“I think that the whole project [The Commons on Merton] is making a difference in the neighborhood and whole community. Door of Hope is just a piece of that, but it is fun being a piece of a bigger whole and a bigger mission.”
This quote is from Andy Jacuzzi, Executive Director of Door of Hope, in reference to his experience as a partner housed in The Commons, a shared-space community operated by the Center for Transforming Communities (CTC). Door of Hope (DOH) is a 501c3 non-profit that works with chronically homeless (a year or longer living on the streets or unsheltered or four episodes of homelessness during a three year period) with disabilities.
The organization got its start back in 2005 when a group of individuals from the Midtown area of Memphis came together to seek ways to assist those without shelter who had been displaced from Downtown Memphis to Midtown. Initially, DOH was a “safe landing” for people to come, share a meal and connect with others in the community.
The program has since evolved into an organization that provides support services such as helping people who are unhoused obtain an ID or apply for benefits, as well as offering assistance with job searching and job readiness training. DOH currently owns two facilities. One of them houses 10 guests, each with their own room, and also houses the DOH support center. The other is a similar-style facility that houses 15 men and women.
One of the major assets within DOH is their writing group. It was started by a women named Ellen Pruitt. They meet every Wednesday from 1-2pm at the support center. Participation is open to everyone. Each week, the group is invited to write stories around a suggested topic and, for those who feel comfortable, read their stories aloud to the group.Andy’s initial experience at DOH three years ago was with the writers group. He came in dressed in a suit as he would have in his previous corporate jobs. The topic for the day was ‘write about a time when you were in a situation where you were put with somebody that you felt like you had nothing in common with and write about how you found common ground.’ Andy, a man with a well-established career in business and marketing, having never worked with homeless persons before, found a message for him in this topic.
"I was sitting over there in the corner, uncomfortable being around homeless people and obviously out of place dressed in a suit. As I listened to stories being read aloud, tears began to form and I was deeply moved. I was ashamed of the way I felt coming in and just amazed by the stories that were being told. It felt like a personal message from God to me about being judgmental. Whatever it was, I was hooked from that day and have been here ever since."
The writing group has not only influenced Andy, it has also significantly impacted those in the community. There’s a newspaper called The Bridge in which all of its articles are written by homeless individuals, the majority being members of the writing group. Writers who contribute to The Bridge submit stories and poems, involve themselves in its publication, and get to keep about 75% of the profits for attending sales rep training and selling the newspapers. DOH has published several of the pieces from members of the writing group in book titled Writing Our Way Out of Homelessness.
Andy has really enjoyed being a shared-space partner in The Commons. What he appreciates the most is the synergy of multiple non-profit organizations coming together to make a difference in the community. Door of Hope has been, and will continue to be, an organization that is investing and changing lives for the better.