Telling Our Story 2020, by Jane Seaman.
Story 1 - Haywood Street Mission
On the corner of Haywood St in downtown Asheville stands a building that I have passed it many times, but until arriving with my video camera, I had never really paid it much attention. As a WCMA grant recipient, the Haywood St team invited me to join them one Wednesday to capture footage of their lunch-time service and learn more about their work.
As I entered the building, I was struck by the sound of laughter as it echoed throughout the hallways. There was such a sense of joy in the building! My guide for the day was Brook van der Linde, Haywood St’s Chief Story Teller (best title ever). On my way to meet her I noticed what I assumed was an older woman sleeping in the stair-well.
First, I had the honor of meeting Robert who in earlier years had taken advantage of the Haywood St services when living on the streets, addicted to drugs. With the help of the team at Haywood St, Robert turned his life around and now is paying forward his good fortune. Every week Robert tends to the Haywood St gardens and ensures that on Wednesdays and Sundays there are fresh flowers on the white tablecloth clad tables when a free lunch is served to hundreds. Robert also brings in local school children to help him in the garden. Yes, they get to give back, but there is no doubt Robert has an unspoken desire for these children to see another side of life.
Brook and I then headed off on a tour. If you have never seen it, then I highly recommend you make the trip to see the Haywood St Fresco. I have traveled the world and seen many spectacular pieces of art, but this Fresco touched a place in my heart that no other artwork as done. Why? Because its living art, the faces in the Fresco are the faces you see in the corridors, in the kitchen, in the garden, and at the tables. Then on to the restaurant and kitchen where I was surprised to see fully laid tables with tablecloths and flowers. There was a staff person standing at the entrance meeting every individual, making eye contact and greeting them, most by name, with a smile, or a hug, or both. I was surrounded by lively conversation, laughter, fabulous smells of wonderful food and just for a moment there was no homelessness; it was family; it was home. It was an incredible, uplifting moment and a poignant reminder of all the good there is in the world.
On my way out I noticed the woman still curled up in the stair-well. Lunch service was coming to an end and I was worried she may miss out. I quietly approached her and tapped her gently and asked if I could get something for her. She turned, my breath caught, for looking back at me was a young girl, possibly in her late teens! I asked if she was going to get something to eat, she whispered back “Yes”, but she was taking advantage of getting some much-needed sleep, because here (at Haywood St) she could close her eyes without being afraid. She was so young! I wanted to ask her if someone was looking for her. Was she missed? But it was not my place. Instead, I reminded her that lunch service would be over soon, and that the food looked great.
On the drive home I tried to imagine being a female teenager on the streets and closing my eyes every night and being afraid, and I could not. I’ll be honest, I cried for that young lady. But when the tears subsided I took solace in the fact that the WCMA helps fund the incredible work done by the team at Haywood St and because of our grant, maybe the young lady in the stair-well will have a chance to find her way back, as Roger did. One can never guarantee a happy ending, but the WCMA grant money is giving the homeless of Asheville a better chance to have one.
Every Story Has to Start with a Beginning........
At the beginning of the year it was confirmed that WCMA had given $380,000 in grants to local charities as a result of the Weekend of Giving 2019. It was such an incredible achievement that I felt it was important for members to know just how that money was going to be used and what impact it might have. Armed with a video camera and Google maps, I headed off on a journey of discovery. It seemed like a such simple task but I had no idea the impact this journey would have.
Our logo is a tree and I discovered that its branches encompass the complete circle of life, wrapping themselves around individuals to nurture, protect, feed, clothe, educate and give peace when it is most needed.
At the beginning of life, we provide a newborn with an essential (and sadly out of reach for many due to cost), diapers. At the elementary level we support a program that has encouraged a seven-year-old girl to say on camera that she’s “becoming an awesome friend." During middle and high school years we pick up hundreds of girls and boys and bring them to a safe haven where they can complete their homework, get healthy snacks and build relationships, when otherwise they would be going home to empty homes in areas where even adults don’t feel safe. For the 19-year-old college student who has spent their life in the foster care system, never belonging, damaged by what life has thrown at them, we provide the support tools and a tutor for them to continue their education in a safe and nurturing environment. When adults lose their way and the streets become their home, we support programs where they can come and be seen, and if just for a moment, they belong and someone cares. And at the end stage of life, we provide a room dressed in blankets made from love and a caring staff so a passing may be peaceful. Without this gift, that end of life might have a different story.
As I drove on this journey, I reflected on all I had heard and seen, sometimes just overwhelmed by the sheer scale of need so close to where I live. I wanted to help them all, and damn we do need a superhero, but that only happens in the movies. But then it occurred to me, I belong to an association of superheroes. They don’t wear red capes (well, not that I’m aware) and there’s no bat signal illuminating the night sky, but they are superheroes all the same. Quietly, and with little fanfare, our small association nurtures, protects, feeds, clothes, educates and give peace to hundreds in need. They’ll not make a movie about it, they’ll be no Oscar, but in the coming months I will be telling my stories from this journey so all can truly understand the immense impact we are having on so many.
Look for future emails with the stories detailing how the WCMA has impacted the lives of people in our community, as part of the Telling Our Story 2020.