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Learning how to live alone is the hardest hurdle I've ever experienced.
I fought so hard for this, but never did I know I would become lonely.
Sometimes I think about my life during homelessness,
not once did I feel established and alone.
I always thought having a home would elevate me in the world,
like it would lift my chin and I could then walk with pride.
Turns out, there's no feeling of pride or accomplishment. What am I missing?
I appreciate the blessing completely. I'm just missing something.
I've heard a house isn't a home, and if that's the case. I'm in deep water because I've never had a house, or a home. So, what's my next move?
What angle did I miss, it amazes me how before the blessing this feeling didn't exist.
I could come and go, smile and laugh, walk or run, invite, and be invited.
Oh how things change, gratefully the one thing that I've cherished, and walked in, hasn't.
Look how far we've come. God and I. Surely the path shall get less rocky, peace and comfort shall follow me through all of my days left.
Military service often results in difficult mental and emotional issues for the men and women who serve. Dorsey Whitehead served in the Army prior to the 1980s as an officer. He comes from a long line of Army officers. His father, brothers and grandfather all served. His father retired and his brother works as a defensive contractor.
Born in North Carolina, he lived in Illinois prior to returning to North Carolina in the 1990s. This was a tumultuous time for Dorsey. Though he tried to maintain a steady job, his mental health and emotional distress resulted in bouncing from job to job. Bad relationships also factored in to create a very difficult scenario, and Dorsey found himself experiencing homelessness. From 2009 to 2019 he tried living with relatives and friends, but ultimately he found himself living in his car. Fortunately, Dorsey was admitted to the VA hospital in Salisbury, where he was stabilized.
Upon release from the hospital, Dorsey described himself as homeless, without hope, and with no future. “I was a guy dumped on the doorsteps (of the Arthur Cassell House) with nothing to my name.” Dorsey says the staff of the Arthur Cassell House (Open Door Ministries’ transitional housing program for veterans), led by Beth Waters, gave him a roof over his head, food to eat, and the resources he needed to get back on his feet. He now has two sources of income that he did not previously know how to obtain.
Now Dorsey is in his own apartment, continuing to transition to independence. The Arthur Cassell House staff still assist him with transportation and continued support. When asked what Open Door Ministries and the Arthur Cassell Transitional Housing program means to him, Dorsey replied, “Life- saving. It is a great place, wonderful staff—they do a fantastic job. “
I would just like to share my experience with Open Door Ministries of High Point, North Carolina. In these unprecedented times, there have undoubtedly been hardships for many.
My personal experience?
I am a hard- working single mother of three. One who has held down a job since age 16, due to my upbringing. I was taught to be responsible for myself and self -sufficient. On 2/12/21 I found myself terminated unjustifiably from my employer. Needless to say, I was DEVASTATED... I thought, here I am in the middle of a Global Pandemic without employment, insurance or a way to pay my bills. Depression tried to set in. I reached out to ODM on 4/9/21 after exhausting all my funds from February/March in bills. I first heard the most pleasant comforting voice over the phone. That of a Ms. Vivian. She exhibited compassion even over the phone. I arrived at the facility, feeling anxious and a little defeated to “be honest”. I was called back to speak with Mr. Kevin Mills. I need to say, this is NOT his job. This is Kevin’s ministry. He listened to my situation, and I was so at ease. My spirit said “Let it go.” I did. Before I knew it, I was in tears, telling my entire story. Mr. Kevin encouraged me “In the Lord”!!! He reminded me to keep the faith, press on, be encouraged, this too shall pass, God is able. When I left, my spirit and countenance had been lifted. I appreciate all that ODM offers. But please don’t overlook what can’t be solved with money or bills paid. There is also nourishment for your soul right there at ODM. I am reminded, no matter what I face... With God, all things are possible.
Thank you Open Door Ministries!
Your impact on my life will never be forgotten.
Joyce L. Ridley
Our men’s shelter is often the last safety net for our homeless guests. They have hit the lowest point in their lives and are there for a reason. They have a story. Jason Citty, licensed social worker and addiction specialist, knows this all too well. He counsels these men several times a week in our shelter, and provides support and guidance so that the men can get back on their feet.
This past year has been unlike any other in recent history. Those who have shelter, food, and jobs have suffered the effects of covid-19-- how much more so have those who experience homelessness and poverty. Poverty alone creates tremendous stress. Add to that the isolation covid-19 has produced, and you have a recipe for anxiety, depression and hopelessness.
That’s where Open Door Ministries comes in. When our guests do not have to worry about their next meal or shelter over their heads, they can focus on their mental health. Jason uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help the men see things differently. He says behaviors come from thoughts, and so he encourages them to believe in themselves. He says if they feel empowered, it goes a long way toward recovery.
Jason spends roughly one hour per week with each shelter guest. It is immersive, which he says is unique (versus an office environment). This is their home.
When asked what he would do if he could wave a magic wand, Jason said he would provide work and stable housing for all the men. He said they thrive most when they have a job, which is empowering and provides the greatest hope.
We are grateful for Jason’s invaluable services to our shelter residents. When they know they have a friend—someone to talk to and someone to lean on—they can move forward in hope and equipped with skills to carry them through life’s journey.
Since 2018 Kierra Lassiter found herself bouncing from place to place, and in 2019 she had a second child. She was kicked out of her home, tried hotels, and last year was living in her car. Her children were living with her dad at the time. Like so many of our clients, Kierra had hit rock bottom.
Kierra learned about Rapid ReHousing through a friend who benefitted from the program, and though skeptical after so many failed attempts to get back on her feet, she gave it a try. Tonya Clinard, our Housing Program Manager, and Kendra Brooks, case manager, helped Kierra find a place to live with her children and get a job working from home. She also received all the items necessary to start a new home: furniture, kitchen supplies, beds, and more.
With joy and a smile, Kierra shared how amazing the program has been. “The customer service and hospitality has been incredible. They aren’t just doing their job—they truly want to help.” Kierra noted that her children (ages one and four) needed toys. The program provided educational toys for Christmas, and now she says “they love them—my oldest is finally learning his numbers and letters.”
One of Kierra’s goals is to learn to drive. She is saving to get a car. Tonya and Kendra work with her on her goals and plans. This month Kierra will pay her own rent. She has been saving so she can get back on her feet as much as she can. The ultimate goal is self-sufficiency, and with the help of Rapid ReHousing, Kierra is well on her way.
"This has been the most amazing experience of my life."
Kevin Mills has been a shelter manager at Open Door Ministries for over 11 years. Like many of Open Door’s staff, he has a wealth of experience and knowledge to pass along to the men in the shelter. Kevin has over 30 years of corporate management experience. He found himself homeless in 2009 after an apartment fire, and like many of our guests, gave back to Open Door by volunteering. He’s been connected ever since. Kevin uses his background in finance to help the men with basic life skills—budgeting, credit, and saving money. He says he’d rather “teach them to fish so that they can eat for a lifetime.” Kevin works with young men who come from jail or rehab, and asks them three questions: “What have you done, where are you, and where do you want to go?” He calls himself a tough love guy— “a hug and a kind word go a long way.” Kevin says he often gives a speech when the guys walk through the door—that Open Door represents a clean slate. When they tell him they’ve hit rock bottom, Kevin says “Great--you can only go up from here. Where do you want to start?” He says with consistent tough love and support, as he earns their trust, they make great strides. He even gives them his personal cell number. He recognizes that for many, they just made a bad decision along the way. They’ve come from the worst possible experiences, straight off the street, and yet they manage to start over. Kevin says many want to know how they can pay him back, and he tells them “just pay it forward.” He notes, “We rise—like the Phoenix out of the ashes—we rise.”
Linda Quick was out of work back in 2003 when former board member, Eileen Douglass, told her about Open Door Ministries. Linda is a long-standing member of Temple Memorial Baptist Church, and has always been very involved in ministry there. Linda has a heart for serving others. So, she joined the staff of Open Door Ministries 17 years ago in November.
Linda likes to say that “You never feed without a message.” And that’s exactly what she has done for all these years in the Father’s Table. She has seen so many faces —both volunteers and guests alike. Linda is quick to note that “I could be in their seat next week.” She is also motivated by the scripture in which Christ says, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Linda has been faithful to this calling and says her love for the guests at the shelter motivates her.
The reality of the hardship in the community hits home often. On one instance a 14-year old brought two young children, one a baby, to the Father’s Table. The rule stated that children under 18 years of age could not come without an adult. It turns out that the 14-year old was the “adult,” trying to find food for the baby who was hungry. This young person had walked all the way to the shelter. Linda was greatly moved by this story because “hunger is real.” She says they go through enough on the outside, and when they come to the Father’s Table, she just wants to show love. In fact, she emphasizes that “love is colorblind.”
Sometimes Linda must be firm. There are definite rules in place, such as no profanity. Respect is always demonstrated. She noted that the police have never been called while she’s been serving at Open Door. Linda simply treats others the way she wants to be treated.
The relationships Linda builds last. She noted that “They get better, and still stop by and report good things. They tell me ‘You encouraged me when I wanted to give up.’” She has watched children grow up over the years.
Linda’s loves to share how God provides. Once when the power went out, the only thing to be served was sandwiches, and the Father’s Table ran out of bread. There was a knock on the door, and someone “happened” to be delivering bread. Linda wasn’t surprised—she expects God to show up, and is happy to share his goodness with a smile and a warm heart as she continues to serve in the Father’s Table year after year.
My name is Ronald Johnson. I was recently released from incarceration on June 1st, 2020. I served a lengthy prison term for various crimes ranging from robbery to assaultive behaviors. My criminal liability spans 2/3 of my life. This made acclimating into mainstream society very difficult to achieve. I consistently felt like the "elephant in the room" around my family. I was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt when I was released back into society. On top of that, my perception of myself was very strewed, leading to morbid and toxic depression. But what ultimately became my life-line, my source of hope, was Open Door Ministries and the staff there.
Not only was I provided the necessities to gain a solid footing, but I was provided the greatest asset going forward—daily selfless direction by the staff at Open Door. I was given the chance to grow into my new life with their support and encouragement, which helped me see myself differently. This caused me to stop beating myself up for who I had allowed myself to become, someone that was not truly me. I am a friend, a father, and a valuable man in society.
Today I am not who I was--one placed in a life of crime and self-induced self-destruction. I had not had the opportunity to feel that my growth was possible. Now I know that all I had to do was allow others the chance to help me. And help me they did! They provided me with medical assistance, counseling, and put me in contact with service agencies I needed to get even more help, so that I could rebuild my life.
I come from a childhood background that I feel no one on the planet would volunteer for. It literally was a house of horrors. Loneliness and feeling unworthy of love were all I experienced. Today I have a strong support base, full-time employment, and a renewed sense of self. I was given time to heal and to forgive myself for my past deeds and subsequent prison sentences. I feel I am a man of high character and integrity, who has learned to give himself a break. The encouragement from the Executive Director to the volunteers has been a blessing.
When you come from a 20+ year prison sentence like I did, you feel that the staff at institutions will be jaded by the ones who don't make it. Open Door gave me the tools I needed to succeed. Along with their support, it has been an epic experience!
With my goal of working towards a functional life, I can keep myself balanced, and it encourages the selfless things that have been incorporated in my life by Open Door. I am grateful for this, as it makes me humble and encourages me to match all their support. I now take their suggestions they have offered and pay it forward to the next person.
The greatest lesson I've learned while here is that there's a different choice from who I believed I was. Looking back, I see someone who was trapped in his own self-seeking behaviors, never giving real change a chance to happen. Looking forward, Open Door has restored my faith in people, and myself. My growth as an individual can be directly attributed to the staff here who encouraged me to realize that the face of a miracle looks just like me! And for that, and the little things along the way, I am grateful.
Angels Among Us
Every once in a great while you come across a member of the community who goes above and beyond in countless ways. Open Door has been blessed over the years to have such a friend—who has given his time, his money, and used his connections to help numerous clients in need.
Through his business of selling health insurance, he grew involved in helping the less fortunate obtain health care. Access to health care is difficult in the homeless population, and many go to the hospital for primary care. In the past the Hope bus was a portable clinic available to this population. Once it was no longer available, our friend partnered with FaithHealth (now part of Wake Forest Baptist Health) to obtain nursing care for our guests at our Men’s Shelter.
In February of 2019, he and our staff cleaned out two rooms in our Shelter. He brought in supplies including gloves and over the counter medications, and began a weekly clinic staffed with nurses. Later, in the fall of last year, our friend also set up Snelling vision screenings partnering with America’s Best Contacts and Eyeglasses. Some of our guests needed further testing, which they received, and all who needed them received two pairs of eyeglasses.
That’s not all. Our friend arranged for health care workers to come to Open Door to hold trainings for the staff. Topics included the use of an AED, conflict de-escalation, and first aid.
Once he became acquainted with Open Door, our staff, and our facility, our friend also made sure other needs were met (unrelated to the health clinic) including a new water fountain in the Shelter, help purchasing a hot water tank, and an iPad for staff to use in case management.
When asked why he continues to do so much for Open Door, he responded humbly, “I guess it’s a Jesus thing.” God has placed an angel right in our midst.
(pictured is volunteer nurse Linda Newton interviewing a client in the Men's Shelter)
by Peter Bolduc, guest of Open Door Ministries
Success is a relative term used to describe everything from Bill Gates’ level of wealth, to everyday common man goals of keeping the lights on and the rent paid. The decisions we make every day, every hour, are what define or destroy that success. It was a string of those decisions that landed me in jail for eight months and ultimately to become homeless and a resident of the men’s shelter operated by Open Door Ministries.
When I was released from jail, I exited with the clothes on my back, five dollars and a well- used Bible. After walking around town, just happy to be in the sunshine and fresh air, I quickly realized that I had no plan and very few options. Just as despair was beginning to take over, I remembered the jail chaplain had suggested that I should stop into ODM and perhaps they could help. I walked in the door with my plastic grocery bag of belongings and was immediately greeted by Will. By the grace of God there was an open bed and, swallowing my pride, I told him my background story which was filled with months of substance abuse and poor decisions. Without an ounce of judgment, he showed me my bed and gave me a tour of the facility, while telling me a brief synopsis of the programs available. He made it clear that as long as I was honest with him and just as important, myself, that he had a well -worn path to self-betterment.
Flash forward 67 days (a stay made longer due to covid-19) I have a full time job and am searching for an apartment. Equally as important as the job and housing assistance, ODM has provided me with substance abuse counseling and a stable, safe environment within which to get my life together.
I have made poor decisions in the past that brought me to the bottom of the matrix of success. With God’s grace and the tools provided by ODM and their staff I have attained a level of success not quite to Mr. Gates’ level, but certainly enough to be a productive, positive member of society and for that I am forever grateful.
Thank you all!
Barry came from Charlotte where he had significant mental health issues and substance use disorder. He'd been in and out of shelters for years. Upon his arrival at Arthur Cassell Transitional Housing for Veterans (ACTH), he was argumentative and struggled with following directions. Although he had income, he would frequently send his money to a "girlfriend" in another town. He would complain about "bug bites" that only he could see and demand to be taken to the emergency room for treatment, blaming the bites on "bed bugs" even though the bungalows were inspected by the exterminators who could find no source or bed bug activity. Barry went out on an overnight pass to visit his family and did not return for several days. He contacted staff and begged for a second chance in the program. Staff worked with Barry to get him into treatment for substance use. After 16 weeks in outpatient treatment, something clicked. Barry began to change his attitude. He began to find things to do around Cassell House to keep busy. He asked to do extra chores, and he loved to mop the floor. He was proud of the way he kept the floors clean. Finally, Barry approached staff and asked if he could get a job. He said he was tired of the way he'd been living and knew if he didn't find something part time to stay busy, when he left, he would relapse. Staff worked with Barry to get him into a "back to work" program at NC Works. Despite his past criminal record, they accepted him into the program, and Barry began to work. Daily, we he would come back from working and be so tired he could barely stay awake for dinner. Despite that, he mopped the floors in the main building every night without complaint. This was the first time he had a job in at least 15 years. Slowly, he began to build up strength and energy. Barry was working at a charitable organization accepting donations in the warehouse. It was a source of pride for him. However, he feared he would not be hired on after the program was done because of his past record. He was so excited to learn he was accepted for a part time job there. Then Barry approached the staff and asked if they could help him with a payee. Barry was functionally illiterate and could barely read and write, so managing money was a struggle. It was hard for him to give up control, but he knew if he didn't, money would lead him down a path to use again. So Barry signed the forms and accepted financial help. This was a huge step for him, and again he was proud he made the decision. Right before the beginning of the year, Barry moved into a cute little two- bedroom house in High Point. He was excited to have his own house with a little backyard. He comes back on Sundays to wash his clothes and have dinner with the other residents.
“if these walls could talk”… They would tell you about our awesome volunteers and community partners. Bank of America’s My Environment – Triad Chapter looks for ways to improve our environment and to conserve and reuse our resources. My Environment – Triad Chapter focuses on environmental education and awareness through various gardening, recycling, and sustainability classes in the Triad Market, including Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem. We are also active in the community with community activities, including cleanups on Tarrant Road and MLK Drive. We also participate with Greensboro Beautiful and Guilford County’s Creek Week. In addition, we support Ruff Love Rescue with re-purposed t-shirt dog toys. Further, we make re-crafted cards for local assisted living centers and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
For My Environment – Triad Chapter, good environmental stewardship is both taking care of our environment and taking care of our neighbors. We are proud to support Open Door Ministries. Wanda Wilson captures our commitment and passion for our environment and our neighbors. Thank you, Wanda. Wanda wrote the following:
In late summer of 2018, our network made the decision to assist in keeping plastic bags out of landfills and, in the process, help our communities as well. We began making bed rolls from the plastic bags. We found an instructional video on YouTube: “How to Make a PLARN Bed Roll” from Tori Carle of City of Greensboro, Waste Reduction Supervisor. We also found online crocheting and plarning instructions to make recycled plastic bag bed rolls.
Some of our members make the plarn (plastic yarn) and some crochet bed rolls. Using the talent and ability God gave me, I was able to make 5 bedrolls between September and December 2018. So far this year I have completed 5 and have 3 more in the works.
People ask me “when you do you have time to make them”? I have worked on them when sitting in front of the TV, when travelling in the car, on a bus trip with my church to Kentucky, when visiting friends in Texas, while waiting for my car to be serviced …….whenever I have time and am sitting/waiting. My bag of plarn and crochet hook travel with me a great deal.
I have been asked how long it takes to make a bed roll. I timed myself once and it took about 16 hours. Time will be determined by the size of the crochet hook, skill level and how fast you crochet.
It is very gratifying to know I am helping my community and helping to recycle everyday items as well.
If these walls could talk, they would tell you about Curtis, a veteran experiencing homelessness, who now has a second chance at life following a tragedy.
Curtis came to Cassell House in August of 2018 utterly broken. He had a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts that went back to his wife’s passing in May of 2013 of cancer. Curtis talked through the tears about how much he loved his wife and their life together. He described his wife as a beautiful person inside and out. They were not blessed with children, but they had nieces and nephews on his side of the family that they loved dearly. After her illness and passing, Curtis moved in with his sister. He began to drink heavily. When he ran out of money, he began to charge liquor on his credit cards. Meanwhile, his sister kicked him out of her house and he began to experience homelessness for the first time. Curtis struggled to maintain employment and housing due to his grief issues. These feelings of hopelessness and helplessness lead to feelings of suicide. When Curtis arrived at the Cassell house, we had to put him on suicide protocol, checking on him every 15 minutes. The funny part was on the outside, Curtis was the “class clown. He was quick with a joke or a funny retort. But one-on-one with me, he was tearful and severely depressed. Curtis said when he first got here if his car broke down or he lost his job, that would be it. He would go buy a gun and end his life. Well, the job ended up being a bust. He worked for the roofing company for 3 months and only received one pay check. Then, one day, while interviewing for a job, his car broke down in the parking lot of another roofing company who had just offered him a job. However, he needed a car. When it was evident that the car would cost more to fix than it was worth, Curtis was at his lowest. I found him in his room looking up ways to die. That day, we spent several hours just talking. We had another client who had also lost his wife and was attending grief counseling at the local Hospice. I suggested Curtis try that, but he was not ready. He did agree to begin therapy at the VA and found a great therapist he found a connection with. We had almost daily therapy sessions as well. Gradually, Curtis began to do better. I suggested he try mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. He used You Tube and began to listen and watch mindfulness and yoga videos. He began to work out using the weights we have. Slowly he began to feel better, be less depressed. Curtis got jobs through a temp agency. Some worked out, others did not. Once he got work, we made a referral to Wheels 4 Hope. They were so impressed with how hard Curtis worked, they found him a car within weeks of the referral! Curtis was shocked to look up and see the Cassell staff at the Wheels 4 Hope office when they surprised him with a car blessing. He thought he was just going in to fill out the paperwork for a car in the future. Curtis still has moments of severe depression. These relapses are part of the recovery process, but he is no longer suicidal and knows to tell his therapist or the staff here when he’s feeling down. He is working several part time jobs and has almost paid for his bankruptcy. Once he’s done that, he will be able to start looking for housing. Meanwhile, he’s working on staying positive and healthy. His smile lights up a room.
Curtis is grateful for the help of Open Door Ministries: "There are veterans out there who served their country who are pushed to the wayside, that need help. I had no idea this program existed. Had it not been for the hotline (suicide hotline via the VA) I wouldn't have found my way here. Open Door gave me a safe place to be and heal. A chance to pull back and do the hard work on myself. If not for Open Door, I probably wouldn't be breathing. I appreciate all the staff has done to help me from helping me get into treatment for depression to helping me find work, to helping me to get another car."
Written by Beth Waters, Clinical Director at Arthur Cassell Transitional Housing for veterans
If these walls could talk, they would tell you about Mike, whose journey took him from prison to the streets to Culinary School, with the help of Open Door Ministries…
As a teenager growing up in Winston Salem, I was into drugs and drinking. It was a way to escape. That unfortunately got me in a lot of trouble with the law. I ended up in jail several times and bad choices ended me up in prison. After I was released, my probation housing arrangement fell through, and I went to the street. My parole officer contacted Open Door Ministries (ODM), and my case got transferred to High Point. I came to ODM October 19th last year. I worked hard on the computers to find a job. I had worked in fork lifts and manufacturing before, but I never got a call about those jobs. I was discouraged. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so I knew I had to find work or I’d end up back on the street.
When I was at Johnston County prison, I got baking experience and ended up as head baker. In November I learned of the culinary program at Providence Place in Winston Salem. The next class wasn’t until January. It was a long wait. During that time I helped out in the kitchen at ODM, and volunteered at their events to give back. I couldn’t just start the program, though, I had to be accepted. I took a reading comprehension and math readiness course since cooking requires reading recipes and converting fractions. I passed both tests. I started January 7. I met with the chefs, and they were very positive and encouraging. But I was still doubtful this was for me. They told me success stories. It turns out I was pleasantly surprised.
It wasn’t easy—I got up at 4:00 am to go to the Greensboro transportation Hub, then I had to switch to the Winston Salem bus to get to the school. It is a two hour commute each way. The class lasts 90 days, and I am almost finished. I have good grades and passed the serve safe test—only one of two people in my class passed it. Now I am in the middle of my internship and am finishing this week. I graduate next Thursday, and some of the staff are coming to celebrate with me. I may go into the residency program next– it lasts two years, and I could become a manager. I like where I am doing my internship at Mary’s Gourmet Dining Room in Winston Salem. I need to get a job and get some money saved up.
Between Open Door Ministries and their staff, and the Providence Culinary Training Program, I now have a second look on life. I can’t wait to see where it takes me. I must thank the chefs, the class, and Open Door Ministries and family for their support and believing in me.
If this article helps one person, it’s worth it. Just because you had a rough start doesn’t mean you have to end up that way.
**note: Michael graduated from Providence Culinary Training (affiliated with Second Harvest Food Bank in Winston Salem) April 18, 2019, first in his class.