RHM breaks ground in Salisbury on new homeless shelter

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 20, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY – Calling it “the miracle on Long Street,” volunteers, donors and staff broke ground Wednesday on an ambitious expansion of Rowan Helping Ministries.
As he turned a shovelful of dirt, F&M Bank Chairman Paul Fisher said the ceremony marked “one of the greatest miracles our city has ever witnessed.”
The expansion will encompass nearly an entire city block on North Long Street, including a 20,000-square-foot homeless shelter and soup kitchen and three transitional housing units. The roughly $6.5 million project also includes the renovation of the existing RHM building across the street to increase the programs available to those who are homeless and struggling to make ends meet.
Fisher and several other donors and RHM leaders wielded golden shovels while a crowd of more than 100 gathered to “celebrate the powerful, loving spirit that made this day possible,” said Stephen Drinkard, RHM board chairman.
For 25 years, RHM has served as a beacon of hope for the community, said the Rev. William S. Ketchie, an RHM board member.
“We have been called to serve those broken in spirit, those in need, those who are hungry, those whom life has dealt crushing blows and those who simply need a helping hand,” Ketchie said.
But the beacon is bursting at the seams.
The overnight shelter designed to hold 40 men now shelters between 55 and 75 men, women and children every night. The soup kitchen designed to serve 60 people regularly feeds as many as 180 in one hour.
Families are housed in storage rooms and the shelter lobby. After the school bus drops them off at RHM, schoolchildren do homework while leaning up against the building.
The new shelter will accommodate 60 men, 40 women and four families, and the new soup kitchen will seat 126 guests at once.
The existing building, which was built in 1989, will be renovated to more efficiently serve those needing the homelessness prevention services of Crisis Assistance Network, the food pantry and the clothing center.
Sheltered families will have space during the day to avoid the elements and meet with area agency representatives. Participants in New Tomorrows and Journey Forward, daytime programs for shelter guests, will have space for educational offerings and life coaching.
Personal experience
Barry Jones, once homeless, went through the Journey Forward program and now works as operations assistant for RHM.
In an email to Executive Director Kyna Foster, Jones’ daughter said her dad was an amazing father while she was growing up.
“But a few wrong decisions sent his life spiraling out of control,” she wrote.
He plummeted to the “lowest of the lows” and eventually lost everything, including a relationship with his daughter.
Jones, who read the email at the groundbreaking ceremony, told the crowd he walked into RHM one year ago, not knowing what to expect.
He worked with a life coach and moved into the Eagle’s Nest transitional housing program.
After months of hard work, Jones is back on his feet.
“He has grown by leaps and bounds, and my family owes this to you for believing in him,” his daughter wrote to Foster. “Thank you for allowing him to prove to the world that he is a changed man.”
She added, “I’m so glad to have my daddy back.”
So far, the “miracle team” – Foster, Fisher, Dave Jordan, Chris Bradshaw, Tippie Miller and David Setzer – has raised about $6 million for the project in 17 months.
“I have never seen such a response to a capital campaign,” Drinkard, the board chairman, said.
Depending on construction costs, RHM will need about $500,000 more to fund the expansion and renovation, Foster said.
“This truly is miracle on Long Street, but it’s not a building,” she said. “It’s the powerful, loving, responsive community putting God’s love into action.”
Helping the community
With a poverty rate of more than 20 percent, Rowan County has many residents whose only hope is RHM, Foster said.
Mayor Paul Woodson said the new shelter and soup kitchen will mean not just beds and meals but hope and opportunity.
“I am so proud of this community,” Woodson said.
As volunteer chair of Shelter Ministries of Rowan County, which owns the RHM properties, Chris Bradshaw put together the land deals to make the expansion possible. He secured 17 parcels in the second block of North Long Street, including a lot the city sold for $1.
RHM has depended on a group of “stakeholders” for years – people who would pitch in when the shelter, soup kitchen or another program was “at stake” for lack of funding, said Miller, former RHM board chairwoman.
Miller described going to these stakeholders – Wink Cline, Jimmy Hurley, Fred Stanback, Fisher, Setzer and Jordan – in 2011 with plans for the expansion to seek their counsel.
Despite the bad economy, the stakeholders agreed to take on the project. Fisher and Jordan became chief fundraisers.
And the community responded, opening “your hearts and your wallets,” Miller said.
RHM employs 19 full-time and 10 part-time workers and relies on 2,500 volunteers, including 50 volunteers each day.
The new facility, designed by Ramsay Burgin Smith Architects, will use sustainable design practices to provide an energy efficient and environmentally friendly building that costs less to heat and cool.
Construction will begin later this fall and take about 18 months to complete.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.