I am not quite old enough to say this.
But it occurs to me, as I crest the royal hill of 40, that the work I am doing now may not be actualized until I’m too old to do it anymore or long after I’m gone.
Outside of what happened in the pandemic, I may never again get to experience Fredericksburg as a community where no one has to sleep outside. But if my own story is any testament, it is the dreams passed down from one generation to another that drives the response of those who follow.
That’s one reason I’m so inspired by the young people who have rallied in support of “The Coldest Night of the Year” Walk, a 5K (with one mile option) that Micah will host on February 25. On this night, across the US and Canada, communities will walk to raise funds and awareness about hunger, hurt and homelessness. Participation can include walking, donating, volunteering or sponsoring the event.
Micah’s goal is to raise $59,000, a symbolic number that represents the approximate cost of a house in the planned Jeremiah Community–a supportive neighborhood of small homes that will eventually house the community’s street and chronic homeless. Jeremiah Community, we believe, is a dream that will set our community’s course toward the eventual day that no one has to sleep outside.
With 30 days to go, Micah has engaged almost 200 walkers across 38 teams and raised nearly 75% of our goal. Leading the charge is nine-year-old Jane Murray, whose father Clay is on the Board for Micah and mom Jillian works at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church. By knocking on doors, asking for support from the church community that has watched her grow up, reaching out to friends and family and writing a letter to the family’s favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics, Jane has raised almost $6,000 for Micah. Currently, she has raised more money than any other walker in the nation.
Following her parents’ lead, Jane has been loving neighbors through both Micah and her church community since she was four. “People have seen her and her little self volunteering in numerous ways, at community dinners, the church food pantry, meals to hotels during Covid, and this is the first time that we’ve been able to actually give folks some way to support her,” said Jane’s father, Clay. “And they’ve come out in droves.”
Other teams have also used their involvement in the Coldest Night Walk to engage young people. Real Estate Agent Chip Taylor, leader of the Ray of Light team, has asked his clients to get their children to draw pictures of “What home means to them.” More than 15 kids have submitted drawings, featuring houses, families and words like safe, secure, love, happiness and family. He has shared their pictures on Facebook to encourage others to support him in the Coldest Night walk, which supports Micah in its efforts to make home possible for the unhoused.
In addition, many other local churches, businesses and community groups have formed teams to walk in solidarity with Micah on “the Coldest Night of the Year.” Many churches are leveraging their congregational circles to collect walkers and supporters. Italian Station’s Pay it Forward team is inviting customers to make a donation using a QR code in their store.
On any given night in the Fredericksburg region, there are about 200-250 people who sleep in shelters, tents, abandoned buildings or cars. Roughly, 60 unhoused neighbors consistently live outdoors. The complexity of their needs (i.e. mental health, chronic illness, intellectual disability and/or addiction), combined with the limited options for affordable housing and support services leave many in that situation for a year or more.
While the average American lives well into their 70s, a person who has spent time on the street is likely to live only until their mid-50s. Cold, harsh nights sleeping outside are often the biggest culprit in removing literal years from people’s lives. For two years in a row, Micah has buried more than 30 people who spent time living outdoors. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council reports that up to 700 unsheltered individuals across the country die each year from cold-related illnesses.
And so, we walk!
We walk because no neighbor should have to sleep outside in the cold.
We walk because Fredericksburg has the capacity to love our neighbors better. We are not a Los Angeles, a New York or a Richmond, which can count thousands outside on a given night. With one meaningful project, everyone we know who sleeps outside can be offered a home and the support that is needed.
We walk because the compassion of a community is measured in how we care for our least. For 18 years now, the downtown churches have quietly come alongside our neighbors in places where many in our community had given up. Our work is not just a meal, a bed or a roof over someone’s head, it is care for the whole person. The more people who join us in that that work, the better we can be the community that our neighbors desperately need.
There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, then go together.” Our walk through the city on February 25 means more than money for the work Micah is doing every day. It is an expression of our solidarity, an embrace of a dream that began a long time ago and continues on in the hearts of those inspired by our love for one another.
We walk because we are ALL neighbors.
We walk because it’s cold outside.
And we walk together toward the dream of a community where no one sleeps outside.
Unhoused neighbors are more likely to heal from trauma, achieve stability and restore relationships when they have access to housing first. Micah helps by finding permanent housing, providing furniture, and offering financial assistance and case management. More than 160 people were supported in in Housing this year.
Fredericksburg’s downtown churches began their journey toward the vision for Micah Ecumenical Ministries almost 18 years ago. We’ve now been at this as many years as there are miles to the treacherous Jericho Road of the Good Samaritan story. Along the way, encounters with our neighbors’ suffering have taught us much about the home God envisions for humanity, and how we are called to take part.
Remembering Wayne Payne
The Micah Community is sad to share that our dear friend Wayne Payne, 60, passed away Sunday, January 22 in his home. He was a quiet, gentle soul. For many years he worked for Labor Finders as a flagger, until retiring about a year ago. He loved football and his friends. Wayne would often go to great lengths to care for his friends. Although he had few words, he had a lot of heart. All of us will miss his random voicemails, which were often just to say “I love ya.”
A Micah Community Memorial will be held January 31 at 2:30pm at City Dock