All posts by Kim Eppehimer

Loaves and Fishes – For the Feet!

We had been told by Friendship House folks in the past how important socks are to those who live out on the streets and out in the elements. A member of New Castle Presbyterian Church, Mark Rappold, decided to do something about it. He arranged for his employer, Tommy Hilfiger, to make a sock donation.

I was away from church when the call came. Our usually cool, calm and collected Office Administrator sounded a bit less so. A large truck had pulled up with a delivery of socks – 2 pallets’ worth! And they planned to leave them on the curb! We prevailed upon them to get them inside the building. And then we did the numbers. 2 pallets. 38 boxes. Each box containing 50 packs of 3 pairs of socks each. Are you doing the math?
5,700 pairs of socks!! It was more than 6 times what Mark Rappold had imagined it would be!

We were in “sock shock” – but couldn’t stay there for long. It was Monday, and that Friday the new pastor nominee would arrive for a weekend full of festivities – most of which needed to take place in the Fellowship Hall full of sock boxes!

Our Mission & Outreach Committee delivered a box each to 2 elementary schools in New Castle who are part of our Adopt-a-School program. We have taken another to Community Presbyterian Church for their outreach efforts, and one more to the Seamen’s Center at the Port of Wilmington. And Thursday morning, Marc Marcus from Friendship House came and loaded up 34 boxes of 5,100 pairs of socks!

It was “loaves and fishes” for the feet! And each of us who got to witness it just grew wide-eyed and big-hearted over the abundance of it all. Thanks be to Mark Rappold, and to the ministry of Friendship House that inspired him. Thanks be to Tommy Hilfiger, who listened to him. Thanks be to New Castle Presbyterian Church folk who reveled in and reached out with this miracle. And thanks be to God for touching us all through pallets and boxes and packets and pairs of SOCKS!

– Jenny Warren (Interim Pastor at New Castle Presbyterian Church)

Annual Meeting Executive Director Remarks – 2019

We were so pleased to see many of you at our annual meeting this year held at Westminster Presbyterian Church. We also enjoyed the casual conversation at the Coffee Chat with Kim, our Executive Director, the following weekend. Here is the message shared with us by Kim Eppehimer.

Thank you so much for being here this morning, and as always – thank you to our amazing board of directors, staff, supporters and those we serve every day. Friendship House lives to serve you as much as you serve us.

2018 was a good and challenging year for Friendship House.

We served almost 5,000 people through our empowerment centers, winter ministry, our clothing bank and housing program last year.

5,000 people, just in New Castle County.

This number is not decreasing. Year after year, we continue to meet new people finding themselves in a place of homelessness or displacement and need help navigating their way out. This includes individuals striving for a life where they can find joy, hope, and pride. All things they lost before coming to our doors.

The empowerment centers, which we have three (Wilmington, Newark and Middletown), continue to fill the gaps of services by taking time to hear people’s stories and assist each client with problem solving, getting access to other agencies, offering available resources and most importantly treating each person like they matter – staff don’t look at the person as the problem, and instead address the issues that appear as road blocks.

In Wilmington our staff include Lashea, Patty, Josh, Paul and Carey. I am grateful for their dedication. And, as we weathered our way through this past winter, this team was the only reason Bill, Marc and I survived. They stayed late and came in early with every Code Purple. They are creative in problem solving, and passionate about who they serve.

In Newark we have Josh and Mindy, who both realize the needs in Newark vary and meet those needs every day with a hot meal, hot coffee, and compassionate hearts. People come to Newark for the community just as much as they come for much needed resources. It is a joy to witness.

In Middletown we have Rashita, who also serves as our volunteer coordinator. Rashita has leaned in with such determination by reaching out to other organizations to learn who and how they serve. She has made herself known at the community level, to nearby churches, and because of her keen ability to find volunteers, we have been able to increase the days and hours which we are open there. And all of this – from Wilmington to Newark to Middletown, is Marc – the heart, grace and sanity behind our centers.

We also have empowerment ministries in additional locations throughout the county meeting the needs of local communities. This includes a partnership with the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church food outreach program which offers free food every Wednesday. We have Bill there with several volunteers taking our services to them.

Our clothing bank continues to give clothing to more than 5,000 people every year. We work with over 150 agencies to ensure every person has access to free, good quality clothing. We have almost 1,000 volunteers come to us at our Clothing Bank! Which is great because we still get almost 200,000 pounds of donated clothing every year to sort, hang and size!

More than a clothing distribution center and a great place to host volunteers, our Clothing Bank has a job training program for women who would otherwise struggle finding employment. While with us they learn job skills, have time to search for a job appropriate for them, and find a supportive and caring community.

We had a transition at our Clothing Bank last year when Kathy resigned. Fortunately for us, we had Robin ready in the wings to quickly learn the warehouse management with the support of Eileen, who has been a steady presence there through it all. Together they made sure we didn’t miss a step and have worked hard to make sure volunteers and trainees get a wonderful experience.

Our Transitional Housing ministry is serving 120 people annually. Our housing program continues to find ways to morph as the needs of our community deepen. Typically, we would get residents after at least 90 days of recovery time who were ready to immediately find employment. Now, however, with such little intensive rehab available, those looking to fight an addiction have to work harder than ever. We play a part in that fight by giving a place to stay while they spend additional time in out-patient therapy. Although this requires more resources and time from us, it is a needed step in the process. This has lengthened the average time residents stay in our first stage of housing.

We have had many tragic stories this year in housing, and we have had some magnificent success stories. Men and women who have overcome many hurdles are now living in a way they can say they worked hard for – lives they are proud of!

We helped a mother with two young kids who came to us from a terrible domestic violence situation work through her and her kids’ trauma. After two years with us, she has found the strength within to trust others again, and is even willing to find joy in her life. She let us love her during a time when she felt nothing but pain.

We continue to house a gentleman who we first met at Saturday winter sanctuary a few years ago. He had such drive and determination he overcame his addiction, homelessness and despair. Now, seeking his undergrad degree and working at least two jobs, he lives in our housing and can only make it work because we are able to support him along with an amazing community of people who care.

Our graduate program also continues to play a vital role. We had a graduate lose everything she owned in an apartment fire. Everything she owned gone. Thank God she was not home when it happened because she probably would have died. She came back and lived with us for several months as she saved once again in order to afford another apartment. Her journey was made possible because of the support she received from the Friendship House community.

The saints in our housing ministry include Paul, who is our newly appointed director of men’s housing, Mary Anne, Shawn, Heidi, Genell, Silas and Ronnie, along with many part time staff who help with weekend and overnight shifts. Overseeing it all is Marcy, our Director of Housing, who continues to bring such love, grace, and hope to every person she meets. Unfortunately, Gordon passed away earlier this year. He worked for us for many years at Andrew’s Place.

2018 was the first full year of having me as our new executive director. The feedback we receive tells us we are managing this transition well. Bill Perkins, who was our Executive Director for almost 30 years, remains a very active member of our staff team, and he remains an invaluable friend and mentor to me. I often say I think someone should do a case study on our organization because it is rare to find examples where a new leader can follow the equivalent of a founder, let alone one who remains involved with the organization. This is largely due to Bill’s selfless call to step aside as leader and allow someone else to step in with such acceptance. It also helps that I have Roxane who is constantly picking up the pieces for us every day! She is an amazing example of what determination, pride and compassion can do for a person. She is a gift to me and to our organization.

What does our future look like? It is clear the need still exists for Friendship House’s unique ability to meet people where they are and fill in the gaps of services county wide. We are continuing to see the loss of our once middle class. For so many, the American dream of 2.5 children and white picket fences is a thing of the past. For most families, their dreams now include being able to pay their rent and their utilities in the same month.

Our friends experiencing homelessness still struggle to find housing and, more importantly, maintain it because belief still continues housing alone is the solution. Those in an addiction and recovery are fighting a daily internal struggle that is met by external stigma and defamation.

Friendship House is needed and I am humbled to see the support we get from our community who agrees. We are here because you believe in us. 95% of our funding comes from the community. The other 5% comes from our resident and client program payments.

What makes Friendship House unique? If I asked everybody in this room to answer this question I can almost guarantee you a different answer each time. Each of us has different reasons as to why we support, work for, or seek assistance from Friendship House. The multitude of answers about why Friendship House matters is exactly what makes us unique. We are able to be what you need us to be, when you need us to be there. Not many organizations can say the same. We also have the ability and desire to walk with anyone as long as they want or need us to. We are not looking for quick fixes.

One of my favorite things about Friendship House is that we are a courageous organization. For one, we take risks and go where other organizations do not. We are willing to get dirty and be gritty. And we are not scared to be vulnerable with each other. We believe in order to be the most use we need to crawl into the ditch with those who need us and walk with them out of that ditch when they are ready. We try to find a path that will lead to the best outcomes. Often the only outcome we are looking for is that the person we are working with is better than we first met them. Sometimes, that outcome is to just live for another day.

Being courageous does not always mean we do it right every time. As long as we are working hard and keep God the focal point of our mission and our services, as long as we feel we did our personal best every day, we can say we did not fail. Even if it means we didn’t find housing for the couple who has a husband on house arrest and a daughter with a chronic illness. Even though we still have 300 individuals come to us every year for Code Purple. Even though we have a wait list of people praying they get a bed at one of our houses. Still, we have not failed because we have not given up. Our work is hard. We can’t fix every person’s situation. What we can do is treat each person with dignity, grace, and love. That, my friends, is courage. And that is all we need to reach success. Because this is what relational ministry is about.

We have a lot of goals over the next several years to meet the cry of help. We intend to increase our base pay to our staff. We are looking to open a fourth empowerment center located in Millcreek to serve Stanton, Richardson Park, Millcreek and Pike Creek. We are looking for resources to serve Bear and New Castle residents. We have a plan to improve our job training program at the clothing bank. We are considering housing options in Newark. We need to continue to build an internal infrastructure that provides succession planning. When I think about the goals we have and the needs that exist, I sometimes wonder how will we do this? And then I look around me and see the amazing and supportive community which makes the Friendship House family. When I see what volunteering does for people who come to serve dinner at housing, work our centers or the Clothing Bank, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or crack 120 eggs – the stories you share, the people we serve, the staff who make the magic happen; that is where I find strength and joy to keep me going.

Martin Luther King, Jr. told us, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace.”

And, as we are told by Peter, “Love each other as if your life depended on it. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless, cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all can get in on it.”

It takes one person to change someone’s life. Maybe that person will be you. I invite you to be part of what Friendship House will do this year.

Thank you.

– Kim Eppehimer (Executive Director)

A Fearful Moment Leads to Grace: A Graduate’s Story

Eileen Taylor came to the Friendship House Transitional Housing program after she graduated from a program at the Salvation Army in February, 2016. Struggling to remain out of her addiction and homelessness, Eileen was determined, scared and just stubborn enough to overcome every obstacle.

While employed as a job trainee at the Friendship House Clothing Bank, Eileen applied for a position at BJ’s Wholesale Club. Although the position was part-time, Eileen was thrilled to receive the job.

Eileen worked hard on herself and at her job. Her part time hours became full-time and her responsibilities began to increase. Once she graduated from our program in January, 2017, she and another graduate shared an apartment for a year. Lacking part time experienced workers at our Clothing Bank, Eileen agreed to come back to help manage the warehouse. At this point, Eileen was self-sufficient enough to rent a place of her own. She was working hard, often tired, and going strong.

Then, in November of last year, tragedy struck; tragedy accompanied by a miracle. Eileen got home from work and was relaxing when a friend called and asked if they could get together that evening. Reluctantly, Eileen pulled herself together to go out. During that evening, the building in which Eileen had an apartment burned down due to an oxygen tank explosion. If Eileen had been home, the fire department said she may not have survived since her apartment was right next to the one in which the fire started.

We were all incredibly grateful she was alive and deeply saddened she had lost all her possessions, as well as her home. Eileen was experiencing homelessness all over again. However, this time, she had a loving, supportive community to hold and uplift her.

Friendship House Board members and volunteers donated gift cards so that Eileen could buy clothing (after she had gotten what she could from the Clothing Bank). As a graduate of Women’s Housing, Eileen was welcomed back into one of the Palmer House apartments, to stay as long as necessary. Thus, she had a roof over her head; she had friends to support her; she had gifts of money to feed and clothe herself. Mostly, she had time and space to recover from the devastation and trauma. A very special gift came from Mark Aitken, a good friend and supporter of Friendship House, which covered all of Eileen’s expenses, including new furnishings, when she was able to move into her own place.

Although devastated by her loss, Eileen remained grateful to God and to the many friends who helped her. She has been in her new apartment for several months and continues to work hard at BJs. In fact, her hard work won her the Employee of the Year award from BJs!

Eileen never lost faith in God or herself during this tragedy and has regained everything she needs. Without the Friendship House community, she would truly have been lost. To all of you who support Friendship House, we gratefully say, “Thank you.”

– Kim Eppehimer (Executive Director)

Tending My Garden

In this blessed Spring of 2019, my thoughts turn to gardening. Like so many before me, the garden represents my relationship to creation and to my Creator. Planting seeds, tending plants, watching them grow and mature are deeply satisfying activities. Nurturing the soil and the plants feels as if I am giving thanks to God who has given me so much.

At Friendship House, we have actual and symbolic gardens. Through our “Mother’s Day Garden” fundraiser and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, we have created a small paradise behind each site in Women’s Transitional Housing. As we weed, plant, and prune the actual garden, I am reminded of the living “flowers” whom we also tend: the women and children living in our houses. The creation of beauty in the garden is symbolic of the re-creation of the lives of our residents.

Gardening also reminds me that God’s seeds, whether in my garden or in my women, always bear fruit.

Back in the 1990’s, when the Wilmington Empowerment Center was known as the Women’s Center, I had just started working for Friendship House. In the basement of St. Andrews’ Church (as it was then known), there was a drop-in center for women. Some of them were “hard core” street women. Some were seeking emergency shelter. Some came for the coffee and community. And then some to use the phone, receive mail or, sometimes, all of the above.

On a bookshelf running through the middle of the Center, was a plant (a philodendron), housed in an old plastic food container which was filled with the hardest, driest dirt one could imagine. It was a miracle the poor thing was alive, being in a dark basement, in hard crusty soil, mostly ignored, quietly living its life waiting for someone to give it a bit of water.

It occurred to me how much that little plant was like our clients. They, too, had been abandoned, ignored, waiting for just a bit of attention so they could try to make it one more day on the streets. The tenacity of the philodendron was symbolic of the tenacity of our women who refused to give up or give in. Some were quietly persistent; others were loud and, frankly, obnoxious at times. Mentally ill, drug/alcohol addicted, rambunctious, in need of a shower or quietly hoping for help, our clients came in day after day, year after year. Some of them, over 20 years later, still come in to share their woes and their joys.

Fast forward to 1999 and the purchase of our Lincoln Street property which would become Palmer House, in memory of our friend Rev. Mark Palmer. One day, starting up the front steps, I saw a small petunia growing in a crack in the cement. It had obviously been seeded by a passing bird or a gentle breeze. It seemed to me that this small flower, so vulnerable yet so pretty, was symbolic of the women who lived in those houses: growing up starved, but still growing. Awaiting their chance to blossom.

Since that day, I have noticed more flowers growing in crevices around our properties.  Indeed, we even have a thorny old rose bush growing in the wall at the front of Palmer House. It has the most beautiful roses!

As Jesus told the disciples, “Feed my sheep,” I can hear a similar call: “Tend my garden. Be gentle with those who have been mistreated. Give them space to grow and to blossom.”

In response to this call, Friendship House offers beautiful houses, beautiful gardens and a structured program to help women blossom into their truest selves. Some residents take root immediately and thrive, while for others, this is not yet their season. The seeds are planted but not yet ready to bloom. Faith teaches us that the plants will emerge when the time is right, perhaps in a way that we cannot anticipate.

The miracle of Divine Love is that the Creator keeps the garden ready for all of us, waiting for us to find our way home.

– Marcy Perkins

You Are Enough

“You have been treated generously, so live generously. Don’t think you have to put on a fundraising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment.”

~Matthew 10:8-9 (The Message translation)

You don’t need to believe in Jesus as anything more than a really cool guy to believe the message he shared through the writings of Matthew. It’s a similar message delivered by caring people worldwide yet falling on silent ears and buried by others full of hatred. It’s a message that says, “you are enough.” We live in a society where people are constantly told they are not good enough. They have the wrong sexual orientation. They have the wrong skin color. They worship the wrong way. They are living the wrong life or making the wrong decisions.

At Friendship House, we leave our differences at the door so we can serve God’s children with love, grace and compassion. Because it’s enough to just need help.

In August of this year, Delaware experienced the highest rate in overdose deaths from opioids than ever before.  Recent reports indicate these numbers are beginning to level off nationwide.  Not decrease—but not increasing either.  Yet I do not feel like celebrating.  Yes, a stable death rate is better than an increase.  It is just not good enough.

It is time for each of us to say “enough is enough” and believe we are enough to make a difference.  We are not called to do it all; we are called to do our part.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”

Friendship House is one piece of the puzzle in making an impact, yet a very important piece. Our life-changing, life-saving programs in each of our ministries are critical for someone working on living self-sufficiently; living to put the pieces of their life back together; living just to live another day.

Often we feel incapable of making a difference. All you need to do is visit us for a day and see the hundreds of impacts our amazing staff make simply by being available to someone in need. It can come in the form of saying yes to a bus ticket, helping to get an ID or birth certificate, giving away clothing after a house fire, providing sanctuary, offering motivation before a job interview, and opening our houses to let someone stay as they rebuild their life. It just takes showing up, listening, and willingness to meet someone for who they are and where they are in that moment.

I think of Friendship House as being in the business of saving lives this way: not to prevent death, but to promote living. We connect people to the love and grace of God every day simply by being there – and therefore help create a life worth living. Because hope can be enough to keep someone moving.

I think it’s fair to admit we are not always succeeding. As a society, we are failing the young man who has asked for help because his family was embarrassed about his mental illness and abandoned him. We are failing the grandmother who has custody of her grandchildren after her daughter died of an overdose and only receives a monthly minimal social security check. We are failing the men and women who live every day the best they can because they are told they are not good enough by being discarded and ignored. We are failing those who are experiencing homelessness and displacement every day.

And yet, if we are willing to show up it will be enough to move the message away from negativity and towards compassion.

You are enough. Together, we are enough.

– Kim Eppehimer (Executive Director)