Each One. Reach One.
Written by Kathy Izard
This blog piece was supposed to be a celebration of sorts. About Monea. She is the wonderful example of collaboration between two Charlotte organizations Urban Ministry Center and Fashion & Compassion. The Urban Ministry Center was founded almost 25 years ago as the last place of hope for those experiencing homelessness in our city. Through daily services and street outreach teams, the UMC reaches people we hardly ever see. Living under our bridges, in our shelters and on our streets. The idea for Fashion & Compassion began ten years ago by Michele Dudley who was on a church mission trip to Rwanda when she had an epiphany that she must to do something to help women on the streets in other countries and at home in Charlotte. Her idea was to use beads to bond us together giving jobs to struggling women by creating beautiful jewelry that other women could buy. Women helping women at home and abroad. It took five years to fully realize that dream but in 2013 she founded Fashion & Compassion. Michele’s nonprofit business boomed, and she gave women in Charlotte a place of peace as their hands created works of art and they found community in each other.
Monea was being supported by both nonprofits learning to bead with Michele and being helped into housing by Madeline Thomas part of the UMC’s street outreach team. All the details were falling into place—finding a vacant apartment, getting Monea into a program with rental assistance. Monea also helped prepare for my up coming book launch and SummerSHARE event—making bracelets for the kickoff party July 16. Beautiful blue beaded bracelets that read Do Good—a theme from my book as well as SHARE Charlotte’s mantra. We thought profiling Monea would be the perfect intersection of all these organizations coming together.
Michele Dudley told me a little about Monea’s story and it was tough to read even in an email. Michele wrote that Monea was now dear to everyone at F & C but that it took time for Monea to trust her new friends. Michele learned one reason for that mistrust might have been developed from four years in foster care after her mother held a gun to her head. Monea had been hoping for safety in one of the three foster homes that followed but in one she was raped and in another foster home her guardian padlocked the refrigerator so Monea had to learn to pick the lock in order to eat. Michele hoped that Monea’s story was now finally beginning to change since UMC staff was close to finding housing for Monea. That meant Monea could leave the tent she had been sleeping in downtown Charlotte and more importantly, that the baby Monea was expecting would have a home as well. Michele shared with me that she was worried for Monea because she was sleeping outside every night in a summer heat wave that couldn’t be safe for a young, vulnerable, pregnant woman.
To write more authentically about Monea, I was going to meet her. On the morning I wrote this, I was supposed to interview Monea and write about the hope so many held for her. Five minutes before I arrived at Fashion & Compassion, I received a call that Monea had not come in. Even though she always came in. Even when her mother died, Monea had come to be comforted by the women in her F & C jewelry-making community. Madeline from UMC had come by looking for Monea worried as well. She told Anna Eggler, who led the women’s beading projects, the heavy news that Monea had tragically lost her baby the night before.
When I arrived, Anna told me the rest of the story, tears spilling down her cheeks. “Her baby was born but then died in her arms as she held her.” No one knew where Monea was. Madeline had been searching the camps and shelters around town looking for Monea but feared the worst. Maybe losing her child had proved to be the last thread of hope for Monea. Maybe leaving the hospital to go back to her camp, something had happened. No one knew. But without a home address, it was incredibly complicated to find Monea.
I had never met this young woman standing before me with tears nor had I met Monea, but Anna and I cried together imagining the horror of all that. Of a mother who would hold a gun to your head. Of living pregnant in a tent. Of holding your dying baby. Of leaving the hospital needing to grieve unimaginable loss and having no home to go home to. All of that.
As I write this, we still don’t know the end of the story. I know when I left the Fashion & Compassion house on Cleveland Avenue, they were praying, deeply praying for their friend. I knew this story had a deadline and I thought about changing the piece to focus only on incredible Michele Dudley who gives women a haven or the amazing work UMC does finding homes for women. It would be a much happier piece but that wouldn’t be the truth.
The truth is there are women all over Charlotte living tragic, complicated, messy lives who desperately need the jobs and compassion of Michele Dudley and the housing and hope of the Urban Ministry Center. Many times, those women have incredible success stories with happy endings. And sometimes, there are stories that are almost too difficult to read.
That is why July 16-22 during SHARE Charlotte’s SummerSHARE week of giving, I hope you will make it a priority to Do Good. To pick one agency that is doing something that matters to you and donate items on their Give Shop® Wish List. Maybe even commit to volunteer. Or join us for our kickoff event at Anne Nielson Fine Art Gallery (A Collaborative Evening of Good) to support the Urban Ministry Center and Fashion & Compassion and buy yourself or a friend a blue beaded bracelet as a reminder to Do Good always.
A story like Monea’s can be overwhelming. It can seem like we can’t do enough. But maybe her story is to remind us we can’t stop. That we can’t get tired. That every day we can make a choice to do one thing to help one person. One woman in Charlotte helping another woman. Each one. Reach one. We can’t stop Doing Good in Charlotte until everyone is all good.
Author’s note: Monea was found grieving but unharmed. She is still being supported by Fashion & Compassion as well as the Urban Ministry Center and finding her way home.
Visit the Urban Ministry Center official website here.
Visit Fashion & Compassion official website here.
Kathy Izard is a current Board member of the Urban Ministry Center and former co-founder and director of Moore Place, Charlotte’s first permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless men and women. She is a writer, speaker and author of The Hundred Story Home: a memoir of finding faith in ourselves and something bigger. Available now.