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A Profile Of Paul's Place
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February 5, 2013
Thirty years ago, two Episcopal churches—one in Baltimore County and one in the city—decided to address the needs of their communities – body and soul. WYPR’s Fraser Smith reports.
Fraser Smith: Paul’s Place is a refuge in the murky heart of darkness. It’s been there on Ward Street in Washington Village/Pigtown for 30 years. The neighborhood has been the 7th most impoverished urban area in the nation. Generations of families have lived in the grip of addiction and poverty. Will Thompson, who supervises the greeters – they’re called Ambassadors – says Paul’s place produces a stirring moment every day. Several years ago, a boy started coming every day to study. There was no electricity and thus no lights at home. His mother was an addict – though not without something to offer her son. She loved books.
Will Thompson: She was a very smart, very intelligent lady but addiction don’t care how smart you are. It don’t care how bright you are, you know.
Smith: Thompson watched as mother and son became a team. He wanted to learn. She wanted to get “clean” by time he graduated from high school. She made it. He went on to Amherst College. She got a good job. Paul’s Place opened in 1982. Volunteers at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Glyndon went to Reverend Edward Stube of St. Paul the Apostle Church on Washington Boulevard with their vision. They ran a soup kitchen two days a week. Today, Paul’s Place serves lunch to more than 400 people every day of the week. It has a budget of $3million – all private money. It offers judgment-free food, clothing and job counseling. Everyone’s a guest. Everyone gets a handshake or a hug or a winter coat – whatever they need. Again Will Thompson:
Thompson: That’s the beauty of being here for me. I see the power of the human spirit every day I see people overcoming living in the dark, living in the cold, staying positive, moving forward against all odds.
Smith: Stories like this are common, says Paul Schurick. Convicted of political campaign violations and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service, he chose Paul’s Place at the suggestion of a friend.
Paul Schurick: I knew five minutes after I walked in here that this was a new home for me, that this was the place that I belonged.
Smith: He taught in the GED program, helped with computer chores and did some administrative work. He served his last required hour last October. He’s still volunteering. Jayna Powell, who keeps track of 6,000 volunteers, says Paul’s Place endures because it never forgets its credo: People deserve respect.
Jayna Powell: Every place they go they’re a number... they’re coming across people that are surly and tired of their jobs and so much paper work and all of those things.
Smith: Volunteers stay on the books – because they admire the spirit it’s a spirit defined by many things, including the vocals of Kenny Wilson, a dish washing ambassador.
Kenny Wilson: Jeremiah was a bullfrog/ was a good friend of mine I never understood a word he said, but he was a good friend of mine … Everybody now.
Smith: The program’s director for 11 years, Bill McLennan, says Paul’s Place starts with the basics.
Bill McLennan: Your stomach has to be full. You need to be clean. You have to have a place to rest your head. And when those things are in place then you can move on with training, putting together a resume, networking, finding yourself a job.
Smith: Paul’s Place answers an age old question. If we don’t help our neighbors, who will? I’m Fraser Smith reporting from West Baltimore for 88-1 WYPR.
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