– Written by Linda Jilk, To Our House Policy Council member
Last winter, when Jody Blankenship found himself homeless, To Our House – a New River Community Action (NRCA) program providing overnight winter shelter for area men – gave him a new life . . . and a new outlook on life.
Now, Blankenship, 41, is giving back to help others who need it like he did.
After losing his job and subsequently his apartment and all his possessions following a drug possession charge, Blankenship, then a Giles County resident, sought help from To Our House.
As a To Our House (TOH) guest, Blankenship was transported each night to a warm church set up with blanketed cots; offered a hot meal by a cadre of dedicated volunteers; given the opportunity for showers and company, entertainment or just sleep; and provided with information on housing, employment, and other available resources to help him get back on his feet.
“They’ve really helped me,” said Blankenship recently while volunteering with Blacksburg Baptist Church to serve dinner to current To Our House guests. “I’m completely clean now. They connected me with Virginia Cares and they helped me get an ID and a job and information that all helped me get a place of my own.”
After approximately two months as a TOH guest, Blankenship was connected with resources that enabled him to get a full-time job at Goodwill Industries in Christiansburg and move into a Christiansburg boarding house.
On top of that, the required volunteer work – To Our House guests are asked to perform two hours of community service for every 30 nights of shelter – gave him a purpose. “I did my two hours and never stopped,” said Blankenship, who volunteered full-time last winter until he secured employment and now continues to volunteer “whenever he can.” Blankenship helps out at NRCA in a variety of ways —often at the NRCA Food Pantry organizing and handing out donations, but also doing landscaping, assisting with computers, and serving dinner to TOH guests.
“This is my way of giving back New River Community Action for helping me and my way of giving back to the general public for what I was,” said Blankenship. “This isn’t something I would have done in the past, but being here and being sober has changed my view. Seeing all the people who need help and being able to help them has made a big difference in my life. After I started volunteering, everything started to fall in place.”
Blankenship also credits TOH’s supportive community with helping him move forward in positive ways with his life. “To Our House and NRCA have been like family to me. I wouldn’t do anything to let them down. I try to stay in touch with everyone involved in TOH and NRCA. These are really, really great people – the volunteers, the AmeriCorps people, the other guests, everyone has been great to me. They’ve been there for me, they’ve really helped me.”
Blankenship continues to work as hard as he can toward his goals — to stay clean, to move into his own apartment, and to get his suspended driver’s license back, but in the meantime, he walks more than an hour both ways to get to work on the weekends. He is interested in continuing his studies to learn more about business management.
Volunteering has helped Blankenship stay focused on his goals. “To Our House has been really helpful to me. By introducing me to volunteering, they’ve shown me a view of the world that I didn’t know existed and I’m glad because this view has changed me more than anything. There are so many people like me who are in a situation like I was and need help,” he said.
The To Our House program is made possible through the generous contributions of local faith-based and community organizations and volunteers. To Our House, a United Way agency, was founded in 2010 after the death of a Blacksburg homeless man, Teddy O. Henderson (TOH), to fill a need for emergency shelter for men in the New River Valley. Each winter since then, New River Valley men who are homeless have been provided with temporary shelter by different host churches and given meals by different support churches.
According to Carol Johnson, To Our House program coordinator, over the past six years, approximately 1,000 local residents contributed over 35,000 volunteer hours and 19,000 meals. More than 50 faith-based organizations served as TOH host sites and provided support services.
Since its inception, To Our House has sheltered more than 235 different men for a total of 6,613 bed nights. As a result of To Our House services and support, 72 men found more permanent housing and 53 guests found employment.
“For someone who doesn’t have any money and really wants to get their life together, To Our House can help you or they can introduce you to someone who can,” said Blankenship.
Want to support To Our House’s efforts to help the homeless? Participate in “Dining Out for Shelter,” a TOH fund raiser to be held at participating restaurants throughout the New River Valley. On Tuesday, April 25, dine at one or more of the following restaurants that will donate 10 percent of sales during hours of operation:
• Blacksburg: Bollo’s Café & Bakery; Café de Bangkok; Gillie’s; Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries; Mellow Mushroom (5-9 pm); Moe’s Southwest Grill (5-8 pm); Next Door Bake Shop; Our Daily Bread Bakery & Bistro; Social House; The Cellar Restaurant; Zoës Kitchen (5-9 pm)
• Christiansburg: Amelia’s Pizzeria & Restaurant
• Radford: Crumb & Get It Cookie Company; El Charro Mexican Grill; Moe’s Southwest Grill (5-8 pm); Sal’s Italian Restaurant; Sharkey’s Wing and Rib Company; The Radford Coffee Company