By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
BALTIMORE—When Dawan Carpenter heard about Open Door’s Rebuild program through a friend, he was immediately interested.
“I was told that it was a chance for me to get a new start in life,” he said, explaining that he had actually started out on the streets and had been incarcerated, but was looking for a new way out when he was released from prison.
“I basically had nothing and I came to Rebuild (Open Door), and they gave me a new chance, a new start,” he said, noting that he knew there was no future in the way he was walking. “Rebuild actually gave me a chance to start my life all over or it would have been a bad road—either prison or death—so I didn’t want to look down that road.”
Carpenter saw the parallels in his new life every time he went to the job site.
“What we do here with Rebuild… We are actually in a construction site. We go around rehabbing houses that are torn down or messed up on the inside or outside. We go in and actually take care of all the framing and anything that is wrong with the house so that it can be productive for the next future family or homeowner that wishes to buy the property,” he said, explaining that the program also assists one personally.
“It helps you rebuild your life along with rebuilding and rehabbing the homes. I am truly blessed to be here, and I thank them for accepting me.”
“It’s actually a very good program,” said Joe Kirby, construction foreman, who teaches participants how to do carpentry, plumbing and electrical work in the total gut rehabs.
“We take youths who are in trouble. We get them off the street and put a career under their belt so that hopefully they can feed their families and their mothers don’t have to worry whether they are going to be put in jail or the cemetery—because as everyone knows there’s an expiration date on the streets.”
Pointing to Carpenter, he added, “He’s just a total different person than when I first met him. He’s more open; he’s more secure with himself. Eager to learn, he’s learned a lot so far, and I am actually pretty proud of him.”
He continued, “I’m proud of what I’m doing here, actually putting back into the community instead of taking out. At one time in my life, I was a man like Dawan and some of these other guys—in and out of trouble half of my life. I had caring people behind me to put me where I am today and a lot of these guys don’t have caring people.”
Patting his chest to hold back the emotion, he added, “Makes me feel good.”
Pat Mueller, both a member of Open Door’s Board of Directors and a volunteer case manager, agreed.
“It’s perhaps the most joyful thing I’ve done in years. I think perhaps because you get involved in the hearts and lives of the people who are here, there is a different passion that you develop for everybody who comes in the door,” she said.
The prior week, she met with eight men, all of whom are desperate for work.
“They’re so honest with us because they tell us they have been hustling on the streets to feed their kids, to keep themselves in a place to live. And of those eight men, two were in tears as they sat here and said to me how much they want to change their lives, how much they want jobs, how desperate they feel.”
While waiting, they come just for the emotional support, the counseling services, and to hear somebody say, “I believe in you,” she said.
“We’re blessed just to be a haven for people and when we are able to see somebody take off like Dawan has in his work environment, I can’t describe for you how joyful that is for us,” she said tearfully.
“To see that level of maturity rise up in this man in only a matter of months because of his work with case managers, mentors, tutors and to have a job where people believe in him, has been an absolute joy,” she added, pointing to Hebrews 11:40, which says that joy in heaven is not complete without us.
“Of all the people who I want to see in heaven to make the joy of Christ complete, I want to see the people who’ve come through Open Door,” she affirmed.
Bill Simpson, Open Door’s chief executive officer, admits he feels overwhelmed by the task.
He explained that in these kinds of neighborhoods in America, the choices for economic survival are McDonald’s, selling drugs, or being on public assistance.
“We think there should be better choices. That’s why Open Door and Rebuild are working so hard to bring employers down here, to create business opportunities and business partnerships. That’s why this work that we are doing with Dawan and others right now is so critical. It is giving us an entry point into changing lives. It’s giving us the beginnings of how to build this program to be successful so that hundreds of people and lives can be impacted.”
Simpson knows that so many other aspects of the American life that people try to create and sustain are based on households being able to provide for themselves.
Board member, Don Sweeney, shared how Open Door’s Board recently pondered how to gain the financial support necessary to continue the ministry. Rather than relying on a few significant donors, what they really want to do is build an army of people who are giving just $10 a month, if that is all they can afford. Hopefully, some will be able to afford more.
“I think this is going to be a real benefit, not only to us financially but to spreading the word to a larger number of people.”