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
"The Genesis Home is not for [homeless] people. It’s for people that need to [find] a home.”
-Josh, age 7
Josh is right. Genesis Home isn’t just about providing shelter for homeless families.
It’s about empowering families to achieve housing stability.
When we found Josh’s letter in our archives, it reminded us just how powerful our youth enrichment efforts within the Family Matters program can be.
The goal of Family Matters is to help families identify and overcome the root causes of their homelessness, while taking a holistic approach to teaching life skills essential to obtaining and retaining permanent housing. That holistic approach includes providing youth enrichment programs for our Genesis Home children.
From summer camp at the YMCA to after-school tutoring and reading programs, we work to give our kids the tools they need to focus on academics, build confidence and learn skills that will help them both inside and outside the classroom. However, we would not be able to achieve these goals without our Genesis Home supporters who donate both their time and money. In fact, thanks to the efforts of fundraisers, volunteers and corporate sponsors, we raised nearly $25,000 for our youth enrichment programs and direct client assistance through the 2013 Great Human Race.
Former Genesis Home Board member and our 2013 Great Human Race Honorary Chair Barbara Smith said working with children during their stay at Genesis Home is paramount. “There’s a great amount of work done for the children at Genesis Home,” Barbara said. “They need a lot of help and support, and there are so many different programs at Genesis Home that achieve this with leadership and guidance from our family services coordinators and volunteers.”
Recent Genesis Home graduate Hafiza Marshall echoed that sentiment. She attributes her son Devon’s academic growth to our youth enrichment efforts, specifically the after-school tutoring program. “He’s made the honor roll,” said Hafiza. “Genesis Home gives you that little tap for you to go forward, but you end up pushing yourself forward.”
Thanks to your support, we are able to continue providing youth programs that empower our Genesis Home children to push themselves toward a bright future.