1. After a long career as a graphic designer, you closed your business to join the staff of the Urban Ministry Center and become the first director of Homeless to Homes in Charlotte. What made you switch gears and take the leap?
I had been looking for a new career path since 1998 when my father died at 64 years old. He had always raised me to believe I could do anything and that everyone has a responsibility to “do good” in this world. His relatively early death made me realize how short life can be, so I began searching for that one thing I was meant to do. Volunteering and serving on boards were the beginning of that search, but then I met a formerly homeless man, Denver Moore, who challenged everything I thought I knew about homelessness. It was that meeting that made me close my design business to figure out how to build housing for the chronically homeless in Charlotte.
2. In your new book, The Hundred Story Home: A Journey of Homelessness, Hope and Healing, you talk about “trusting the whisper.” When did you realize that the whispers in your head were more than voices – they were your calling?
The job of housing people directly from streets to home turned into building an apartment complex and raising $10 million through a capital campaign launched in the worst of times: October 2008. With only a degree in advertising, I was more than a little unqualified to lead this, and the economy made it seem impossible. But I kept hearing Denver’s words from our conversation, “Are you going to do something about it?” That was one part of the whisper. The other part was that I had promised him that I would do something about it. Other cities, such as New York and Seattle, had developed permanent supportive housing, so we weren’t trying to invent the wheel, just to bring the idea to our community. As crazy as it seemed, it seemed crazier not to try. Once we started the project, it felt so much bigger than me. Every time we faced an obstacle, someone or something helped us succeed. I stopped worrying about how I was going to accomplish my end goal and started having faith in something I couldn’t quite fully understand to make it happen.
3. While writing the book, you realized it was about more than just homelessness on the streets – it’s about homelessness in oneself and fulfilling one’s life purpose. Do you feel like you accomplished that yourself by the end of the book?
Yes, definitely. In housing more than 100 people, I found my own way home. I couldn’t see it clearly until I wrote the book. We finished the building, named Moore Place after Denver, in January 2012 – a four-year project. As we were preparing to open, I began reflecting on all that had happened and wanted to capture the stories that made up this miracle. In writing, I realized how my history and everything that had happened to me, starting in my childhood, led up to the moment when I met Denver and was fully prepared to listen to what he was saying. Fulfilling my promise to him also allowed me to fulfill my promise to my father and that faith he had in me to do good.
4. Beyond Urban Ministry Center and Moore Place, what other projects and causes are close to your heart, and why?
I have spent the past three years working with the HopeWay Foundation in Charlotte to build the city’s first nonprofit residential mental health treatment center. As a founding board member, I served as the development chair to raise the $27 million needed to open this center. Everything I had learned working on Moore Place made that project much easier. My mother has lived with a bipolar disorder diagnosis, and through watching her struggles, I understood well the need for state-of-the-art residential mental healthcare. I also serve on the board of The Crossnore School, which provides therapeutic residential care for foster children in North Carolina. The school’s mission pulls at the heart of any parent who understands every child in this world needs a chance at a happy, healthy future.
5. What advice would you give to your younger self?
“If the path before you is clear, you are probably on someone else’s” is the best advice I wish I had heard earlier by John Campbell. We all want to know exactly where we are going, but the truth is, life is unpredictable, uncertain and even messy. Be willing to listen. Be willing to let go. Be willing to take a leap of faith. When you do, the life you can’t see is infinitely richer and more significant than the life you can see and thought you had planned.
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