As Gayle Hardison sat down at her church group’s table a few weeks ago at Pine Valley Church of Christ, Dwight Price looked up and noticed she was dining on green beans and squash casserole.
He smiled and looked back at his plate, ready to tease her.
“She always watching her weight, and I said you can’t gain no weight off string beans,” he said.
For the last year, Dwight has met each week with two couples at the church – Gayle, her husband, Robert “Herky” Hardison and Frannie and Rich Shively. Their sole interest at these meetings has been helping Dwight get where wants to go – a better home, a better education and a better job.
Their group is part of a United Way of the Cape Fear Area program called Circles of Support that matches community groups with “neighbors,” people who’ve either been in a housing crisis or could be.
It’s a village approach to homelessness prevention.
Mentors help their neighbors navigate some of life’s bureaucracy so they can begin to thrive again. The program started two and a half years ago as part of the local United Way’s 10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness.
Circles of Support is holding its next training for potential mentors 4-8 p.m. Thursday (June 14) at the United Way office, 5919 Oleander Drive, behind the Oleander Port City Java. The training is free, and dinner is provided.
Julia Steffen, the program’s director, said neighbors get their confidence back along with life skills that will keep them out of poverty and in a home.
Right now, the program has 48 volunteers mentoring 16 people, including one family. Most of those volunteers are from area churches including Pine Valley Church of Christ, St. Mary Catholic Church, St. Mark Catholic Church and Masonboro Baptist Church.
Mentors commit to meeting with their neighbors 2-4 hours each month to help them with organization, money management, job searches, time management and transportation issues.
“Dwight knew the things he needed to do, already,” Herky said. His mentors just helped him get there, advising on money management, how to pursue his auto technicians’ degree and getting his driver’s license. Now, Dwight has a stable job at a local garage as well as a home.
The group also encouraged Dwight to reconnect with his family in Virginia.
“I admired him so much for going home to see his family,” Frannie added. “He hadn’t seen them in 10 years.”
Before he met the Pine Valley group, Dwight was part of the Leading Into New Communities program (LINC) for formerly incarcerated adults.
“I didn’t want to have to depend on LINC for shelter. I wanted to handle my own management and take care of myself,” Dwight added. “I figured I had nothing to lose, and I’d better have something stable in my life.”
He also started attending church again and his mentors have invited him to their homes for holiday meals.
“It’s been good. They’re good people and good Christians,” Dwight added. “The changes I’ve made is my surroundings. I don’t hang around with who I once hung around with.”
Technically, the group’s meetings will end in September, but the two couples and Dwight hope to stay in touch.
“He has learned to live within his means. He reminds us I’ve got to do what I can afford to do,” Frannie added. “I would hope that if our time is up in September, he would remain our friend forever.”
Dwight nodded and smiled.
“I always will, whether I’m in Wilmington or another state,” he said. “I’ll always keep in touch.”
Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or