A leap of friendship
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on November 28, 2013 12:10 AM
Patrick Albert plays during music meditation at First Baptist Church. A little more than a year ago, Albert visited the church's annual Warm the World event looking for a sleeping bag. Today, he is an active church member and has started a new life.
Patrick Albert walks in the woods where he slept just over a year ago. This is the first time Albert has been back. He said, "I left because I was invisible and I didn't want to be invisible anymore."
Patrick Albert sorts through coats in the gymnasium at First Baptist Church. The coats were donated for Warm the World. Last year, Albert received clothing at the event, and because of that, he became an active member of the church, secured a job and bought a car.
Patrick Albert went from shelter to shelter -- looking for a warm place to sleep.
He had lost his job and a relationship -- and had given up on his dreams.
He had no idea that a simple quest for a sleeping bag would change his life.
Albert went to the Warm the World event last year at First Baptist Church of Goldsboro because he needed a sleeping bag to take the chill off on those cold winter nights when he might not have a warm place to stay.
But by the time he arrived at the church, they were all gone.
He walked out with a jacket, a blanket, new underwear and socks.
But in his mind, he got so much more.
"They were wonderful, wonderful people there," Albert said. "So I decided to go to that church the next day."
He said the thing that impressed him the most about the Warm the World event was how genuine the organizers and volunteers were.
"It was like, 'Here. Come. Be friends with us. Eat,'" Albert said. "It was more like a friend helping a friend. They were doing this as a mission and because they love the Lord.
"Sometimes when people give you things, there's this attitude of, 'Oh you poor benighted soul, and it was not like that at all. That, to me, was the most powerful part."
Albert saw those same qualities the next day at church.
One member, after hearing him sing a few hymns, suggested he join the choir.
Then, they found out he could play the piano -- and play well. Now, he plays piano for the worship service, substitutes for the early service and fills in at special events.
Not only were his spiritual needs now being met, but his physical needs began to be taken care of, too.
"I did some side work for one of the members, painting his houses, and things got a little bit better," Albert said. "Another member helped me get a job at a local fence company, and I've been there since February."
Along the way, Albert found a place to live and recently bought a car.
"It all started because I wanted a sleeping bag," he said.
The downward spiral for Albert began when he was in the Marines, and one of his troops committed suicide.
After he got out of the Marines, he was visiting his sister in Richmond, Va., when he had a breakdown.
He received treatment from the VA Hospital in Richmond for post traumatic stress disorder and anger management, then lived in the VA shelter there.
Albert got occasional work, but it never turned into anything permanent.
He heard about a job in Goldsboro playing piano for a local church and moved here. But things got worse.
"I was homeless for almost three years," Albert said.
Until he went to Warm the World for a sleeping bag.
"I think it's an amazing project," Albert said. "Anytime you have people doing something out of altruism, there are going to be some who abuse it. But most of the people I knew were genuinely thankful and grateful for what they got. There was a single mom with a couple of kids last year who needed coats. She was doing the best she could for them. But it was either eat or get them coats. That's a real world tough choice.
"But the church members took it beyond that. They helped her find resources to help her children. They met people's immediate needs with sleeping bags, clean underwear and a belly full of food. But at that point, they didn't say, 'That's nice, see you again in a year,' and slam the doors. That's the most powerful part of it to me."
It gave Albert his motivation back.
"It used to be if I get something nice, that's OK, but if I don't, I don't really expect it," he said. "Now it's like, no, I want more. I'm worth more. I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and I like myself."
Because of Warm the World, Albert also got his dreams back.
"I started dreaming again saying, 'Well, why can't I do these things?'" he said. "That was the biggest loss when I was homeless.
"Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had gotten that sleeping bag."
First Baptist Church started the Warm the World project four years ago.
This year, several other local churches joined in the effort to help Wayne County's homeless and needy with warm clothing, sleeping bags and blankets.
But it's more than just handing out these items. Church members and other volunteers served a hot breakfast to those attending.
"They sit down and visit with them and have conversations with people they don't know and just love them," said Sherry Archibald, one of the organizers. "Just being there to share the love of Christ, that's something anybody can do."