Editor’s note: The name has been altered for the main subject of this article to protect her identity.
It’s difficult to be a 15-year old. It’s even tougher to be a homeless teenager, but being at The ARK helps, according to Spenser, who has been staying at the shelter in recent months.
“The thing I loved most about the ARK was they understood the difficult situation you are in and tries to help anyone who is in need of emergency housing,” said Spenser, who came to The ARK because of a crisis in her mother’s life.
“I know she did what she thinks is best,” said a grateful Spenser, who said she would rather know she was loved without a permanent home than to worry about being hurt with a roof over her head.
“I would tell that to anyone’s [in a domestic violence situation]. It’s more important to keep your kids safe than a roof over their head and food in their stomach. Besides there’s people who can help,” said Spenser.
“They have everything you need here,” explained Spenser, “toothbrushes, shampoo, clothes, food. People donate here a lot.”
Among the donations people have made has been their time, including two ladies who have taught Spenser how to sew.
“Nancy Goodwin and Joan Sanders have taught Spenser sewing skills for clothing repairs as well as pillows and purses,” said Cynthia Cothren, director of The ARK. “We have a sewing machine that has been donated for Spenser when she moves into their housing and she is so excited to have a sewing machine.”
Not only does Spenser stitch goodies for gifts, but she is also a painter.
“While staying at The ARK I grew a passion for painting so the staff of The ARK helped in supplying canvas, paints, paint brushes,” said Spenser, who has been able to sell a few of her pieces. Spenser also has received commissions for her work.
“We have seen her grow with her artwork and creativity,” said Cothren. “We would like to have art classes for Spenser and hope that Spenser will be able to attend college after high school.”
Staff at The ARK has made it clear to Spenser and her mother that college is a possibility and both are working hard toward a more stable future.
“Staff always ask her about her classes and her homework and she always lets us know if she is doing well or if she needs help with something,” said Cothren. “She’s working hard at every opportunity she is given.”
This includes not only schooling and chores, but helping to care for her younger sister while her mom struggles to maintain what work she can with Lupus while she awaits a disability claim.
Helping Spenser’s mom connect to resources and learn to budget as well as helping Spenser establish responsible behaviors is just a part of the assistance available at The ARK.
“If you follow the program, it’s a really nice place to be,” said Spenser during a break in her studies. “You meet really nice people, too.
“It’s not like when you’re at home. I mean there’s always people here so it helped me be out more,” said the seemingly well-adjusted homeless teenager.
“There’s always someone new, too. It’s hard to be new so I would take them around and show them everything and try to make them feel at home,” said Spenser. “The ARK is their home while they live there.”
“Spenser seems wise and mature beyond her age,” said Cothren, who has enjoyed watching the child blossom under the guidance of staff and a supportive community. “We have tried to stress that Spenser can move forward in a peaceful, stable and happy future.”
In order to do that, The ARK needs continued financial support of the community.
One of the biggest fundraisers for The ARK is Cardboard City, which takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year.
This year that will be this Saturday where citizens and organizations will bring a box to shelter them near the big shelter at Elkin Municipal Park from 5 to 7 p.m. with recognition’s given to the box that earns the most money and the one that is most creatively decorated.
Just as those who are homeless cannot avoid the weather, the outdoor event is held rain, snow or sleet with participants earning at least $500 in order to “get out of the box,” however one individual has upped his ante.
Commissioner Jeff Eidson, who is also chair of the Explore Elkin initiative and owner of G&B Energy, continued to show he was “all in” by inviting employees of his company to express their mischievousness for a worthy cause.
“I hope to raise well in excess of this goal so to make it more fun and more of a challenge for me to get ‘out of the box’ I have invited employees of G&B Energy to direct their pledges to ‘keep me in the box,’” read a letter from Eidson. “Donations to keep me in will serve to raise the bar on the total donations I must raise to end my homelessness.
“With the holidays upon us, it is important that each of us take a moment of reflection to be thankful for our many blessings and to consider the daily challenges faced by those less fortunate,” said Eidson.
Community members can participate in Cardboard City and help The ARK continue to aid families like Spenser’s.
Anyone who wishes is welcome to bring a plain or decorated cardboard box of any size to the park to earn funds, or just come see the display and drop a few dollars for those who have committed their time and toes to what is often a frigid few hours understanding just one of the horrors of homelessness.
Donations also can be made directly to The ARK at www.thearkelkin.org.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.