Cassandra Westberry didn’t mince words when describing what a Mount Airy homeless shelter, which will hold its 10-year anniversary celebration this month, has meant to her.
“The Shepherd’s House saved my life,” she said in emphatic tones Thursday while seated in the warm, cozy living room of the facility on Rockford Street which was converted from a large house.
“I became homeless and didn’t have a place to go,” added Westberry, who resided in Winston-Salem. She makes no excuses about what led to that. “I became homeless due to substance abuse — alcohol was my drug of choice,” Westberry admitted.
“Basically, I’ve used drugs all of my life.”
The woman has been at the Shepherd’s House about 10 days. “I celebrated my 50th birthday here yesterday,” Westberry, a mother of four, said Thursday.
Previously, she was staying with two relatives in Winston-Salem, and while Westberry gave no indication of any specific situation that led to her departure, “I felt as though I was imposing.”
She learned about the Mount Airy homeless shelter that offers temporary housing (90 days) for those down on their luck.
LeeAnn Beck, 34, and her husband, Keith Turner, 35, were displaced when the house they were living in with an aunt and grandmother was sold by heirs after the latter died.
“All of this came up on us in a week and we had nowhere to go,” Beck said.
“This has been a blessing to us,” she said of the Shepherd’s House, which Beck knew little or nothing about until contacting other agencies and being referred there.
“When we first came, we were a little scared,” Beck said of her and Turner, thinking an institutional setting would be involved. But the shelter is like a home, she said.
Beck, Turner and Westberry are just three of the residents at the Shepherd’s House, which has a capacity for 16.
That limit was expected to be reached later Thursday when two young women from eastern Virginia, who had found themselves stranded, arrived at the shelter.
Over its 10 years, more than 1,300 other stories have been told by those served at the Shepherd’s House, who include women, children and families. That translates into 34,362 nights of shelter and 103,086 meals provided to clients.
April 27 Celebration
An event is planned at Riverside Park in Mount Airy on April 27 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to celebrate the vision that has allowed the Shepherd’s House to reach that milestone.
It will include a free lunch of hot dogs and chips along with anniversary cake; music by The Marshall Brothers, a bluegrass group, along with gospel performers The Kinders and The Bledsoes; a two-player-team cornhole tournament sponsored by Advanced Electronic Services Inc. (AES) offering a $100 top prize; kid’s games; facepainting; a dunking booth to be manned by the Rev. Phil Goble, Shepherd’s House executive director; children’s games; and “special announcements,” Goble said.
“This is a tremendous occasion,” he added of the event, which is free and open to the public.
“We wanted to do something for the community, since this is the community’s shelter. They support it, they provide for its clients. Without the generous hearts and souls of the people in and around Surry County, this place would not be open today.”
In addition to the activities at Riverside Park, a captain’s choice golf tournament for three-player teams is planned at Beaver Creek Golf Course on April 27 to benefit the Shepherd’s House as wells as the Blackwater United Methodist Church youth retreat. The church is sponsoring the tournament.
It offers a $300 first prize, and requires an entry fee of $25 per person. Golfers interested can call Beaver Creek at 374-5670.
The cornhole tournament at Riverside Park on April 27 will begin at 10:30 a.m., with registration set for 10 a.m. It requires a $40 entry fee per two-player team, with the number of rounds to be based on the entries. More information is available from Judy Martin at 789-0792, extension 322.
It will be a day of fun, laughter and more, Goble stressed.
Although admission to the park is free, donations will be accepted.
The Shepherd’s House originated with a dream by the late David Simmons, who envisioned a facility where people could receive help getting back on their feet. That led to the opening of the shelter in April 2003, thanks to Simmons and a group of friends who shared his dream.
Haymore Memorial Baptist Church and the Surry Baptist Association men’s group also played key roles in aiding the homeless in the early days.
The 10-year milestone was threatened last year when the Shepherd’s House encountered a financial crisis. A plea went out to the community to help, which led the United Fund of Surry to issue a $20,000 matching grant challenge. Individuals, businesses, churches, civic clubs and other organizations responded “in droves,” Goble said.
“It was amazing to watch,” according to Farah Davis, who chairs the board of directors of the Shepherd’s House. “We were getting donations from everywhere.”
That outpouring is credited for the shelter not only reaching its 10th anniversary, but putting it on solid footing for the future.
The April 27 celebration “is our chance to say ‘thank you’ to the community for all its support through the years,” Davis added. “Without the people of this area stepping up each and every year, the shelter would not be able to touch the lives of so many women, children and families.”
A major fund-raising event to support the center’s work is held each February, featuring a drawdown contest for a grand prize, which is heavily attended.
“I think the biggest thing about this place is we’re almost entirely community-funded,” Goble Said.
Dream Lives On
Cassandra Westberry and LeeAnn Beck are two people who are glad that David Simmons’ dream in 1999 is surviving today, not only because of the shelter but the structure it provides.
“Since we’ve been here I’ve been looking for jobs,” Beck said of her and Turner’s arrival at the Shepherd’s House.
Job searches are one requirement for residents of the house, which also puts them in touch with job-skills classes at the Employment Security Commission and social services personnel. Parenting classes are provided in conjunction with the Children’s Center and the Shepherd’s House works with Narcotics Anonymous, Reformers Unanimous and other groups to provide clients emotional, spiritual and physical help.
While at the shelter, the residents are required to perform household chores, unless hampered by a disability.
“They don’t just goof off,” said Goble, who has been executive director since October 2010.
Westberry receives disability payments, “but I want to find work, ‘cause I want to stay busy.” At the house, she sweeps floors and keeps a smoking area clean. Westberry is learning how to become responsible with her money and attends Narcotics Anonymous and Reformers Unanimous meetings.
The Shepherd’s House arrivals result from a wide range of circumstances.
“Sometimes it’s substance abuse, sometimes it’s mental health, job loss,” said Amy Cook, shelter manager, who has worked at the Shepherd’s House almost 10 years.
“We keep getting so many young girls who met somebody on the Internet and moved down here and got kicked out,” Cook said.
She soon had to turn her attention to the two young women from eastern Virginia who showed up at the house in need of shelter, and looking for a fresh start.
“They came in on a bus,” Goble said, explaining that the two cousins were expecting to stay with someone in this area.
“And it didn’t work out,” he said. “Now they have no way to get back to eastern Virginia.”
Just then the telephone on Goble’s desk rang.
The call was from a man who had become homeless as many do, in a swift and unexpected manner.
“He and his fiance got into a fight and his fiance kicked him and his dad out of the house,” Goble reported afterward.
“Unfortunately, we do not take single men,” he had told the caller, reflecting the Shepherd’s House policy of accepting only married males or those with children in addition to women and kids.
“That (a homeless shelter for single men) is a big need in this community,” Goble mused.
Yet the Shepherd’s House stays busy with others, and people such as Cassandra Westberry appreciate the help shelter personnel are supplying to her.
“They really care.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.