Homelessness Archive

Auntee Gertrude

Posted November 17, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

IMG_3040Deep in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, a house sits alone in a cove. If the walls could talk, you’d hear laughter, tears, secrets shared in days gone by. You’d hear the heart’s cry of twenty-seven children, who have long since grown up and started lives of their own. And you wouldn’t help but hear the affirmation and expressions of love from Auntee Gertrude.

Gertrude and her husband Chester, have provided extended foster care for almost three dozen children who had no place to go and no one to take care of them. It all started with a frantic knock on their door on a rainy night. The sheriff showed up with an  abandoned child and no place to take them. The parents were missing and someone had to care for the children.

They said yes… temporarily… and it set in place a lifetime of purpose. Together they provided not only the basic needs for the Homeless Young Boy Holding a Signchildren entrusted to their care, they raised them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They all grew up to be amazing men and women. Every single one is successful in his or her own way.

We sat over coffee and I asked Gertrude why they did it. “Well, when a need shows up on your front door step, there’s overwhelming evidence that you’re the one God chose to meet it.” 

A simple woman by design, Auntee Gertrude lives her life for others. She could not sit still without asking me if I wanted more coffee. And we were at a Travel Plaza, not her home! As I let the java grow cold, I drank in all the love, caring, and genuine happiness that flowed from this lady’s heart. Interestingly, she didn’t want to talk about it. She’d much rather discuss the amazing and unusual sunrise God gave us that morning.

But I finally did pry some information out of her. For decades, every time there was a knock on the door, Gertrude would yell out the back door to Chester’s wood shop, “Better get another bed ready. Somebody’s coming!” They were always needing room for one more child. Chester would build and Auntee Gertrude would sew, knit and cook. 

When I asked this couple what was the greatest blessing they’d received from their lifetime of caring for underprivileged children. She became quiet for a moment as if deep in thought. Then with conviction she said, “We were able to teach these children how to grow up to be responsible adults. And patriotic Americans. That’s something you just don’t find too much any more.”

IMG_3021Auntee Gertrude and Chester are heroes. They not only helped these children in a desperate time of need, they gave them the heartbeat of America. And they introduced them to Jesus. 

No, I don’t think it gets much better than that. 

Gertrude and Chester shuffled off into anonymity once more. To see the elderly couple, you’d never know who they are or what great things they have accomplished. As they drove away in their old Buick, it made me wonder how many amazing heroes I pass by on a daily basis without realizing it.

That old song, “Stop and Smell the Roses” fluttered in my head. I was once again reminded it is the people-the heartbeat of America- that provide the wonderful fragrance in this amazing nation we call home. 

I salute you, Auntee Gertrude and Chester.


1 Comment. Join the Conversation

Heart of the Homeless

Posted January 14, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know the homeless people where I am. It’s been simply amazing, but I’m afraid I have a horrible confession to make.

There was a time in my life I thought homeless people were either skid row bums or a few bricks short of a full load. Well, either that or rapists, murderers and convicted felons who couldn’t make it on the outside. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more wrong. I’ve asked God–and the homeless folks I’ve met–to forgive me. Now I’m asking you to do the same.

You see, I’ve discovered that homeless people are good, honest, decent human beings. Somewhere along the way the storms of life hit them with full force and they lost everything. Well, every physical possession at least. These Americans are wonderful, bright, educated people who can’t find a job, despite applying for thousands. 

Some of them have given up but the overwhelming majority still have hope. And they display remarkable resilience. Life’s been hard for them and the mountains they climb are seemingly insurmountable. Yet, each day they rise with a new commit to conquer their plight and rise to the top of their world again.

They are my heroes. I’ve grown to love them. Admire them. Want to be like them. They have a fire in their belly that keeps them putting one foot in front of the other day after day after day after day. Many of them don’t even know where their next meal will come from. The lucky ones sleep in shelters with dozens of other unfortunates. Some weather the winter in tents. A great number of them attempt to sleep in dumpsters using blankets made of cardboard boxes. 

In them I do not see sadness, but rather resolve and the pioneer spirit. It’s that inner strength that takes what comes and just deals with it, walks through it and overcomes it. No fanfare. No woe-is-me sobs. They just quietly work their way out of their challenge. It’s the heartbeat of America and it is alive and well. It’s the American spirit that attacks challenges with a tenacity that even the fiercest enemy cannot beat.

I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know these people. I am humbled in their presence as their strength towers over me. One day, I want to be like them. I pray I will one day have the unstoppable heart of the homeless.

Have you ever had an experience with the homeless? Do you know someone who is or was? Share it here!


1 Comment. Join the Conversation