Let’s Call Him Joseph

Let’s call him Joseph.

It was Thursday, my day “on call” for Clergy Outreach Assistance. Our Chief of Security Officer, James Mickle, called me to come downstairs to meet with someone who needed assistance.

Officer Mickle explained that he had found a young man, Joseph, rummaging through the Sunday school classrooms in the C Hall. When questioned, Joseph told Officer Mickle that he had been on the streets for two days and hadn’t had anything to eat. Someone on the streets suggested that he go to Peachtree Road UMC in Buckhead because they might have food for him. Our normal outreach hours had ended and Joseph didn’t know what else to do. Desperate and starving, he thought he might find something to eat in the classrooms.

Following procedure, Officer Mickle discovered a large knife in Joseph’s possession, which could have resulted in an arrest for criminal trespassing with a weapon and could have sent Joseph straight to jail. But Officer Mickle sensed something was different about Joseph. He didn’t want to arrest him, so he called to see if I would find out some more information.

When I walked into the Conference Room behind Alba’s desk, I found a tearful, frightened young man sitting at the table. At first he wouldn’t make eye contact as he told me he had been on the downtown streets for two nights, alone. His friend had found work in Atlanta, and the two had signed themselves out of their Foster Care Home (they were both 18 years old) and hitched a ride into the city.

When they arrived downtown, the friend ditched Joseph, leaving him all alone. Joseph had no connections, no money and no cell phone. He hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink since he left home. He had no family who cared about him that he could call. During his first long and lonely night on the street, a man gave him the knife and said, “You’re going to need this, kid.”

My first thought, having just raised a teenage boy, was that Joseph must be starving. I asked him if would like something to eat and told him not to worry; I didn’t know what I was going to do but we were going to help him.
Our Receptionist, Alba Mladenoff, reminded me that we had a movie crew on campus and that Grace Hall was decked with tables and tables of delicious, Gourmet food. The crew were more than happy to provide a huge plate heaping with roast beef, salmon, macaroni and cheese, lasagna and many other delicious fare for Joseph. They even sent dessert and a Coke.

Joseph tried to hide a smile when he saw the feast before him. He was so grateful and thanked me many times. While he ate, he told me his story, how he had lived with his mother until he was 9 years old. He had a good childhood, was a good kid, loved school and his neighborhood friends. He didn’t have siblings and his father had never been in the picture. When he was 9, his mother had been diagnosed with cancer and she died a year later. None of his relatives “wanted him” and so he was sent to Foster Care.

Joseph lived in several Foster Care homes over the years, but had successfully completed High School. When he turned 18, he was sent to a home for Young Adults run by the State of Georgia. He said he and his friend didn’t like the things going on in the home, so a job in Atlanta sounded much better to them.

After he finished eating, I invited him to wait in the Conference Room, promising him that he was not going out on the streets again. I didn’t have a plan, but I knew I could call Beth Spencer, Director of Lay Volunteer Services and Local Outreach, and she would help. And, I had a moment’s thought that if needed, I would call my husband, Porter, and tell him we would be hosting a guest at our home that night. Joseph was relieved, and agreed to wait. Alba checked in on him from time to time, making sure he had everything he needed.

My first call was to Beth Spencer. It was her day off, but she took the call as she always does, and jumped into action. She told me to call Covenant House to see if they had a bed. She was skeptical because it they had been so full lately. She suggested that I find a safe hotel for him, if needed, while we looked for a more appropriate and permanent place. Beth reminded me that PRUMC was about to receive an award from Covenant House and she gave me the name of the person to call. She also told me that a PRUMC United Methodist Women’s Circle, led by Bonnie Copeland, holds a weekly Bible study with the residents of Covenant House.

The contact at Covenant House told me that there were no beds available. It might be several days at the least, but they would do everything they could to make it work. Bonnie Copeland, who at the time was away visiting family, also took my call. She said she would also call Covenant House on our behalf, in the hopes that her connections there might help. Now all we had to do was wait. If Covenant House would come through, Joseph would have to be there by 6:00PM. If not, we would have to go to plan B, whatever that was going to be.

In the meantime, Laurie Spivey, Administrative Assistant, leapt into action. She realized that Joseph had nothing except the clothes on his back. She offered to go to Target and get him clothes, toiletries, and other things he might need. Diane Scanlan, Administrative Assistant, offered some Target Gift Cards that were left over from another outreach project to help fund the shopping trip. Before she left, Laurie introduced herself to Joseph, told him what she was going to do, and asked what kind of clothes he liked, what sizes he wore, and what his favorite color was.

I told Joseph about Covenant House and that we were waiting to hear back from them. I assured him that if that didn’t work we would still figure something out. He came up to my office and we looked up Covenant House on my computer so he could see if it might be somewhere he would like to go. He liked what he saw, and I could sense his relief. He told me that his mother took him to church and we talked about how his name comes from a couple of strong characters named in the Bible.

When Laurie Spivey came back, she presented Joseph with a brand new backpack, enough clothes for a couple of days, PJs, shoes and socks, toiletries, and a journal and pen. Joseph carefully inspected each item and eagerly placed it in his new back pack.

A few hours later we got the call. Covenant House could take him! Diane Scanlan presented him with a MARTA Card and someone at Covenant House called to give him directions on what line to take and specific directions on how to get there. He promised he would go straight there because he knew he had to be there by a certain time.

The last thing Joseph asked me for was a Bible. I found a brand new Wesley Study Bible for him, and he seemed very proud of it.

The hardest thing for me was hugging him good bye and pointing him to the MARTA station on Peachtree Road. I watched as he walked across our parking lot, Bible in hand. Would he really go there? Would he get to Covenant House in time?

I called Covenant House later that evening to check on Joseph, and found out that they can’t disclose information about their clients, or whether they were there or not. I left a message for Joseph to call me if he had the chance and I held my breath all night.

I still hadn’t heard anything the following Wednesday when Bonnie Copeland sent me a message. She and her UMW Circle had gone to lead their weekly Bible Study at Covenant House. They met a new resident there, a young man, wearing a suit and carrying his Bible. He was clean, well-cared for, happy and hopeful. His name was Joseph.

I learned later that Joseph had a great stay at Covenant House and was soon offered the chance to participate in a company sponsored vocational training program that would ensure a job after its completion.

I think about him often and wonder what he’s up to. I wonder if our paths will ever cross again. I wonder what great things he will do in his life.

And I am grateful. I am grateful to do what I do. I am grateful to get to hear the stories people share with me. I am grateful to serve such a generous, passionate, caring congregation who change the lives of people like Joseph each and every day. I am grateful to work alongside fellow staff members who are eager to help and offer their own gifts and talents. I can’t imagine a world without Peachtree Road UMC. I don’t ever want to.

– Leslie Watkins

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