VOL. 133 | NO. 119 | Thursday, June 14, 2018
Standing in the Gap
By Don Wade
There are statistics that tell a story. Always, there are statistics that tell a story. The city of Memphis’ story cannot be told without mentioning a poverty rate of 26.9 percent (Tennessee’s is 15.8 percent). The child poverty rate in Memphis is even more staggering, at 44.7 percent.
But those numbers from the 2016 American Community Survey that provided data for the 2017 Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet produced by the University of Memphis are also just a reflection of what Memphis families, especially single women with children, are up against.
So at the start of the Salvation Army’s recent Women Helping Women panel discussion held at the National Civil Rights Museum, moderator April Thompson of WREG-TV provided another statistic: Babies born to women in poverty are 25 times more likely to remain in poverty.
Sharon Cash (center), director of social services of the Purdue Center of Hope, speaks with April Thompson (right) of News Channel 3 about the achievements and services the Salvation Army has been able to provide the Memphis community. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
The Salvation Army’s Purdue Center of Hope, with its in-residence programs for homeless women and children, is on the front lines. And not just the front lines of an in-the-moment battle, though that’s the starting point.
“Half of what we do is show up every day,” said Sharon Cash, director of social services at Purdue Center of Hope. “We stand in the gap.”
In the gap is where the staff meets women like Nyasa Daniels. When Daniels reached out 15 years ago, she had a young son and another baby boy on the way. She didn’t want him born addicted. As she put it, “I was standing on a street corner like it was a job because I had to have drugs.”
It was the continuation of the cycle she had witnessed as a child. Her father, she says, was abusive to her mother and the marriage ended in divorce. A boyfriend that followed wasn’t just abusive to Daniels’ mother, but to her, too. Her mother “self-medicated” and Daniels said of that time, “I never felt safe.”
Since Purdue Center of Hope opened in 2001, Renewal Place has served 237 women and 467 children. Of the 361 children from that group that entered Renewal Place with high adverse childhood experiences (ACE) scores, only three have been arrested, only three have become pregnant, and only five dropped out of high school.
Of those 361 kids, 325 of them (90 percent) are currently in school at some level – from elementary to college – or in the military. And of the 237 women that have come through the program, more than 76 percent are still sober one year later.
Daniels’ sons Cairo Tatum, 22, and Eli Patton, 15, came to the panel discussion with her. Cairo was 7 when she entered the Purdue Center of Hope, old enough to remember what was it like when he was with her as she driven by her demons.
April Thompson of WREG-TV moderates a panel discussion during the Women’s Breakfast 2018 at the National Civil Rights Museum. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
“Squatted in empty house – no electricity, no running water,” he said.
Today, with his mother having almost nine years of sobriety (there was a relapse, but she persevered) Nyasa Daniels is the face and voice of experience. For three years, she has worked as an intervention specialist at Restore Corps.
“I’ve never been more proud of anyone in my life than this woman right here,” Tatum said.
Daniels, 51, said of her time at Renewal Place: “They taught me how to be parent and showed me how much I really love my children. They show us everything. When everybody’s getting help, it all comes together.”
Cash says at the stage families come to them, everyone is need of help. Mom is the spoke in the family wheel and the first thing she usually needs is rest. To get sober. To get some strength and clarity back, to begin to look at her family’s future through fresh eyes.
Relapse and near-relapse, Cash says, is just part of the reality of where they are working. Transformation does not come easily, even for those who want to be transformed.
And so sometimes the phone will ring and on the other end of the line they hear a woman with much sobriety behind her, but who is scared out of her mind.
“You’d be amazed how many of them say everything is going too well,” Cash said. “One of the things we talk about is balance and that you deserve (this sober life). Guilt and shame is just as powerful as the substance and so it will creep back up.”
When it does, Cash and her staff do what they always do: stand in the gap, counting on forces bigger than themselves to lend a hand.
“We knew God was faithful,” Cash said to a chorus of “Amens” from the audience as she remembered the early days of the Salvation Army’s renewal programs for women and families. “And if we trusted him to guide us, we’d find a way.”