The team of youth and adult volunteers from Ohio pulled up to a mobile home in Leland, the site of their WARM rebuild. Over the past year, they served a spaghetti supper, held a car wash, and served as babysitters at their church to raise money for their trip. Then, they travelled by bus for over 10 hours and slept on a concrete fellowship hall floor to do manual labor in the July heat for people they had never met before.
They trusted WARM to match them with an individual or family in true need of assistance, people who had no other options but to ask for help and would appreciate their efforts.
Ms. Luanne, a senior citizen with kind eyes, greeted them with a smile and showed them around her dilapidated home, decorated with family photos and quilts.
The floors were in such disrepair, it was a miracle she hadn’t fallen through. Her kitchen sink leaked badly and the cabinet below was disintegrating from the water damage. Her back door would not open and the front steps were rickety and had lost their railings long ago.
Ms. Luanne’s situation made their hearts ache and they were glad they could help someone in such dire need.
A few hours after they began, one of the high school volunteers opened a back bedroom to find a young man, probably in his late 20’s, lying in bed. It was 11:00 am. The volunteer closed the door quickly and ran to tell one of the adults and the other youth.
Some of the youth volunteers became angry and felt he should offer to help instead of sleeping all day while they spent their time, energy, and money to fix his home.
The adult reminded them not to judge, but inside she was disappointed. She had been teaching the youth to help others and this experience could impact their willingness to serve their neighbor.
At lunchtime, she asked Luanne about the young man.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Luanne, “I didn’t know you would go in there. That is my grandson, Jackson. He had chemotherapy yesterday and he comes to my house to rest while his mom is working.”
The youth learned a deeper lesson than their leader expected. They learned it wasn’t their job to judge who is worthy of help. It is impossible to know the whole story of how a person arrived at their current situation.
Nonprofits of all kinds struggle with these issues. We are asked to develop application processes to separate the people who want to work the system from the people who are in dire need. WARM’s application requirements include income verification, owner-occupancy, and criminal background check.
Once the homeowner qualifies on paper, WARM personnel visit their home for an interview and home inspection. Many of them confide in us about family members they have lost, illnesses that bankrupted them, and storms that took everything. In many cases, they have been shamed when asking for help in the past. But not with WARM!
Certainly, there are individuals who try to work the system. I’m sure at some point WARM and many other agencies have been taken advantage of, despite rigorous eligibility requirements, but we keep serving the community anyway.
The people on WARM’s waiting list have encountered obstacles many of us can’t even imagine and we are all better off when low-wealth families can hold onto their greatest asset and safely remain in their homes and neighborhoods.
I hope you will join us in giving hope and help.
JC Lyle has served as WARM’s Executive Director since January 2009. Under her leadership, WARM's annual revenue and productivity have more than quadrupled. Prior to working in the nonprofit sector, Lyle worked at McKim & Creed on subdivision design, rezoning and permitting throughout coastal North Carolina. Lyle earned her Master of Business Administration from UNCW's Cameron School of Business and has presented workshops on affordable housing issues and nonprofit management at state-level conferences. Lyle serves on the Planning Commission for the City of Wilmington and the North Carolina Housing Partnership, the board that oversees the state's housing trust fund. In 2012, Lyle was named Wilma Magazine's first Woman to Watch in the Nonprofit Category. In 2014, she accepted WARM's Coastal Entrepreneur Award in the Nonprofit Category, given by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Cape Fear Chapter named her Outstanding Fundraiser of the Year.
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