Tom Kellar: Turning a house into a home
When Wayne Worden and Re-start Ministries burst onto the housing scene in 2016, his emergence was no doubt met with a chorus of hallelujahs from social agencies in town who work to help folks in need find permanent housing.
As a housing advocate myself, I will never forget the day I assisted my first client into her own apartment, then watched as she opened the door to her new place, then stood alone in the middle of the living room without any of the furniture or houseware that helps make a house a home. Talk about a buzzkill.
Thanks to Wayne and volunteers, those days are gone and the nonprofit communities in Nevada and Placer counties are deeply grateful. Today, when one of our clients is given the green light into their own place, we have the client contact Wayne, and an appointment is made for the client to visit Wayne’s warehouse, where they choose the furniture and items they need. And the best part? Wayne delivers the chosen furnishings at no charge when the client is officially ready to move in.
My interview with Wayne took place a week ago in his Auburn warehouse and, as usual, the man was extremely busy, but graciously gave me a few minutes of his time.
Tom Kellar: I understand Re-start Ministries just passed a big milestone.
Wayne Worden: Yes, since we started in 2016 we’ve now helped over 800 families.
TK: Congratulations! What were the reasons driving you to get into this work?
WW: In 2015, I was involved in helping an Air Force vet who had been discharged early and lost his apartment. He, his wife and 14-year-old daughter had been living in their car. They had just found a house in Grass Valley to rent but had nothing else. I got involved with a few other people to get them the things they needed for their house. A couple of months later, I was sitting in my house one morning reading my Bible and I heard God say: “I have something I want you to do.” I said, “I don’t have time,” but God said: “No, I have something I want you to do.” Then I proposed the idea to my wife, then talked to a local pastor whose church did a lot of community service. I talked to a board member of the homeless shelter here in Auburn and they all said there is no one doing anything like the ministry I was thinking about.
TK: And that was the beginning?
WW: Yes. I started by handing out flyers at yard sales and told folks I would take anything that was leftover if they wanted to donate it to the ministry and that’s how we started.
TK: So you had no previous experience working in the nonprofit world, this work was just something God laid on your heart?
WW: I have a long background working with kids’ ministry at church, but had never operated a nonprofit.
TK: Who are the organizations that you regularly partner with?
WW: There are two dozen nonprofits I work with in Placer and Nevada counties. The ones I assist most are Community Beyond Violence, Hospitality House, The Booth Center, AMI Housing, The Gathering Inn, The Placer County Whole Person Care Unit and Stand Up Placer.
TK: Now that you’ve been doing this work awhile, what are some of the things you’ve learned from it?
WW: The payback for me has been watching the people that come through and the joy that they get from finally starting to get back on their feet. It’s usually taken all the money that they have to get into a place and they come in here and see all the stuff I have that’s available to them. It’s just a joy to watch them react. It allows me to share the love of God.
TK: What is the hardest part of what you do?
WW: Time management. (Laughing) There’s two things. Finances: I operate by donation. People give to the ministry monthly in order for me to pay the rent. I’ve never gotten to the point of being 100% sustainable. I was up to about 90%, but since COVID hit I’m back down to about 60%. I make up the difference. All the other expenses for gas, repairs, etc., I pay for. I don’t take anything out of the ministry. The other thing is manpower: I have a few guys I can call on for heavy lifting, but a lot of it I do by myself. For the month of October I had 27 clients come through. That means 27 meetings, 27 deliveries and I had 36 people donating, so that meant 36 pickups. That means I don’t have too much time left in the day to put things away, so that means I have boxes of things I still need to deal with. I could always use help to pick up the big stuff, make some deliveries and also to clean things as I bring them in.
TK: What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a Re-start Ministries volunteer.
WW: I would like to eventually develop a list of people who have strong backs and could volunteer at least one day a month to come and drive the trucks, do the pick-ups and deliveries. That would allow me to stay in the warehouse and meet clients, put things away and do repairs. That’s my goal, to get together a list of 30 people who would give me at least one day per month.
TK: What’s the best way for someone who wants to donate money or volunteer to reach you?
WW: They can just call me. My number is 530-906-9120.
TK: Looking out into the future, what is in store for Re-start Ministries? How long do you see yourself doing this work?
WW: I have no plans on quitting. (Laughing) Retirement is not an option, I’ve already retired. I would like to have someone who feels called to come join me and share the burden some. Right now I’m doing 10 to 11 hours a day, five days a week.
TK: Like most of us in the nonprofit world, I’m assuming you probably have a favorite story?
WW: Just before COVID hit a single mom came to the warehouse. She was escaping domestic violence, having to leave her home in a hurry. She had been living in a crisis shelter, then gotten an apartment. She came in with her 12-year-old son. Like most of the people who come here, she was overwhelmed when she saw the amount of stuff that I had. She was walking around with that deer in the headlights look. Her son was saying, “Mom, we could use this, mom, we could use that.” Her son finally moved to the back of the warehouse where the toys are. I had picked most of them up well over a month earlier and I couldn’t remember where I’d gotten them. So the boy is standing there and he says, “Mom, there’s my toys,” and it turned out they really were. They were the toys he’d been forced to leave behind when his mother escaped. (Wayne pauses, both of us becoming misty eyed.) It doesn’t get any better than that.
At this time, Wayne’s three storage spots are literally filled to the rafters with donated furniture, appliances and housewares. The best way a reader can help Wayne and Re-start Ministries is by donating time, money or both. As someone who has seen up close the profound effect Wayne has on the clients he serves, I can attest to the significance his work has in our community. Donate to Wayne — 530-906-9120. Your heart will be glad you did.
Tom Kellar has been a Nevada County housing case manager for eight years. He currently works for Community Beyond Violence in Grass Valley.
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