Love can change a life

It’s Valentine’s Day week and in the name of love we are revealing real life love stories with roots in The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas. Learn about how romance has fostered in mission work and discover how Love Can Change a Life! We hope you enjoy this series of heartwarming stories!

Johnnie & Jennifer

Johnnie met his girlfriend Jennifer during the summer of 2017 while they were both residents at The Bridge. After volunteering at The Stewpot’s Second Chance Café during his stay at The Bridge, a Stewpot staff member offered Johnnie a referral to join Stewpot staff.  Recently, Johnnie was hired by The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church to do grounds keeping at the church and facilities maintenance at The Stewpot.

Johnnie quote.jpg

Thanks to housing assistance provided by The Bridge, in cooperation with services from The Stewpot, Johnnie is happy to announce he will be moving out of the shelter and into an apartment this Valentine’s Day weekend! Johnnie who has been experiencing homelessness for a little over a year says, “I was worried about being able to pay all the bills but I’m grateful The Stewpot gave me a job here, I love working here and everybody is really nice.”

With Jennifer now working at Goodwill, Johnnie at The Stewpot, and both of them moving out of the shelter and into an apartment, Johnnie says he is looking forward to starting a new life together with Jennifer. “I’m happy it’s all finally seeming to come together at just the right moment!”

Who knows, maybe cupid will strike this Valentine’s Day week and Johnnie & Jennifer will have something more to celebrate soon!

#lovecanchangealife

Becky & Thomas Zamora

When two individuals with hearts for service align, magical things can happen at The Stewpot. Becky began her relationship with The Stewpot as a part time English as a Second Language teacher in the spring of 2005. In august of 2012, she joined the full time staff. Becky says she met her husband Thomas while working at The Stewpot.

Becky & Thomas.png

Thomas was a frequent volunteer who often came to help out with both The Stewpot and Crossroad Community Services volunteer duties. Becky recalls their first interaction, “I had heard that he was also a mechanic and I needed help fixing something with my mom’s car. One day he was walking down the hall past my office and I shouted out, ‘Hey—you work on cars, right?!’…the rest is history.”

When asked why they both have a heart for working with The Stewpot Becky says, “we both love The Stewpot because it is a place where you feel welcomed, not prejudiced for who you are or your circumstances. We are glad to be a part of The Stewpot family- this is a place where you are respected.”

Today, Becky continues to aid The Stewpot daily as the Manager of Family Stabilization Programs; she and Thomas have been married for 3 years.

#lovecanchangealife

Suzanne & Scott Erickson

Suzanne & Scott where it all began, at The Stewpot!

Suzanne & Scott where it all began, at The Stewpot!

An engagement photo reenacting their first meeting

An engagement photo reenacting their first meeting

Suzanne & Scott met one afternoon during lunch meal service at The Stewpot back when lunch was still served in the Community Ministries Building of First Presbyterian Church.  Scott would often volunteer during his lunch break from The Dallas Morning News because he wanted to help his fellow Dallasites who were experiencing homelessness.  At the time, Suzanne was on staff at The Stewpot and was asked to help serve lunch that day because they were short on meal service volunteers.  Suzanne recalls their first interaction, “We met in the middle of the lunch room serving milk and water and shook our pitchers at each other since neither of us had a free hand. We both remember that moment well!”

Scott & Suzanne on their wedding day

Scott & Suzanne on their wedding day

Fast forward to today where Suzanne & Scott have been happily married for 6 years!  They chose to get married at First Presbyterian Church because of their history tied to meeting at The Stewpot.  Former Executive Director of The Stewpot the Reverend Dr. Bruce Buchanan even served as one of the pastors at their wedding ceremony.

Suzanne & Scott say “We love the mission of The Stewpot. We love that The Stewpot brought us together and from the very start, we both knew that we each had a passion to serve others. It’s a piece of what attracted us to each other from the first day. We then learned we had similar faiths, and that service was an important part of that.”

Today both Suzanne & Scott continue to be resolute supporters of The Stewpot where Suzanne serves the ministry daily in her role as Director of Educational & Workforce Programs for The Stewpot.

#lovecanchangealife

Vicki & Bill Gies

Vicki & Bill met in November of 2010 while they were both staying at The Bridge homeless recovery center. Vicki says they bonded over shared experiences and hardships and says “we went from best friends, to soul mates, to one day realizing we loved each other.”  The two decided to tie the knot on September 28, 2014. “We promised God, Pastor Leon and each other that’d we’d be together as long as we both shall live,” says Vicki, who says they plan to do a 5 year vow renewal this year to uphold that promise.  

Vicki & Bill have been through a lot of ups and downs together but say The Stewpot has been a critical piece of their relationship.  As a victim of rape in 2010, Vicki attributes the counseling she received from her Stewpot caseworker as a significant factor in helping her overcome some of the trauma that resulted from the experience. The support and friendship provided by Stewpot caseworkers, in conjunction with the array of service offerings she and her husband were able to take part in, have been valuable tools along their journey.  “It’s helped a lot with Bill’s drinking,” says Vicki. 

Vicki selling papers as a STREET Zine  vendor

Vicki selling papers as a STREETZine vendor

Vicki & Bill have both participated in The Stewpot’s Enrichment & Workforce programming.  Both maintain their status as vendors of the STREETZine newspaper and both were previously docents offering guided tours of The Muesum of Street Culture during its exhibition of the Mary Ellen Mark exhibit at the Stewpot in 2017-2018.  Vicki says the income from these programs has assisted them in a variety of ways.   

Vicki working as a docent for The Museum of Street Culture

Vicki working as a docent for The Museum of Street Culture

Last February, Vicki & Bill were living in a tent outside of White Rock Lake but critical flooding forced them out, “we woke up one morning waist deep in water, our tent, Coleman stove, clothing and belongings were all wrecked.”  In July of 2016, Bill was diagnosed with lung cancer, recently doctors discovered another tumor which continues to grow.  Vicki & Bill are currently staying with guests in separate houses but will soon be forced to leave, they are hoping to put some money down for rent on a house. “I’m really stressed right now,” says Vicki, “it’s hard being away from Bill, I never did good by myself. I’m co-dependent on him.” Vicki says what she loves most about Bill is his loving and caring nature and the way the two of them are always playing pranks on one another.  “We’ve never had a whole lot to celebrate with, but we can always celebrate our love for each other,” she says.  Vicki’s Valentine’s Day wish is that they will be able to find a place to stay together quickly. “I don’t care if it’s in a tent again, as long as I can be with him,” she says.

Front row from left to right. Cindy Bailey, Manager of Frontline Operations & STREET Zine , Vicki Gies & Bill Gies.

Front row from left to right. Cindy Bailey, Manager of Frontline Operations & STREETZine, Vicki Gies & Bill Gies.

#lovecanchangealife

Adrienne & Wilson Nicholson

Adrienne & Wilson Nicholson

Adrienne & Wilson Nicholson

Wilson and Adrienne met through their shared Presbyterian faith in June of 2010 when they were both serving as Family Ministry interns at First Presbyterian Church San Antonio.  The two were married in January 2012 and later Wilson served as the Communications Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church of Dallas from 2015-2017. In August 2017, Wilson went on to pursue his Masters in Divinity at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The unconditional support, loyalty, mentorship, and encouragement that Wilson received during his time on staff at FPC Dallas greatly impacted his decision to attend seminary and for that, Adrienne says “we are both eternally grateful.”

In a letter to the FPC congregation Wilson wrote, “Many of you do not know this about me, but before arriving at FPC Dallas I had previously served other Presbyterian churches in a variety of capacities and at one point had even started the seminary discernment and application process. However, after some difficult experiences, I started to seriously doubt that call. It was being able to see FPC Dallas in action that reignited that passion and feeling that this is what I am called to do, and for that I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am forever grateful for you, the staff and members of FPC Dallas, and will take the memories from my time here wherever my future ministry leads me. I appreciate you for allowing me to be a part of your uniquely special community.” Now, as he is halfway through seminary, Wilson says he still receives unparalleled encouragement and support from FPC.

Roughly 7 months ago, the position of Meal Services and Volunteer Coordinator at The Stewpot became open, and compelled by her husband’s life changing experience at FPC, paired with her own positive experience of serving as a senior in high school during the summer visiting youth program with The Stewpot, Adrienne knew that there was no place that she would rather work than alongside The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas family.

Meal & Volunteer Services Coordinator Adrienne Nicholson shares her heartwarming story about why she LOVES The Stewpot.

“Even though Wilson and I are now having to commute between Austin and Dallas to see each other on weekends and on breaks, we have no doubt that this is where I am meant to serve. First Presbyterian Church has become like family to both of us and in this church we have found something we have longed for – a genuine community,” says Adrienne. She goes on, “We have been married 7 years and we are forever thankful that FPC has been such a cornerstone in our lives. We remain humbled and in awe by the staff and congregation of First Pres Dallas whose dedication and determination to share the love of Christ by serving communities near and far never waivers. We are just two of the COUNTLESS lives that have been radically transformed by First Presbyterian Church Dallas, and we are forever grateful.”

#lovecanchangealife

Ashlee & Allen Hueston

“My husband Allen asked me out for the first time outside The Stewpot on Young Street,” says Ashlee Hueston, Director of Operations and Volunteers for The Stewpot.

Ashlee & Allen exiting their wedding shower at The Stewpot

Ashlee & Allen exiting their wedding shower at The Stewpot

Allen & Ashlee had known each other and been friends for a while.  Ashlee had been working in The Stewpot dining hall since June 2010, and got caught up filling out paperwork late one evening after meal services.

Ashlee remembers the day with distinct clarity, “It was June 26, 2011 and there had been an incident in the dining hall that I needed to write up before going home, so it must’ve been close to 8pm. I walked out the side door on Young St., and was crossing the street to the Church Garage, when a group bike ride came rolling by. All of a sudden, I heard my name and a cyclist turned around.  It was Allen and he asked me out for the following Thursday.”

The happy couple cutting their cake at The Stewpot

The happy couple cutting their cake at The Stewpot

Playing wedding shower games at The Stewpot with a room full of clients

Playing wedding shower games at The Stewpot with a room full of clients

Two years later, Ashlee & Allen were married on May 4, 2013. Stewpot staff even threw Ashlee & Allen a wedding shower in The Stewpot day room where they played wedding games and ate cake with clients! In the following years, Ashlee became pregnant and continued to work in The Stewpot dining hall throughout her pregnancy. “A number of clients shared in the excitement of my pregnancy and some even brought me gifts for the baby.” On October 2, 2015, Ashlee & Allen welcomed their first son Stephen.  Eight years later, Ashlee continues to serve The Stewpot daily with her talents, and her son even attends the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas Day School. The Hueston’s are a family truly woven into the fabric of First Presbyterian Church and The Stewpot!

Ashlee & Allen on their wedding day

Ashlee & Allen on their wedding day

#lovecanchangealife

BY KRISTIN MERRON | February 11, 2019

Annual Holiday Women’s Tea pampers clients for a day

On Wednesday December 5th, The Stewpot hosted the annual Women’s Holiday Tea.  This special event is hosted for female and female-identifying clients of The Stewpot each year. Women are treated to a special day of pampering and decadence that isn’t something they are typically accustomed to. 

The Stewpot Alliance supplies volunteers for the event, and collects and organizes donations of items throughout the year, which are distributed to the women on the day of the holiday tea.  As in year’s past, the Dallas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier prepared and served a delicious gourmet lunch to female clients of The Stewpot. While clients dined on a three-course meal of shrimp cocktail, roast chicken and caramel cake, guests were treated to a musical performance by vocalist Denise Lee, who sang holiday tunes and ballads of women’s empowerment throughout the afternoon. Volunteers from The Stewpot Alliance poured tea and water in champagne flutes among tables drenched in red table cloths, garnished with ornaments, wreaths, and decorative garland.

Following lunch, attendees were treated to a special collection of donated self-care items put together by The Stewpot Alliance.  Each woman received a stuffed tote filled with an assortment of items including gloves, perfume, toiletries and clothing.  Women were also invited to select a new handbag from the purse wall, were given the option to choose a piece of jewelry from an array of donated items, and had the choice to select from a variety of stuffed make-up bags full of travel-size items. To top off the afternoon, as guests were dismissed they were each gifted a $25 Target gift card.

Following the event we received this special thank you note from a client:

Thank you for the opening prayer. I think my favorite part of the food is the fact that they made the caramel for the desert from scratch! I’ve made my own, and I know the difference. It was wonderful. And I’m a big Tim Burton fan so I was especially happy when the wallet in my purse had the Corpse Bride logo on it. There were all kinds of really good makeup that I definitely could not have afforded right now but needed. It was a very nice time. All these women put so much into this event. Very much appreciated.
— Dawn C.

BY KRISTIN MERRON  |  December 13, 2018

A Record-Breaking Day for North Texas Nonprofits

This year’s annual North Texas Giving Day event, hosted by the Communities Foundation of Texas on September 20, 2018, was a wonderful success! The event celebrated its ten year anniversary with an incredible outpouring of generosity. Total gifts from North Texas Giving Day’s inception year in 2008 reached $4 million; ten years later, North Texas nonprofits saw a more than ten-fold increase, with 2018 totals topping out at over $48 million, proving once again to be the largest community-wide giving event in the nation! 

This year’s $48 million total sets a new record for funds raised on a single day, surpassing last year’s total by $9 million.  A total of 2,690 nonprofits participated in the giving day event, which also saw 11,137 donors pledge over 400,000 hours of volunteer time in the next 12 months. Gifts to North Texas nonprofits came in from 50 states and 27 countries.

Totals Raised for the FPC Family.jpg

So how did the FPC Dallas family stack up?  Encore Park raised $396, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas Developmental Day School received $6,499 and FPC Community Ministry The Stewpot brought in $54,409 in donated funds. The Stewpot also saw an increase in the volume of individual gifts over the last two years with donors leaving loving messages of support saying, “Thanks for all you sacrificially do day-in and day-out,” and “what a great ministry, keep up the good work!” As North Texas Giving Day’s momentum continues to grow with each passing year, we are humbled by the outpouring of support from North Texans that will benefit a countless number of people.

Congratulations to Communities Foundation of Texas, all participating 2018 nonprofits, and Honorary Chair Laura Bush on an incredibly successful event! And a very special thank you to members of the FPC family who donated, pledged volunteer hours, or helped to spread the word about North Texas Giving Day. This year’s success proves that a community that gives together, grows together!

BY KRISTIN MERRON  |  September, 21 2018

Stewpot making significant strides in effort to house 100 this summer

It’s inevitable, every year the Texas temperatures begin to rise and suddenly we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of 100 degree days. For those of us with homes and access to air conditioning and swimming pools, it’s not a problem.  For those living in shelters or on the streets, it can be a life-or-death situation.

HOUSING BY THE NUMBERS

HOUSING BY THE NUMBERS

While there are several overnight shelters available throughout Dallas, many who stay in shelters have to leave during the day. That’s why for decades unsheltered members of our community have been flocking to The Stewpot to find solace in our day shelter, in addition to utilizing our other vital services. As Stewpot Executive Director Brenda Snitzer recently mentioned in her mid-year appeal letter to Stewpot supporters, “Giving folks a cool place to sit and quench their thirst is a critical role we play all summer long. Without a place to escape the elements and rehydrate, those we serve risk heat stroke, dehydration, and even death. Summer is the hardest time for our friends who find themselves on the street. It is also a hard time for the nonprofits who serve them.”

Recognizing the real challenge summer poses with its recurring 100 degree days, this summer, as the Texas sun bakes the sidewalks of our city, The Stewpot has decided to launch an initiative to get 100 people housed, out of the heat, and off the street. From June through early September, The Stewpot is working to get more than 100 folks in housing while collaborating with city partners to get even more in treatment, and given access to the services they need to become self-sufficient.

Since the housing initiative launched in June, The Stewpot Casework Services team has made some admirable accomplishments. Here’s a breakdown of our successes so far. Since June 1st collectively we have helped 49 adults and children obtain birth certificates, specifically so they could be housed in either emergency, transitional, or permanent supportive housing. Stewpot Representative Payee Courtney Ray-Riddle is helping two of her rep payee clients find new housing, in addition to supporting and keeping her 45 other clients housed. In cooperation with our partners, we have helped three clients move into housing: one into a permanent supportive housing apartment through CitySquare, one in the Shared Housing Program, and another into a supportive boarding home with wrap-around services. Stewpot staffers also recently contributed donated items to stock the apartment for a newly-housed client.

Currently, The Stewpot is working closely with four other individuals to find apartments and affordable housing. If you’ve been keeping count, that's a total of 58! Meaning, we are well on our way to our 100 goal!

Of the progress made so far in the 100 campaign challenge, Director of Casework Services Laura Westerlage says “It is going great, we are getting so much done, and I am beyond proud!” We invite you to celebrate these victories with us and we hope your continued support will bolster our success beyond our 100 housing goal!

BY KRISTIN MERRON  |  July, 11 2018

Stewpot Welcomes Bridge Guests After Fire

Being challenged in life is inevitable. Being defeated is optional.

That’s the sentiment members of The Bridge shared in a Facebook post following a fire that made local headlines in early June.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday June 2nd, a transformer at The Bridge, a homeless recovery center where The Stewpot has served meals since 2008, exploded leaving the shelter without power and inoperable on one of the hottest days of the year.

smoking transformer.jpeg

Staff members at The Bridge noticed the smoking transformer in the parking lot off of Corsicana Street and were quick to alert Oncor and Dallas Fire-Rescue officials, but before help could arrive, the smoke turned to fire and eventually sparked an explosion.

Staff members noticed smoke and alerted Dallas Fire-Rescue officials, but before help could arrive, a fire erupted. 

Dallas Fire-Rescue extinguished the fire, but not before power to the entire campus had been knocked out, displacing hundreds of people who utilize The Bridge for meal and shelter services.

With temperatures soaring, the heat was an immediate threat to the safety of The Bridge facility occupants and staff.  No power to the building meant no A/C and no refrigeration for food stored at the facility.   

In an emergency response, The Community Ministries Team at The Stewpot were quick to jump into action assisting with the evacuation of several hundred Bridge occupants, staff members and even 12 dogs. The decision was made to open The Stewpot to receive all of the guests of the Bridge affected by the fire.

The team including spouses and children, worked collectively to coordinate with Stewpot partners to assist in the emergency efforts.  What followed required a great amount of cooperation and coordination among entities, hard work, and good humor, as well as patience and understanding from the guests of The Bridge.

First Presbyterian Church of Dallas members were on point helping with phone call connections to Dallas city leaders. Mayor Mike Rawlings even stopped by the following day to provide his support and see to it that everyone was safe.

Stewpot overnight guests.jpg

The Office of Emergency Management was able to provide cots so that those displaced by the fire could pass the night in The Stewpot building. 

Fortunately, Dallas Fire-Rescue was able to report no injuries were sustained as a result of the fire and the shelter itself sustained minimal damage.

“I cannot tell you how proud I am of you all! You were on point, had incredible hospitality and patience and were so loving and giving. Blessed to serve with you!” said Executive Director Brenda Snitzer in an email addressed to Stewpot staffers. The entire Stewpot team along with their collaborative partners are to be commended for an outstanding orchestration of logistics!

BY KRISTIN MERRON  |  June 2018

Welcome to The Stewpot

"We Serve Second Chances"

Here at the Stewpot we provide an expansive portfolio of services to aid our neighbors who are experiencing and at-risk of homelessness. While our services are vast, we are still most well-known for our meal services which provided the initial foundation upon which all subsequent services have been built.

 Since May 2008, The Stewpot has been providing meal services at The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center in the Second Chance Café, serving upwards of 1,000 individuals 3 meals per day, 7 days per week, 365 days a year. Our unofficial motto “We serve second chances” has paved the way not only for the way we approach our meal services, but carries throughout all facets of our organization and through the ways in which we care for our clientele.

In a recent Stewpot staff roundtable discussion, Cindy Bailey, Manager of Frontline Operations for The Stewpot, shared a story about a true second chance opportunity for one Stewpot client.

As Manager of Frontline Operations, one of Cindy’s many responsibilities is working with the STREETZine street newspaper. Cindy’s regular STREETZine duties entail interfacing with the magazine’s vendors on a daily basis. STREETZine vendors are homeless or economically disadvantaged individuals who are granted self-employment opportunity through the distribution and sale of the STREETZine newspaper.

As a STREETZine vendor you are required to adhere to a code of conduct; violation of that code can result in being barred or banned from paper distribution services.  Clients of The Stewpot can also be barred or banned from Stewpot resources for a number of behaviors including illegal activity, harassment and other forms of misconduct.

One such STREETZine vendor, whom we will refer to as “Frank” has hand a long-standing relationship as a Stewpot client.  Frank started visiting The Stewpot for support services over 10 years ago.  Roughly five years into his time with The Stewpot, Frank began struggling with some substance abuse issues.  His habits quickly consumed him and led to some unfavorable behavior that ultimately resulted in him being barred altogether from Stewpot services. 

“When you spend your time seeing these folks day-in and day-out, when they suddenly aren’t around, you worry for them and hope they’re doing OK.”
— Stewpot Caseworker

For a time, Frank was absent from The Stewpot and his well-being was weighing on the hearts of Stewpot employees. “When you spend your time seeing these folks day-in and day-out, when they suddenly aren’t around, you worry for them and hope they’re doing ok,” says a Stewpot caseworker.  Frank’s absence began to weigh heavily on the heart of one particular caseworker. Their response was to take action to initiate a conversation about how The Stewpot might be able to deliver on the promise of a second chance for Frank.   

After input from a number of employees who had interacted with Frank, meetings to set some new parameters for a pathway to rehabilitation, follow-through and execution by a dedicated team of individuals, a game plan was created for Frank’s second chance.

With these new guidelines in place, Stewpot employees were able to facilitate a conversation with Frank and give him guidance to empower and encourage him towards a path to recovery.  After taking some personal responsibility and some rehabilitation steps, Frank’s ban was eventually lifted and he was able to return to The Stewpot.  Three years later with the assistance provided by Stewpot caseworkers and a series of anger management classes, Frank showed enough improvement that he was eligible to be reconsidered as a STREETZine vendor.

Today Frank continues to work on his road to recovery.  The Stewpot is happy to report that Frank has enrolled himself in an in-patient treatment program through a library resource and is receiving counseling services with a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Stewpot. He has been granted temporary permissions to return as a STREETZine vendor and if he proves himself under the provisional period, he may be granted full privileges in the future. 

Frank’s story is just one example of a second chance granted to an individual who made their way through The Stewpot doors.  His is a testament that collaborative team efforts, perseverance, and dedication are being dished out daily here at The Stewpot.  While Frank’s journey is far from over, he serves as a reminder that it is important for us to recalibrate our definition of success for those experiencing circumstances unlike our own.  With enough small wins, over time, we can make BIG changes in the lives of those we interact with.    

Outstreched Arms Man.jpg
BY KRISTIN MERRON  |  June 1, 2018