ASHEBORO — A day in the life of Kenita Matthews is as varied as a kaleidoscope. Tyler Hawkins, her full-time volunteer helper, put it succinctly: “Every day with Kenita is an adventure.”
A petite woman who stands 5-foot-2, Matthews is the founder of Grace Given, “a nonprofit organization that helps those that are homeless and less fortunate. We go out and connect with individuals, show them the love of Jesus, and give them second chances to a better life.”
On a recent day, Matthews and Hawkins drove to warehouse space in Seagrove, provided to Grace Given, to load a bed onto their van, stopped at a picnic shelter where she met with a woman living in her car, delivered the bed to an elderly couple who had been sleeping in chairs, then went to the post office to check the mail for one of her clients.
That was a short day for Matthews. Some days she gets home after 9 p.m. She said she works Monday through Friday and sometimes on Saturdays.
“We don’t go out because we have to, we go out because we get to,” Matthews explained. “We provide hope. We show them the love of Jesus. They’ll see the light in you and will come when they’re ready.”
Many of the people Grace Given helps are homeless but there are more who have homes but still need help. Some families don’t make enough to pay for electricity and water, or buy Christmas gifts for their children.
“One woman asked me if she should pay her rent or make her car payment,” Matthews said. “I told her she needed a home to live in, so she said she could walk to work.”
And if the woman needed a ride to work, Matthews would have found a way to provide that.
A woman who said she’s called “Red” was eating a meal delivered from Our Daily Bread Kitchen. Matthews sat down to encourage her, saying she could get her hair fixed, take a shower and put on clean clothes for an upcoming job interview. Red currently lives in her car.
“I left an abusive husband a year ago,” Red said. “I had no place to go. I was out here a year before I knew about the soup kitchen. I signed up for housing and a job interview. It scares me coming around people.”
But Matthews is there to rally her. “She’s come a long way.”
Matthews recently was given an RV for people to take showers in, wash their hair and change into clean clothes. Her van was also donated. While it was being serviced, she borrowed the van of Village of Barabus, which Matthews and Hawkins loaded the bed into. They unloaded it at an apartment and set it up for the elderly residents. The man said his doctor ordered him to sleep on a bed, not in his chair. Now, thanks to Grace Given, he can follow the doctor’s orders.
A corner of the Seagrove warehouse, set aside for Grace Given, contains refrigerators, washers, furniture, clothing and other items that will fill a need at some point. All have been donated by various agencies and churches.
Matthews said she often visits churches to tell them what she’s doing. A number of them provide donations and services, she said. “We can’t do it alone,” she said. “It takes a village to do what we do.”
She told about a single mother who had no washing machine or money to spend at a laundromat. The family hadn’t washed clothes in several weeks. “We helped them wash seven loads,” Matthews said.
Grace Given also provides school supplies and Christmas gifts for needy children. Whatever need Matthews finds, she looks for a way to fill it.
“We team up with a bunch of people to make it work,” she said. “My purpose is to serve people.”
A good portion of the people she serves are homeless. One woman, she said, had been on drugs for 29 years but now has been clean for two years. She will soon earn two degrees from Randolph Community College.
“Grace Given has helped so far 13 people get jobs and find a home,” she said. “Plus, we helped furnish their new home. Grace Given also provides help to families that are less fortunate. We have helped provide beds to kids that were sleeping on the floor and helped with clothes, shoes, groceries, cleaning supplies, school supplies.”
As for working with the homeless, Matthews said, “Everybody doesn’t choose to be homeless. Some make bad decisions or are victims of circumstances. Some are abused and don’t feel loved, or don’t make enough money.
“I can’t judge them, but continue to do what I do — show them the love of Jesus. I don’t push God on them but be the light they need so they can make a change in their life.”
Matthews asks, “How can you help people if you don’t give them a second chance? We give them a second and third chance and eventually they’ll get it right.”
Matthews said, “I would love to see the city and county have locations for the homeless, places to be safe. A place to stay would make them accountable, with rules. They need structure.
“I asked 35 of them if they chose to be homeless,” she said. “They said, ‘No ma’am, I did not choose to be homeless.’ If you don’t give them a chance, they’re going to be the same way they are.
“Everybody has a different story and it’s not all about drugs and alcohol,” Matthews said. “That’s what people need to realize.
“When people are ready to change, that’s the amazing thing,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for.”