us an application to get diapers from the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.”
Freshman Jessica agreed. “I personally did not experience a single time a manager or owner refused to at least take one of our fliers. I think that shows how much people in Durham care about improving the community.”
By the end, the group connected with 38 downtown businesses and local organizations. In fact, one business owner turned out to be a former Genesis Home resident who shared her great appreciation for the students’ valuable work.
Project Change earned support from 21 percent of business owners and organizations – through Barrels of Joy, Houses of Hope or in-kind donations. Additionally, Genesis Home also has secured five more donations from local businesses thanks to leads from the students.
All 21 Project Change participants had the opportunity to share a meal with the families and spend the night at Genesis Home in a communal living space without any personal items or toiletries. They experienced, for a moment, what it might be like for new residents.
“Living in a communal living space, you can’t get away,” said David. “Families, even in times of stress, have to pull together.”
And that’s also what the students now see the community must do to end homelessness in Durham.
“A community cannot function well unless all its members are properly cared for,” said Jessica. “The misfortune of some affects us all. Genesis Home helps families get back on their feet.”
One way you can help our families get back on their feet is by supporting the children in our programs. The opportunity to go to summer camp each year gives our youth a fun and productive way to spend their days while allowing their parents/guardians the time they need to work toward independence and housing stability. Please consider making a donation today.
As Genesis Home approaches its 25th anniversary in 2014, the occasion got me thinking about what separates organizations that last from those that quickly come and go. In an age where many seem to be obsessed with securing their own fifteen minutes of fame, what stands the test of time? In a disposable society, what’s really important? As a parent, this question has added relevance as I consider the kind of people that I want my children to be and try to limit their exposure to unhealthy behaviors in a world where right and wrong isn’t always crystal clear.
My personal belief is that the difference between success and failure often comes down to values and how those values are demonstrated within the organization and the community at large. While we don’t always trumpet our values and accomplishments, I’d hope that the following facts would reinforce your faith in the agency and the way that we operate.
One of the biggest challenges for any nonprofit is retaining donors, volunteers and supporters in a competitive environment. While we’re no longer the new, hot cause, I hope that our track record and direction give you the assurance that you need to continue to support our work. In my mind, substance never goes out of style. If you believe in these values and our mission of ending homelessness for families with children, I ask you to find a way to get involved. Our updated website is a great way to learn more about our work and how you can help. With your support, we can stand the test of time.
In thanks,Ryan J. Fehrman
All of us understand this past year has been difficult for families in our community and across the country. Many families, who never expected that homelessness could happen to them, are finding themselves living in cars, shelters, and in the worst cases, on the streets.
One such family was Shameka and her two sons, ages 16 and 13. Shameka’s family graduated from Genesis Home this past October, but their road to independence has been filled with struggle and loss. Shameka and her husband moved to Durham to look for work after she lost her job due to the economic downturn. Just three weeks later, her husband died of a massive heart attack. She held several jobs as a cook in local restaurants but had to stop working due to an on-the-job injury. Shameka and her sons eventually found their way to Genesis Home.
“I learned a lot of things at Genesis Home,” said Shameka. “We had professional people coming in and talking about our health, nutrition, how to eat, how to talk to your kids, how to deal with everyday life. They were lessons you couldn’t just buy or find anywhere.” Genesis Home also served as a safe place for her sons. “They got close with the other kids,” said Shameka. “They’re not hanging out in the streets. Instead, they’re hanging with their friends at Genesis Home. I don’t have too much family, but I consider a lot of the Genesis Home staff and families as my family. They’re closer to me than blood.”
Today, Shameka is living in a three-bedroom apartment with her sons and is working toward becoming a peer counseling specialist for people who are struggling with addiction. When we asked Shameka if she had anything she wanted to say to our supporters, she responded with great conviction: “Thank you. If it weren't for people like you, I don’t know where I would be. Having somebody have your back and understand that anybody can fall on hard times—you may never know the extent you have helped people. My family will succeed because we had help from Genesis Home.”
Genesis Home is on track to set an all-time high for the number of families placed into permanent housing in one year. Your financial support provides the case management and programming that our families need. Please take a moment to help families like Shameka’s. Each gift keeps our doors open to families and children in need, providing them with a stepping stone to a better life. Thank you for all you do to support our efforts to end homelessness, one family at a time.
Happy Holidays from Genesis Home’s Residents, Staff, and Board of Directors