Helping the homeless one painting at a time
By: Terry Rader
In 1987, when Bill Mangum befriended Mike Saavedra, who was homeless at the time, he bought him breakfast, listened to his story and took him to the Greensboro Urban Ministry (GUM) shelter. Mangum gave Saavedra his card and asked him to call in a couple of days and let him know how he was doing. Upon learning that Saavedra had a mental illness, Mangum became his caretaker and friend up until Saavedra’s sudden death at age 54 in 1991. Mangum said this encounter and ongoing friendship with Saavedra inspired him to donate a painting for the GUM Honor Card every year for the next 31 years.
“This is one of the defining pieces of my life, by participating in it, it puts things into perspective for me,” Mangum said.
(Check out this video made by GUM on YouTube about Mangum and his Honor Cards.)
From the first Honor Card in 1988, “Not Forgotten,” to this year’s “Almost Home,” Mangum continues to paint works of art to support the homeless and needy in memory of Saavedra. He said it took him three attempts to personify this year’s Honor Card, which conveys a subtle message of homelessness and is in line with GUM’s mission.
“GUM is a stellar example in outreach, great talent and professional people,” Mangum said. “Sometimes it takes just one more little hand of assistance for everything to fall into place, so these people get all the way home. As I’ve traveled across our state to visit other participating agencies, I have found more people with caring hearts in the Greensboro community.”
During the holiday season, people who donate a minimum of $5 will receive a card, much like a Christmas card, to send to a loved one informing them a donation to GUM has been made in their honor. All proceeds go directly to GUM with production expenses underwritten by Mangum, an anonymous donor and The Wells Fargo Foundation. In the last 16 months, 12 other urban ministry agencies across the state have been added and are still growing. Mangum also produces larger artist prints of these honor card paintings that are suitable for framing.
Last year, the Honor Card Program raised $311,000, going beyond GUM’s 30th-anniversary goal of $300,000. Over $ 7 million has been raised, and executive director of GUM Rev. Myron Wilkins said they hope to do even better this year. In their efforts to help home 1,500 single adults and 50 families a year, GUM counts on fundraisers, food drives, other donations and events especially during the holiday season in November and December, which brings in one-half of GUM’s donations each year.
Mangum continues having breakfast with the homeless every week at GUM. He volunteers, serves breakfast and shares encouraging words with our homeless neighbors.
Wilkins said GUM exists to help people be self-sufficient and recover from life’s unexpected challenges. “Many of our Weaver House residents get up and go to work or job training every day. They may be dealing with job loss or healthcare costs coupled with making poor choices with money.”
He said that the needs surpass donations and that the price of services increase this time of year, with heating bills rising and more people seeking winter shelter. Those in need may visit GUM’s food pantry up to five times in a 12-month period and will not leave empty-handed. Over 1,600 individuals volunteered last year, and Wilkins said they could use 10-20 more volunteers now.
“Greensboro is a very generous and prosperous community,” Wilkins said. “With great prosperity comes a great disparity between the ones who have and the ones who are locked into a cycle of poverty. It’s a complex web.”
Wilkins makes presentations to help educate and raise awareness for homelessness. He mostly wants people to understand that the people GUM serves are in crisis and if the person standing on the street corner thinks that is their only option, GUM wants to give them another option.
“At GUM, we become that relational connection if someone wants a better future,” he said. “Some feel like they have failed and all they can do is focus on survival. The best thing we can give them is hope that they can begin a new chapter in their lives.”
He said that it’s hard for some to ask for help and be on the receiving end of kindness. He said it’s important that they do not feel judged and to let them know they are not a burden.
“People have a hard time accepting the reality,” Wilkins said. “It’s human nature to avoid things that are unpleasant. People experiencing poverty and homelessness presents a concept that is unimaginable. It challenges us to accept a reality, and we in Greensboro have in our hands and in our hearts the possibility to transform people who want a different life.”
To help the homeless, Wilkins encourages visiting GUM’s website and printing out a Caring Card to give to someone in need of a free meal and a place to go for help.
“Another thing you can do is to go to a dollar store and buy toothpaste, a toothbrush, toiletry items, and dry socks and give them that with the card,” Wilkins said. “If you open your heart with compassion, you’ll have the discretion to respond and do what is in your heart. Sometimes you may decide to give money and sometimes you may not. If you want to know about them, ask them. They will give you their back story.”
TERRY RADER is a writer, poet, songwriter, herbalist and flower essences practitioner who works in Wellness & Community Outreach at Deep Roots Market Co-op, formerly an ad agency creative director, branding strategist, Earth Harmony columnist, a storyteller on a mission to raise awareness for creative people, grassroots causes, sustainability and underground happenings in our community.