From Project Home Guest to Volunteer

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Charles NorwoodCharles Norwood and his daughter

By Sarah Carlson

Charles Norwood’s Story

We all want what is best for our families. We make a plan, like a house of cards, adding each layer one by one, until we come up with a stable, constructed framework. But sometimes the best-laid plans can go awry when an unexpected event makes our house of cards come tumbling down. We then have to pick up the fallen pieces and start all over again, building from the ground up. This was true for Charles Norwood.

Norwood moved to Minnesota from Chicago because of better job opportunities in the area. He, his wife, and his young daughter were going to live with Norwood’s uncle until they had enough money to get a place of their own.

When they reached Minnesota, however, they found out that the uncle had Alzheimer’s disease and they could not live with him. Forced onto the streets, Norwood was devastated but knew he had to find someplace to go. He feared for his family’s safety and knew their best place to go was a shelter. He ended up at Project Home, program of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul.

Project Home is an overnight emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness in Ramsey County. Two different area churches, synagogues, or schools host Project Home each month. Each site has 20 beds and is primarily run by volunteers.

Norwood and his family were guests at Project Home for two months. The first night he said he was scared to death for his family. He did not want anything bad to happen to his wife or little girl. And nothing bad happened. Norwood quickly learned that they were at a place that was safe and clean. The volunteers came from a good community, were friendly and helpful, and welcomed them with open arms. He said, “They held the kids and let me know it would be alright.”

 Charles Norwood and his family at their new home.

Charles Norwood and his family at their new home.

Norwood said that the volunteers made him feel like family and helped him overcome barriers. “They reach for you,” he said. “The workers give you empathy, not sympathy, and make the process of doing what you need to do to be stable a smooth transition.” Project Home offers technical support to help unemployed people find jobs, and within eight days of arriving at the shelter, Norwood had a job at North Memorial Hospital.

Norwood said he received stability from the support of the workers. “They made me realize I never have to be homeless again,” he said.

Since then, Norwood and his family have moved into their own place. He now volunteers for Project Home himself to help people who are in a position like he once was. He wants to show others that they don’t have to be on the streets and that Project Home can start them on their road to success. For the Norwoods, the house of cards is rebuilding and he is helping others assemble their own, each layer one by one.

To learn more about Project Home, please contact:

Sara Liegl
Director, Project Home