How does one say Thank You?

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 19, 2008

By Katie Scarvey
Sometimes, the feeling of gratitude for kindnesses extended by others can be overwhelming.
Michael Bishop knows that feeling. In fact, that feeling led him to the Post newsroom Monday morning.
Bishop, 50, and friend Charles Strickland, 21, came to express strong feelings. Both men have been staying at the homeless shelter at Rowan Helping Ministries for several months now.
It was Bishop’s idea to find a way to thank everyone at RHM.
His outlook has been transformed during his time there. When you’re down, he says, “you get to thinking that all you see is blackness and badness.”
But Rowan Helping Ministries changed that for him.
“This is the best thing that’s happened to me in my life,” he says. “By far.”
“It’s been an amazing and humbling experience.”
Before he came to the shelter, Bishop says he’d been sleeping in his car for about two years.
He’d never asked for help in his life, he says. “The hardest thing to do is reach out for help when you’re a man.”
“I was fixing to end my life,” he says. He wound up in the emergency room.
When he was released from the hospital, he didn’t know what to do, he says. He noticed people on the streets with backpacks, walking, and he decided to follow them.
That took him to the doors of Rowan Helping Ministries, where he realized he could get a shower, something to eat, and find a place to sleep that didn’t have four wheels.
It wasn’t easy, though, for him to take that step. A homeless shelter isn’t a place Bishop ever imagined he’d be. Living in Tampa in the 1990s, he was security director for several professional sports teams, and he worked on the security detail for General Norman Schwarzkopf when he returned from Desert Storm, Bishop says.
Bishop says he never drank or used drugs, but depression has plagued him for years.
With the help of the Workforce Investment Act, his plan is to start truck-driving school in Thomasville and become a truckdriver.
He finally feels that he has a future, a real life ahead of him.
“The future doesn’t consist of a job,” he says. “It consists of a career.”
He gives the credit for the rebirth of hope to those at Rowan Helping Ministries.
Bishop would just as soon not talk about his background. He doesn’t want the story to be about him. Not at all.
“It’s about Tracy (Asbury-Thomas), Judi (Flisakowski) Dianne (Scott) and Penny (Blake),” and everybody else at RHM, he says. “It’s all about them.”
And he wants them to know some things from his heart.
“What you say and what you do every day means more than you think it does,” he says.
“Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re recognized and needed and loved.”
Bishop says that words can’t really suffice to express what he feels about the people at RHM who have helped him and countless others.
“They pour their heart and soul into it,” he says. “I want them to know that what they’re doing is saving people’s lives and giving them hope. They mean a lot to me, a whole lot.”
“How does one say thank you?” Bishop asks.
Bishop says that the entire RHM staff goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Caseworker Judi Flisakowski helps put people on a path to improve their lives, Bishop says, motivating those who need it most.
“A lot of people down on their luck aren’t motivated ó they’re sad and depressed ó and she’ll bring you out of that,” Bishop says. Strickland agrees.
At only 21, he’s been through a lot. After losing his place to live, he ended up living out of a backpack in a tent in the woods. Struggling to survive prompted him to make some bad decisions, and he wound up in jail. He’s on probation now and turning his life around, with a little help.
He’s been living on his own since he was 16, he says.
“I was resistant to going there,” he says of Rowan Helping Ministries.
“I didn’t want people to see me there. I don’t like asking for help.”
But he swallowed his pride and went. And now, like Bishop, he sees a future for himself as well.
With Flisakowski’s help, he got a job at Hardee’s. She also helped him get a Pell Grant.
“I didn’t know how to get any money to go to college,” he says. He’s happy that he’ll soon be starting classes at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to become an HVAC technician.
Strickland appreciates what he’s found at RHM.
“It’s like a family there,” he says.
Not long ago, the guests all got gifts of Christmas stockings, stuffed with scarves, gloves and hats.
He was moved by the gesture.
“That touched everyone,” he says.
Although their situations are different, both Bishop and Strickland feel they owe their futures to Rowan Helping Ministries. And they both appreciate being treated with compassion.
As hard as it was for Bishop to let himself be helped, he’s says he’s been treated with nothing but respect at RHM.
“They look at me like an equal,” he says.
And they’ve made him realize that things aren’t all bad, that there is a world out there, and he has a place in it.”We just want to say we love you, and Merry Christmas, from those who didn’t have anything or the slightest hope of anything.”
“How can you thank somebody for something like that? Words just won’t do it,” he said.
Strickland nods.
He understands.