FEATURE STORIES

An interview with Karyn Alexander—
executive director of Winfield House and RED! columnist

 

 

by Amberly Schmaltz
January 2011

 

Giving, honest, sincere, caring, determined and inspired: all are words to describe the woman we know as Karyn Alexander. If you’ve read RED! the breakthrough ‘zine for any length of time, you have probably read articles by Karyn about her ministry as Founder and Executive Director of Winfield House.The beginning of Winfield House ministry is a story she’s told before, and it’s a fascinating and inspiring lesson for all of us about being willing to hear God, and do what He has purposed for our lives. Now that 2011 has arrived, RED! Contributing Writer, Amberly Schmaltz, checks in with Karyn about the progress of Winfield House over the past year and to gain a better understanding not only of ways we can help her ministry better others, but ways we can better ourselves, as well.

RED! : After reading your (Karyn) columns about and stories of helping some homeless men, and in particular Robert, I was intrigued on a few levels. Has Winfield House helped any other homeless people since that time, and was that originally on the agenda for Winfield?

Karyn: Housing homeless people was never really on our agenda. It just happened. It came in two forms. Most of the homeless we encountered were women with children. At the time, we did not feel we could use the Winfield house to put up entire families. The house is a 1700's row house, loaded with antiques and fine china, furniture, etc. We did have our food and clothing pantries in the house, along with teach bible study and life skills there. The house was not suitable for children. All of our children's programs took place in the chapel behind the house.

When we had homeless women, we made arrangements with local landlords for a reduced rent and paid the landlord directly. On these occasions, when we found women sleeping in their cars or on the church steps, we felt it was wiser not to have to supervise, but to let them live independently. We were able to afford this with cash donations made by individuals and some corporate matching programs.

We had one woman who came to us with two little girls. Her husband was in prison. She was very young, maybe 24-years old. She had family, but no one who could help. All of her siblings were in similar financial situations. While the husband served his time, we counseled her, helped with food, clothing and school supplies. The kids integrated into our after school program, so we became her family. This was the norm for many of our ladies. We were the only functional family they could count on.

When Robert came, it was different. For some reason, I thought he would do better with our supervision and daily interaction. The house was beautiful, so he was shocked when I showed him his bedroom. It was a room filled with fine antiques and clean linen bedding. I felt Robert needed something different; somewhere safe and clean with extra TLC.

In the future, I do have plans for some housing. We have an incredible plan to help employ our welfare recipients (get them off welfare), and help those who have been incarcerated maintain a job. I know it is hard when you have a record; almost impossible to gain employment. In my future plans, we cannot only employ, but help to educate our people. The housing will be minimal, but obviously necessary. During the transitions that life sometimes throws us, as in the case of Robert, we need a safe place to land.

RED! : One would think most people would be quick to judge those who come from various backgrounds of crime and other hardships and addictions. How do you and the staff at Winfield keep from prejudicial thinking and keep a caring and understanding heart?

Karyn: “When I first began work at Winfield, it didn't occur to me to judge anyone. I knew I was there to extend the hand of Christ. God provided for the needs of His people, I was simply the delivery man (woman).

I was always eager to pack food boxes or allow the ladies to "shop" in the clothing closet. It made me happy to see them happy, and to know they felt worthy to have their basic needs being met. I loved to tell them that God knew they would be there, so provided the very best for them. It was true.

There were a number of occasions where the ladies lied to me about certain things. I knew why, and sometimes confronted them, and sometimes not. They were not bad people, but just people who struggled with their lives.

One example of this was a young mother with two children who attended our children's program. She needed cash for "bills." After questioning her and telling her I would pay directly to the electric company, she froze up and admitted the money wasn't for the bill. She was drunk at the time of our meeting, was selling prescription pills on the street, and wanted to buy street drugs. When I confronted her with the lie, she broke down crying and admitted to the drug and alcohol issues, and to lying to me.

I didn't feel judgmental at all. This woman had been repeatedly sexually assaulted as a child, abandoned, and lived with an abusive boyfriend. Her life was grievous. During the confrontation, she feared I would report her to the county officials, but that would certainly be counter-productive.

I just held my hand out to her, she took it and I told her if I was in the same situation, I would take drugs, too. I know that is not a good counseling approach, but for God's sake, it was such a horrific life she had led. She was only 25-years old.

I told her I could help her. She sobbed more. We talked for a long time, and I asked her if she would like to meet the God who was about to provide her with a new life. She said, "Yes," so we prayed. It wasn't fancy, just a prayer for help and restoration.

Some of the men who came to us were violent. I had to be tough and guard the women and children. For the most part, they respected me and did not challenge my authority. I never judged them because I knew their lives were broken, too.

Most of the men who came to us were humble. They were street smart, self-aware, and emotionally destroyed. There were so many men who came during our kids after school program for help. The kids programs were held in the chapel. I asked them to come in, but they did not feel worthy to enter God's house. They would, a lot of times, shuffle their feet, look toward the floor and say they were too dirty to come in.

It blew my heart to bits, because they were the very people God wanted to reach. I did everything in my power to make them feel loved and wanted. Some came in, some did not.

On the occasion of Robert, I felt afraid of Robert because he was from Cincinnati. I knew our breed of people (county), but didn't know the city people. In the end, of course, we all know, People are just people.

There is another dynamic for me....I was saved by God. I wasn't homeless, dirty or a druggy, but I wasn't different from these people because at the time of my salvation, I was hopeless. God found me and gave me hope. He wants that for all of us. I love my job because I know firsthand what hopeless looks like. Deep in my heart, I thank God every day that I am the person he chose to deliver His hope. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

RED! : When did the Wilder, Kentucky and Anderson Township locations open? What kind of growth have you seen at those facilities? I noticed that there is not an after-school program at the Wilder location, which seems to be more "women needs-driven.” Do you have plans, or is there even a demand, to open an after-school program at the Wilder location?

Karyn: Our Wilder, Kentucky facility opened in 2007. God had previously shown me that we would expand. The location is in the "Upper Room" of St. John's Community Church. We first moved our offices to the location, then the food and clothing pantry. It seemed like a good move, since most of our supporters were in the Cincinnati area. This location is a good drop off point for our city donors.

Anderson came about and strangely is a full circle move for me. I first received the vision for Winfield House when I lived in Anderson, and 20 years later I am back! We do Christian counseling exclusively in Anderson. We have a small office in Calvary Chapel, off of Nordyke road. Calvary is a Christian Missionary Alliance Church, which initially helped us a great deal in Augusta. They sent volunteers for our kids’ programs, did church and house maintenance, and collected food and other necessities over the years. Our Board of Directors pastor is the Senior Pastor at Calvary. He has been a good support to me and our ministry plans over the years.

We have not encouraged growth at these sites except to build a team that would be instrumental in running the facilities. Of course, the need for a kids’ program is there, but the Wilder facility would need to be dramatically remodeled for that to happen. I am currently looking for ways to raise money to allow this, or to purchase an existing building that would be suitable for kids and a future fundraising effort I have rolling around in my head (actually on paper—a pretty exciting idea!).

RED! : Of all the people you’ve met, counseled and helped during 2010, what is your most memorable moment?

Karyn: This is a hard question for me. Every day is memorable at Winfield. The first thing that popped into my mind was a person I counseled one on one. I cannot tell the details due to privacy, but can tell you that miracles took place each time I met with this man.

He was in such torment when I first met him, but has come full circle in restoration through biblical counseling. I see God's hand at work each time we meet.

This happens with so many counseling clients I meet with. I watch while God quietly sooths and encourages people as they share their hurts and hearts. He takes time to help them understand their lives and work through difficult issues, leading them to himself the entire time. It is beautiful to watch. I love seeing the process and being part of it. I love seeing lives changed. This type of counseling is held in our Wilder and Anderson locations.

RED! : Many readers will feel impressed to help you in this ministry. How can we help?

Karyn: We always need monetary donations to keep the lights on and pay basic bills. It takes a fair amount to keep a ministry up and running. Right now, canned and boxed foods are needed. We need hygiene products, including shampoo, soap, makeup, and women's products.

We collected toys and coats for Christmas, along with hats, gloves and scarves. No specifics, just something a child or single mom may need. Knitters/crocheters are always needed to make scarves and aphgans, especially during any holiday. We have also taken vehicles as a donation to either re-sell or donate to someone in need.

Monetary donations can be sent to: Winfield House 1411 St. John's Lane, Wilder, KY 41076 Phone 606-756-2639 Winfield House takes personal checks, MC/Visa

Non-perishable food and hygiene products can be left at either the Wilder or the Anderson site.

RED! : Are there any other needs to be met or people to which we can reach out to through Winfield House ministries? Do you have examples of situations or people for which we can pray and/or get involved?

Karyn: First, Our Augusta, Kentucky site is no longer available to us. Our buildings were promised to be donated to Winfield House by our landlord. The buildings were sold out from under us, so we are temporarily working from the back of my truck. We need a building. This is not easy working out of the back of my truck.

From “Winfield Report” – A few examples of the lives that are touched daily by Winfield House ministry.

Karyn: “I dealt with Bethany(age 29) and her ex-con husband, and two daughters. Bethany has cervical cancer, no insurance. The kids hadn't eaten in days, she was crying and didn't have anywhere to turn. Dad gets out of jail and busts mom's face and teeth. I gave her counsel, food and cash for gas. Paid electric bill.

“Today, I also counseled with Mary, two kids. She and her husband are getting divorced. The dad took the little boy and Mary is homeless. Jessica-10th grade, is bounced around from G-ma, to where Mary is staying. Mary has an 8th grade education and nowhere to turn. Mary needs food, furniture, home and a job.

“I helped Hanna, a woman who has six kids, and who lives in a shack. She was actually homeless several years back and slept in her car near Winfield with toddlers and a new born. I guess the dad is getting ‘with-it’ these days, at least they have a shack. They needed food and paper goods. She is coming for clothes later in the week. Gave her school supplies for the five kids.

“Terry – a mom of seven kids with five kids taken away by the court. The oldest, now 18, was with her today, as was the one-year old. The father of the baby spent 21 years in prison for murder. He is back in jail for abusing Terry and baby. He (baby daddy) tattooed up the 18 year old, so he looks like a murderer, too. They are hiding out in a shack with no water, food, anything. I gave them food, paper goods, and paid for water to be turned on. They are letting this guy out of jail in a few weeks. He is threatening to cut off the 18-year old's head and murder the baby. And then the mom.

“Linda is having heart by-pass surgery and is very worried. Not sure where Brandon would go if she died. Linda is 56, with custody of abused grandson. His natural mother and father are in and out of jail. Prayed and comforted Linda.”

As Karyn Alexander has shown us time and time again, there are hurting, hungry, helpless, and hopeless people in our very neighborhoods, counties, and city. We can no longer claim ignorance and pretend the need is not there. It is ever-present and Winfield House ministry is addressing and sustaining support and counseling for these people. But they cannot do it alone. I am personally committed to praying for these hurting people, for the Winfield House ministries, and for my own involvement as God reveals it to me. I will also be praying for you, the reader of this article. I pray a special blessing on those who participate and help; on those who, like Karyn, can be described as giving, honest, sincere, caring, determined, and most of all, inspired to help.

 

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Karyn Alexander - executive director of Winfield House

 

 

 

 

 


 

Karyn Alexander—
Executive Director of Winfield House
and RED! columnist

More about Karyn Alexander and Winfield House :

Read Karyn's columns Voice of the Nations here.

Watch a video of Karyn on Windfield House ministry

View slide show of Karen's book-signing for her recently released memoir Mad at God: Coming Full Circle from Anger to Solid Faith. It is a sequel to her award-winning first book, Familiar Spirits, which chronicles her miraculous triumph over fear, doubt, personal hardship, and her establishing Winfield House in Augusta, Kentucky.

Karen's books can be purchased at RED!'s Breakthrough Bookshop

 

Amberly Schmaltz—RED! contributing writer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amberly Schmaltz —
RED! contributing writer