The grand opening for a major Shepherd’s House expansion was accompanied by much celebration and smiles, but also an acknowledgement that bringing the project to fruition was neither quick nor easy.
“We’re excited for this moment — it’s been a long time coming,” Kevin Minnix of Haymore Memorial Baptist Church nearby said during a prayer Tuesday night when the new homeless shelter in Mount Airy was officially welcomed to the community.
A huge crowd of supporters was on hand for the occasion, including city and county government officials, shelter staff/board members and other well-wishers who filled the front lobby of the facility on Spring Street.
It is located behind the old shelter fronting Rockford Street, which opened in 2003 in a former private residence and in recent years has been unable to serve all those in need — mirroring a huge rise in the area homeless population.
Ground had been broken for the spacious multi-storied expansion at what was then an empty lot on Spring Street in October 2019, only to face delays in fundraising and construction because of COVID-19. Before that, the journey had required clearing city government zoning hurdles which initially threatened its presence at that location.
But Tuesday night, those issues seemed just blips in the rear-view mirror as the sparkling new facility was unveiled, including a 64-bed capacity to provide temporary shelter for homeless persons and programming space to prepare them for independent living.
“It’s been a long project — but we’re finally finished,” summed up Mike Bowman, one of multiple speakers for the grand opening that also included tours.
Bowman, who was heavily involved as the treasurer of the governing board for Mount Airy’s lone homeless shelter and the head of its finance and building committees, indicated that this occurred through an “it takes a village” approach.
“It takes a community to believe in what we’re doing,” he said of widespread support garnered for the endeavor from Day One.
This included raising $2.1 million through a capital campaign to fund the 11,200-square-foot facility, which in addition to lodging quarters features a commercial kitchen to teach occupants culinary skills.
Several large contributors supplied $1.4 million of that. They included the local Springthorpe family whose matriarch played a key role in The Shepherd’s House becoming a reality in the first place, State Employees Credit Union and the Cannon and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina foundations.
“And then we had many donations of smaller amounts,” Bowman added.
He further mentioned the 1.1-acre construction site being made available by Haymore Memorial Baptist Church, which granted a 99-year lease for it at a cost of $1 annually.
The general contractor for the project, the local J.G. Coram Co., offered “gift in kind” assistance, Bowman said of its president and owner, Jerry Coram. “And he also gave us quite a bit of materials,” including flooring and other supplies that had been stored in a company warehouse.
Bobby Brinkley’s work as Coram’s project manager also was cited during the program.
Meanwhile, community residents donated items such as artwork for the new building.
Origins of shelter
Another person who spoke Tuesday night was John Springthorpe III, whose late mother, Berta Glenn Springthorpe, was a catalyst for the original Shepherd’s House along with the late David Simmons.
This is said to have occurred after Mrs. Springthorpe met a shabbily dressed woman named Annie while attending church services and became aware of her homeless living arrangement.
Mrs. Springthorpe subsequently teamed with Simmons on an effort to develop a shelter to aid the less-fortunate.
Her son told those assembled Tuesday night that he would like to think she was present in spirit, smiling proudly while surveying what has transpired with the greatly expanded homeless program.
“I know it’s night, but it’s a great day to be here,” Springthorpe remarked.
That sentiment also was voiced during the prayer by Minnix, the youth minister at Haymore Memorial who also is serving as fill-in pastor there and has been familiar with the Shepherd’s House mission due to serving on its board.
“It’s an honor to be able to be here tonight,” he said in reference to the long struggle to arrive at this point, while also mentioning the struggles yet to be encountered by those the expansion will benefit.
“We pray that the families, the women and others will find rest here,” Minnix observed, “and get their feet back underneath them.”
Bowman suggested that the sky is the limit in this regard, given everything that has transpired so far:
“With all the support from the community, I think this place will be here and functioning for a long time.”