By almost any standard, 2014 was the biggest year in Genesis Home’s twenty-five year history. Our efforts to move our families into permanent housing as quickly as possible have resulted in shorter shelter stays, more families served, and more families leaving our program for permanent housing. The agency is serving more than twice as many children as we were only five years ago. Unfortunately we don’t have much time for self-congratulations. Demand for our services continues to be high, with a wait list of over fifty families referred from DSS’ coordinated intake program. This unmet demand and a desire to strengthen our collective approach to ending family homelessness have driven us to form closer relationships with our community partners.
Each and every day, the perseverance and tenacity of the families here at Genesis Home is moving - each is dedicated toimproving their situation and building a better life for their family. Your gift helps families like Malinda and her two sons and three daughters. Just one year ago, Malinda was pregnant and seeking to regain custody of her four children. Her greatest desire was to bring her family back together again under one roof when she heard of Genesis Home. Genesis Home provided her with a place to reunite her family and the opportunity to rebuild her life in the Family Matters program.
Today, Malinda is a graduate of the “Going Places Network” at Dress for Success and has secured part-time employmentwhere she is in enrolled in a management training program. She has secured permanent housing for her family. She credits Genesis Home’s financial literacy and life skills programming for helping her secure permanent housing, and her case manager for helping her set goals and stay focused. “My goal is not to end up back in this situation again; therefore I must make the change,” said Malinda upon graduating from the program.
Finally, we would encourage each of you to consider your motivation and values around supporting Genesis Home and our partners. For our efforts to be successful, your involvement cannot be a once a year occasion. We can’t end family homelessness in December. We need you in April, in July, and throughout the year. Please consider becoming a monthly donor. Mark your calendar to volunteer with us quarterly, monthly, or weekly. The scope of the problem demands that we make service to others a value twelve months a year. We couldn’t do this work without you so THANK YOU for all that you do to support our families and children.
Our journey started as an announcement in the bulletin fishing for interest in forming a Circle of Support at Duke Memorial. A handful of curious people attended an interest meeting and from that, a team of four was formed. We completed training and waited for two months for a family graduating from IHN. Because of our church’s connection to this program we felt that it was important to hold out for a family coming from this specific program rather than another Durham homeless shelter. We officially began working with our family; two parents, one young-adult child, one teenager, and one pre-teen (grandchild) in June 2013.
The goal of Durham Circles of Support, a program of Genesis Home, is to empower formerly homeless families and individuals while providing the support necessary to sustain housing and improve their quality of life. Support Circles are groups of four to 10 people who are matched with a formerly homeless family or individual for a 12 month period. During that time, the Support Circle provides assistance, guidance, support and mentoring with the ultimate goal of helping the family or individual sustain housing and improve their quality of life.
Each of us felt a strong and very personal calling to make this blind commitment. We certainly came to the table blessed with different skill sets and comfort levels. We were naturally weary of expectations and the challenges we would face. We derived our strength from the faith of our personal calling to this mission and the support of one another. We raised funds in the congregation (matched $1000 by the program) to have an emergency pool of money to assist in sustaining housing.
The beginning was heavily focused on helping the family set up home and meet basic needs. We asked the congregation for household donations and you came through. A month into our partnership a team member, Susan Boeler, moved suddenly. Soon thereafter the string of serious and chronic health issues for four of the family members emerged. There have been numerous doctors’ appointments and stays in the hospital. We shifted from working on longer term goals to the immediacy of day to day survival. There were two emergency car repairs that we used program funds for because independent transportation was of vital importance to the family. Funds also enabled us to provide assistance for food and gas during prolonged hospital stays.
While we felt that our family could not catch a break with the constant barrage of health issues and other blockades, since day one they have remained overwhelming positive and always exceedingly grateful. Often the calls to team members are just to check in and to share small joys. Sometimes there are laughing good byes of “Have a boring week!” because we realize that their daily lives often feel like a roller coaster.
A year later health issues remains a prominent focus in their lives, but there have been successes in the adult son’s transitioning to a group home and receiving there needed support services that are greatly enriching his life. The teenage daughter was accepted into the Durham Inner-City Gardening (DIG) program at SEEDS and she is exceeding in that mentorship program. The family lives month to month on the social security disability income for three people and utilizes various community supports to help with basic needs.
It would be hard to recruit people for longer than a twelve months, but a prolonged commitment of eighteen to twenty-four months would boost sustainability due to the myriad of challenges facing those transitioning out of homelessness.
As a team we have been problem solvers, furniture movers, acquirers of goods, mechanics, legal advisers, chauffeurs, feeders, hospital companions, texting/phone buddies, confidants, encouragers and more. Throughout this involved journey we had varying levels of time commitment to the family, but each has been an integral part of the team. The family became comfortable looking to us in the different roles they assigned us and even gave us nicknames. While we don’t have the Circles of Support resources available to us anymore, we are forever connected to this family. It was God’s will for us to come together in the first place and for us to grow in our own ways in this special relationship. We were inspired by their resilience in the face of difficulties – poverty, poor health, and dealing with kids. At times it was very hard to understand what we perceived as their poor choices. There was a great deal of personal conflict and frustration as we put aside our own judgment and bias as we tried to be there as servants of God - to be with them and to try to share in the struggle of life with them. Our struggle wasn’t in the quality of life sense, but rather in the spiritual sense.
Circles of Support has real and immeasurable value for all involved. It is a humbling experience that you need to deliberately decide to become a part of. It is a leap of faith for everyone involved. It requires you get out of your comfort zone – to enter into the lives of people not like you who are a part of the kingdom of God.
We hope that others at Duke Memorial will be inspired to follow our lead and form a new Circle of Support.
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.
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”.
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
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Director of Development