01/06/10 — Pair hopes shelter will give homeless a second chance

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Pair hopes shelter will give homeless a second chance

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 6, 2010 1:46 PM

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Antoinette Rodgers, left, and James "Dee" Dawson discuss plans for a three-bedroom Koonce Street home, which opens Friday as a shelter for women and children. The two hope to secure other locations to provide temporary housing for homeless and displaced residents.

It's hard enough being homeless, without the added challenge of freezing temperatures.

Antoinette Rodgers says it breaks her heart each time she hears of someone dying on the street because it's so cold outside.

Even a temporary shelter would help, she said.

When she first returned to Goldsboro several years ago to care for her ailing grandmother, she opened up such a place on Ash Street. It was short-lived, however, as family responsibilities took over.

But her passion for the less fortunate did not dissipate, and she again set out to create a safe haven for those in need.

She found a kindred spirit in James "Dee" Dawson, a bail bondsman in Goldsboro.

Although she didn't know him well, when their paths crossed, Mrs. Rodgers would share her vision of creating a shelter in the area.

"Every time I ran into him, I asked, 'Do you have any houses?'" she said.

Persistence paid off when he recently told her of a home he owned that had become vacant. It was on Koonce Street, on the outskirts of the city.

The three-bedroom house has two bathrooms, a large living room and dining room. While it can only serve special populations -- six people or less, Mrs. Rodgers said, it will certainly be a good start.

"Just take them off the streets, especially during the wintertime," she said. "I know these are hard times for everybody. Somebody's got to reach out and let them know that there's still hope. ... We have people already waiting with children to move in today."

The duo has spent the last few weeks sprucing up the place, securing furnishings and readying the property for occupancy. Plans are to open the doors on Friday.

They aptly call the project "A Turning Point," because for some that's what the opportunity will be.

Dawson, a bail bondsman since 1989, has witnessed firsthand those who could use a change in life direction.

"In my line of work, people don't go into court. We go in the neighborhoods looking for them and you actually see what's going on," he said. "People get in desperate situations. We go in a lot of houses that don't have food there -- pans are on the stove, look like food's been in them four or five days, kids walking around with no clothes on, crying, no adult there, period. I know the need."

Mrs. Rodgers' compassion comes from an even deeper place, herself having experienced dire circumstances.

"I have been homeless before when I first went to D.C. when I was 18 years old (and) someone helped me," she said. "I have been where some of these girls are."

On more than one occasion, she has passed along the kindness that once was extended to her, welcoming young mothers into her own home until they could get back on their feet.

That's ultimately what she hopes to do now, although it will be about more than providing a short-term remedy. Rather, the "turning point" aspect will come into play as tools are given toward the next chapter.

"We're going to try to teach independence," she explained, recalling messages she learned at her own grandmother's knee, like having to make her bed each morning.

"I believe that the way you start out your morning -- with prayer, with a routine -- anything that you do consistently for 30 days becomes a habit."

There will be several areas of focus in the household, she said, ranging from wellness and nutrition to parenting and future employment.

"When we came up, there were certainly things we were trained to do as part of the house," Mrs. Rodgers said. "A lot of these young girls, they do not have that going on. When they run into a dead end, they don't have anywhere to run to. We want to be that component to help them become successful."

And thankfully, Dawson became "that other piece that I've needed" to give life to the idea, she said.

"He just opened up everything so freely that I knew that this was God," she said. "This is an opportunity that many people don't have, the opportunity to come into a nice house like this.

"We know it's going to work. If your heart is in the right place, everything else will fall into place."

The two see this as a good launching place, and are already envisioning other shelter locations in the future. Dawson mentioned another property he owns, previously used as a day care, that could be ready for storage or shelter within the coming months.

For now, they are pursuing grants and other funding options to continue the project, which is currently being paid for out of their own pockets.

Donations are also appreciated, said Mrs. Rodgers. From beds and bedding, to toiletries, towels, sheets and clothing for women and children, as well as monetary gifts, everything will be put to good use.

"Eventually, what we have is going to run out," she said.

For more information on "A Turning Point" or to make a donation, contact Mrs. Rodgers at 394-4263.