I was having lunch downtown last week when a familiar face walked in the door. One of the young men who used to reside in our now defunct Independent Living Program was grabbing lunch with a group of friends. I was told long ago not to initiate contact with former residents in public to avoid the possibility of “outing” someone and potentially violating their confidentiality. It’s always been hard for me to resist the impulse to say hello and catch up. It was clear that he had come a long way from his time at Genesis Home and he looked good – healthy, happy, and hopefully able to spend a little money to enjoy a good meal. The chance encounter was a reminder of the hundreds of families, children and young people that have used our programs at Genesis Home as a stepping stone to a better life.
As we mark our 25th anniversary, we celebrate our past as we plan for the future. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to take the time to read our Board President Cindy Streett’s interview with founding board members Bob Jackson and Nancy Rosebaugh. It is a poignant reminder that while in some ways Genesis Home and our community has changed a great deal, in a very real way we continue a struggle with homelessness and poverty that dates back generations. Mayor Bell and the City have made poverty a priority in Durham and I suspect that this initiative will highlight two problems that create a persistent barrier for our families: the lack of living wage jobs and affordable housing in our community. In much the same way that we are told, “if you want peace, work for justice”, if we want to end homelessness we need to work to create safe, decent affordable housing and good jobs. We need your help to get that message through to our City Council and County Commissioners.
Genesis Home is planning a fall BBQ for our supporters, residents, graduates, volunteers and staff to celebrate the accomplishments of the agency and to share our plans for the future. Look out for information about the logistics in the coming months. Much like the many graduates who have exited our programs, you our donors and volunteers create a network of support for Genesis Home throughout the community. I have seen that we can move mountains when we work together and I ask you to stand with us as we begin our second twenty-five years of ending family homelessness. When you have the opportunity to sing our praises, volunteer your time or make a financial contribution, you are investing in the families and children that we serve. That is an investment that will bear fruit for our community. Thank you for all that you do for our families.
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).