Daybreak exceeds fund goal to help Macon homeless

lfabian@macon.comOctober 5, 2012 

When the sun rises over the east Macon horizon, light filters through the windows of the Daybreak homeless center on Walnut Street.

As about two dozen people shared coffee, breakfast and conversation Thursday, the rays shone like spotlights on potted yellow mums on one of the tables.

The mostly male crowd munched on hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and a bit of baklava left over from Sunday supper.

“It’s always good every morning when you’re waking and breathing,” Wilford Campbell said as he tried remove a stubborn shell from his boiled egg.

Campbell stops by Daybreak on his way to walk to the Department of Labor, miles away. He’s dressed for work, but the 59-year-old, who has cut beveled glass for more than 30 years, can’t find anyone to hire him.

“Some of us out here are willing, ready and able to work,” Campbell said. “I don’t consider myself homeless. I consider myself between livings. If I had a job, I wouldn’t be homeless.”

Helping folks like Campbell, who moved to Macon from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2006, is the mission of the homeless center launched by Depaul USA nearly a year ago.

In the last 11 months, donors and grants more than doubled the initial capital campaign goal of $175,000. A future campaign will collect operating expenses.

“It’s like being in a little cathedral and blessings keep pouring in,” said Sister Elizabeth Greim, Daybreak’s executive director. “It’s a testament to the community. It’s not us.”

Buying an old warehouse at 174 Walnut St. cost about $100,000. The remaining $300,000 raised has renovated the interior with heating and air conditioning, showers, bathrooms, a laundry room, community sinks, and a kitchen to meet new health department regulations to serve food.

The money also is paying for a medical examination room, computer room, new windows, offices, exterior renovation, roof repairs, a ramp, staircase, concrete removal and landscaping.

Ceramic tiles that line the hall, bathroom walls and showers were all donated.

Mount Zion Baptist Church showed up with $1,500 worth of paint and free labor. Armstrong World Industries offered designer ceiling tiles.

“People say, ‘Wow, this is really nice.’ We don’t want people to think we set out to build the Taj Mahal. All this is donated,” Greim said as she pointed out the pattern of the varied sizes in tiles.

Compiling the list of major donors, which includes CNN’s Nancy Grace, will be difficult, but Daybreak will recognize contributors at a grand opening Nov. 15 at 11 a.m.

Looking for volunteers

In the meantime, volunteers are needed to expand operating hours.

The center is now open Mondays from noon until 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 7 a.m. until noon. Once the concrete flooring is finished later this month, Daybreak will open from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. those two days and gradually add more days to the schedule.

The next volunteer training session will be Thursday at 7 p.m. Anyone interested in helping can send an e-mail to daybreak.macon@gmail.com.

Last month, 52 people showed up for the training.

“We have some amazing volunteers and crew,” said Denise Saturna, who began feeding the homeless in downtown years ago and moved her “Come to the Fountain” Sunday supper to Daybreak late last year. “We came in this week and there were paper plates and cups sitting on the table. It just keeps dropping out of the sky. That tells you this is something this community needs.”

Volunteer Bud Fletcher has lived in Macon for 33 years. He helps every Thursday because he sees value in the center.

He’s been impressed that organizers continually strive not to duplicate other services offered in the community. For instance, they don’t serve lunch, since Macon Outreach at Mulberry has that covered.

Fletcher also likes that local churches are involved, which brings a variety of people together, and that Daybreak is always looking for suggestions.

A multicolored jar sits on the counter for “attitudes, gratitudes and suggestions.” Identifying the needs of the homeless is integral to Daybreak’s mission.

“The people who come here act like it’s a very safe place. You might even see them take a little nap,” Fletcher said. “When you’re out on the street, you have to sleep with one eye open.”

Daybreak is also building a temporary storage room, so people can leave behind their belongings for a short time while they run errands.

“Mr. Sam” regularly pushes his grocery cart of goods into the building.

The other day, he noticed trash in front of the building and picked it up, said Bennie Bonner, who works as an “engagement specialist” at the center.

Some people are harder to engage than others. One man who would just sit and stare now acknowledges her. She wants to learn their needs and find ways to help.

Bonner realizes she never used to think much about the homeless people she would pass on the street. Now she recognizes their humanity.

“Being here you realize they love conversation and reading books,” Bonner said. “Some just like to sit and observe and be some place and not run the risk of being run off.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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