I grew up a little off the grid in El Paso, Texas. My father always believed my sisters and I could change the world. I don't know that I really believed him, but his message imprinted on me. I became a Longhorn (University of Texas at Austin) graduating with a B.S. in Advertising and took my first job out of college in Charlotte, N.C. where I have lived most of the last thirty years. Being an art director for ad agencies meant long hours so I started my own graphic design business in order to be home for carpools and naptime for my four daughters. While I loved helping clients and nonprofits communicate their mission, I kept feeling I was missing my own.
I was forty-four with a great family, a business, but no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Denver Moore, a formerly homeless man turned best—selling author of Same Kind of Different As Me, changed all that in 2007. On a tour of the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte where I volunteered, Denver very memorably pointed out to me that while I was helping the homeless by serving soup, the one thing a homeless person actually really needs is a home. Denver put me on the spot and wanted to know if I would do something about that. In a complete moment of guilt and insanity, I promised him I would.
Two months later, I closed my design business to join the staff of the Urban Ministry Center as the first director of Homeless to Homes, developing Charlotte's only Housing First program for the chronically homeless. That startup program turned into a $10,000,000 capital campaign to build an apartment complex named, in part, for the man who inspired it, Moore Place. With the experience of building for the homeless, I have spent most of the past two years working on another project (HopeWay) which will be Charlotte's first nonprofit residential mental health treatment center opening later this year. My path over the last ten years with those two projects involved so much coincidence, serendipity, and God-incidence that I finally wrote it all down in The Hundred Story Home: A Journey of Homelessness, Hope and Healing. In my book and on this website, I want to encourage you if you are restless for purpose to have courage to listen to what's calling you—whatever it is, big or small. And especially, no matter how crazy it feels! I think each of us has something we are meant to do and as my dad always told me: You can do anything, really anything.
Today, I live in Charlotte with my husband, Charlie, who listens patiently to all my crazy ideas. My four amazing daughters, Lauren, Kailey, Emma, and Maddie, encourage me to keep busy trying to change the world so I don't worry about changing them. And my black lab, Dexter, keeps me sane, taking walks every day and showing me the truest example of lovin' life.
"Instructions for living a life: Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."
In 2010, after an astonishing three years of helping house those experiencing homelessness in Charlotte, I decided to try to heed Mary Oliver's advice and tell about it. I loved to write but had not written anything longer than an email in decades so it took six years, three writing courses, two editors and two therapists to craft The Hundred Story Home. While I was writing through 2014 and 2015, I tried to interest literary agents and publishers, but received no offers. So in October 2016, I completed the promise to myself and self-published The Hundred Story Home. As part of the launch, I worked with Corri Smith at Black Wednesday Social to help me with social media. Corri had the great idea to put 100 copies in The Little Free Libraries in ten cities to spread the book outside of my home in Charlotte, NC. We did and waited to see what happened.
At first, it took a little while to catch on. The books were placed all over Charlotte and in cities like Birmingham, Charleston, and Nashville but there wasn't a rush to get them. Slowly, people found them and followed the message in the books to post selfies of the book they found. Then people were reading it and sharing it with friends in other cities. One day, I went to my local package store and learned the owner, Debbie Starnes, had sent the book to her family in Ohio. And then this from Rachel Estes, Director of Outreach and Missions at Canterbury United Methodist Church. I had never met Rachel in Birmingham, Alabama but she had responded to our request to share the book in the Little Free Library in her yard:
"There are the books that I mention off hand to folks as a good read. There are the books that I intentionally email, text or nudge someone to read. There are the rare books that I hand people copies of and say ‘You should read this.’ And then there are the books that after you confetti-share them across the community as fast and furiously as possible because you can't explain how deeply it moved you...that cause people to come up for the next few MONTHS to say, ‘that was truly one of the best books I've read.’ The Hundred Story Home is that book. The book that you can't mention off hand...that you can't just hope someone reads...it's the book that deserves to be pressed into someone's hands with a promise to have tea and bacon jam and talk about it. The Hundred Story Home is a book that just begins to engage a few of your own stories and then...you'll be pressing it into someone's hands..."
Rachel's email to me was the beginning of a new chapter of this book where it was shared in book groups and women's groups and houses of faith. Where it began a life I never expected. Pastor Mike Stone in Hickory, NC was the first to invite me to speak after his church did an "all-church read" of The Hundred Story Home. Soon others asked for me to come to Virginia, Atlanta, Raleigh and Greensboro. I started to realize the themes in my book-homelessness, mental health, social justice and call to action-were powerful messages for not only individual readers but for groups to discuss together. It made me wish I had a publisher who could help me spread that message.
In April 2016, I met with a local literary agent Sally McMillan to ask if that was possible. If a self-published book was finding its way, thousands of copies later, to cities all over the South and East coast, would a publisher now be interested? Two months later, Daisy Hutton with Harper Collins Christian Publishing said, "Yes."
I could not be prouder or more amazed to be working with Harper Collins. The little blue book many of you know as The Hundred Story Home officially "retired" in December 2017 to make way for a new edition to be released in paperback and eBook June 2018. (Yes, you can finally get my book on a Kindle!) The Harper Collins team has worked with me to provide great edits to the original book, some new content and exciting additions like a reader's guide for groups. Best of all there will be photos so you can "see" everything from the stories of building Moore Place and meeting Denver Moore.
Thank you to all of you who read and shared The Hundred Story Home! Your grass-roots support of this book is what has made this new version possible. I hope the book continues to spread across the country friend to friend spreading the hope to believe in ourselves and in something bigger.