On Tuesday August 1, staff accompanied school-age children staying at the Mission headed to Shoe Carnival in Antioch to purchase their choice of new shoes for the upcoming school year. Each child chose the pair of shoes they wanted to express themselves. There were many smiles, giggles, and excited kids ready to show off their new shoes!
On Saturday, August 5th, the Mission hosted its annual Women of Hope Alumni event. This annual event was started by Jan Dixey, a 2009 graduate, and former Mission employee, and has continued to grow with each passing year. Women who have graduated from the Mission’s Life Recovery Program come from all over the country to reconnect, encourage, and celebrate. Senior Director of Operations, Billy Eldridge, and his kitchen team prepared an elaborate meal for the event. Bible teacher and former Mission employee, Susan Hill, shared a message of encouragement. This was followed by testimonies from Life Recovery Program graduates: Polly Johnson, Jill Neely, and Vicki Berry. A few of our current Life Recovery Program women shared an incredible interpretive dance to the song, He Still Loves Me.
The night was full of fellowship, celebration, and worship to God for all of the hope He has given to women transformed by our Life Recovery Program.
“Between my career and my husband’s we have moved numerous times. I have personally found that volunteering is a great way to connect with the community in a new city,” said Julie. “So when we moved to Germantown, I quickly discovered the Women’s Campus of Nashville Rescue Mission.”
While a large number of volunteers serve in the Mission’s kitchen, Julie was focused on finding a spot where there was the greatest need. “I met with Holly, the children’s coordinator at the Mission, and through our conversation, I quickly realized the kids were in desperate need of help with homework. I am an engineer and felt like I could make the greatest impact by working with the children.”
For the last year, Julie has been giving an hour or more each week to help homeless kids with their homework. She’s recruited a few others to join her along the way. One being her daughter Alex. “One of the biggest blessings of volunteering with my daughter is that it’s brought us much closer to each other. We’ve also discovered that these kids need so much more than help with their homework.”
When asked what surprised Julie most about volunteering at the Women’s Campus, she said, “I realized that even though thousands of people drive by the Mission every day, not enough people know about the women and children who are homeless and stay at the Mission. Now I’m making it my personal mission to make sure more people know about the need and hopefully we can gather the right people and resources to make an even bigger difference in the lives of these children.”
For Julie, one of the highlights has been the opportunity to love on the kids one-on-one. “Over time you can see that being a regular volunteer has a huge impact on these kids,” said Julie. “In their world, where there is so much change, having a consistent person who is there for them really seems to go a long way in building their confidence.”
“I will never forget this one young girl who was struggling to read,” Julie recalled. “Each time we would ask her to read out loud, she would become very angry. But I’m old-school, and I don’t put up with disrespect or sass and told her so. Soon she came to see that I was a ‘judgement-free zone.’ Once she saw me as a safe person to share with, she started to enjoy reading to me. I saw a huge difference in this young girl in a very short period of time.”
After noticing the need for an improved work space, Julie took on the challenge of rallying troops to make drastic improvements to the kid’s computer lab. Between a personal donation, a matching gift from her employer, and the generosity of singers Matty and Tae, the room got a complete makeover. “Once the ball got rolling, everything seemed to come together,” said Julie. “The room got a facelift, we were able to get new computers and printers … it created a bright, happy place for the kids to study and do homework.”
“I challenge anyone who thinks they can’t make an impact to commit just one hour of their time each week to helping a child at the Mission,” said Julie. “Whether it’s reading a book, helping with homework, planning activities for the kids while their moms attend chapel …that one hour a week can make a world of difference in the life of a child.”
If you’d like to find out how one hour of your week can make a difference in the life of a child, visit nashvillerescuemission.org/get-involved.
Homelessness—the topic may conjure up images of cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, and heating grates— probably not of mothers pushing babies in strollers or kids carrying backpacks. But the realities of homelessness are more complex than any stereotype.
According to the McKinney-Vento Act, the term “homeless child and youth” includes minors living in shelters with or without family, doubling up with friends or extended family, settling into motels, campgrounds, trailer parks, or using vehicles for overnight shelter. However, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has their own definition, which is much more narrow and states that anyone who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence is considered homeless.
“In 2016, Nashville Rescue Mission provided shelter to over 700 unique children under the age of 18. Of those 57 percent were of school age,” said Rev. Glenn Cranfield, president and CEO of the Mission. “A record-breaking number of 106 children slept safely at the Mission back in September 2016, but we typically average 52 children each night. Unfortunately, these numbers continue to climb with each passing year.”
According to Catherine Knowles, homeless education program supervisor for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, “The total number of homeless students in the district during the 2016-2017 school year was 3,407 (based upon McKinney-Vento definition).”
“School is the one place where I feel normal,” said Robert,* age 10. “We’ve bounced around from place to place. School is about the only stable thing in my life. I like summer, but I’m looking forward to going back to school.”
For kids, the impact of homelessness or frequent moves is nothing less than traumatic, says Carolyn Grossley, director of Women’s Guest Services Ministry for the Mission. “People who are traumatized, or are under stress … they are not thinking with the cognitive part of their brains, but are thinking more with the survival part: fight, flight, or freeze,” she says.
These instincts may aid survival in a life of hard knocks, but they are counterproductive in the classroom and schoolyard. Homeless kids may think about hunger, old clothes, lack of school supplies, or constant anxiety about their family’s security. “It’s hard for a kid to concentrate when they’re more concerned about where they are going to sleep or if they’re going to eat that night,” said Grossley. “We want to try and eliminate as many of these worries as we can for the kids who stay with us.”
Studies indicate that children whose address has been in flux for more than a year are subject to developmental delays at four times the rate of their peers, are twice as likely to repeat a grade, and are identified with learning disabilities twice as often. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, they end up missing days, repeating grades, or dropping out entirely, and up to 40 percent have mental health problems.
“The stresses of homelessness typically begin well before a family arrives at the Mission and linger long after they leave,” said Holly Cowherd, children’s coordinator at the Mission. “There are usually years of people going from family member to family member or resource to friend before they become homeless. By the time they end up at the Mission, they are not just in a housing crisis, they are in a family crisis.”
“The need to support the emotional lives of the mothers and children we serve while they stay with us remains intense,” said Cranfield. “It’s a chance to meaningfully touch the lives of some of our city’s most vulnerable children and could prevent the need for more costly interventions later on.”
With your help, the Mission addresses many of these issues head on. With 24-hour cameras and around-the-clock security, the Mission provides a safe and secure environment for mothers and their children. The Mission works with a local health provider to make sure guests have transportation and access to medical care and to mental health care.
Each child starts the school year off with new school uniforms thanks to a generous supporter who sponsors this each year. “We make sure each child receives a brand new backpack, filled with school supplies,” said Cowherd.
“We have also worked with the school district so that buses pick up here first and drop off here last, to avoid any bullying kids might face for staying in a shelter.”
Volunteers come in regularly to assist kids with homework. There are additional opportunities to conduct special activities and projects for the kids while the mothers attend chapel services. “It’s pretty busy here and can get very loud, which makes it harder for me to focus and get my work done,” said Wendy,* age 14. “So having someone to assist me with my homework is a big help.”
“The children are silent victims in this situation,” said Cranfield. “While we have come a long way in terms of doing different things to help care for the children who stay with us, there is still much more we want to do. It’s just a matter of time, money, and resources. But with the help of generous donors, we can continue to increase the programs and services for children. We could also use more volunteers with a background in child development or child care—or retired school teachers who might have an hour or two each week to help with homework or read to the children. There are so many ways for the community to get involved and help these kids cope with the trauma they are facing. We invite you to join us in these efforts.”
If you’d like to learn about ways you can get involved and help support the women and children who stay at the Mission, please visit nashvillerescuemission.org.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our guests.
I didn’t set out to be a doctor, much less host the daytime show The Doctors.
I grew up in the Midwest, graduated from Duke University with a degree in Math, and then moved to Washington D.C. where I took a job as an actuarial scientist. While I have always loved numbers (insert nerd joke here), I longed for face time with regular people. In my spare time I started volunteering at a free clinic. It was an eye-opening experience that showed me I could use science and also connect with people on a personal level. It was that experience that ultimately led me back to school to become a doctor.
Nashville became my home in 2003 when I arrived at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to complete my residency as an emergency medicine physician. I fell in love with the city, and with the people, and it’s why I continue to call Nashville home.
As an ER doctor, I have witnessed many people in their most vulnerable moments—hurt, injured, sick. I have treated people of all ages, and from all walks of life, and have learned so much about humanity along the way. Any individual who has spent time working in the ER, especially in an urban setting such as Nashville, will tell you that once you spend time in that environment, it colors your perspective on everything in life. In addition to dealing with health issues, you also see a multitude of social problems and a lot of physical and emotional suffering. We can treat a lot of problems in the ER but when it comes time to discharge a patient … what if they have no place to go? For example, when you treat someone in the ER with a foot wound, you can offer help. But when it comes time for discharge, what if they are homeless and their only pair of socks are dirty and ripped? Or their shoes are falling apart and they have no place to properly treat the wound? It is disconcerting to know that you are discharging someone without a home.
That’s why I’m thankful that here in Nashville there is a place for someone like that to go—Nashville Rescue Mission. I know for those who are down on their luck, the Mission offers a safe, reliable place. If a person doesn’t have a home, the Mission tries to make it feel like home. I know that if someone is hungry, there is a place where they can get a hot meal. If someone is in need of shelter, the Mission has a bed waiting for them. If a person needs clean socks and shoes, there is a place where they can get them for free. People always ask me why I fly to and from Los Angeles (where we tape The Doctors) rather than just stay in California full-time. It’s because there is something special about the city of Nashville … it has a soul and the people have a lot of heart. The Mission is a great example of that heart and reflects the willingness of the good people of Nashville to help each other out when someone is in need.
Dr. Travis Stork is an Emmy®-nominated host of the award-winning, syndicated daytime talk show The Doctors, and a board-certified emergency medicine physician. He makes his home in Nashville, TN, when he’s not filming his show in Los Angeles. The show kicks off their 10th season in September.