Pastor Heather Boone once dubbed a campaign to buy a larger church for her growing community mission the “Miracle on Second Street,” and some say the title still applies to the neighborhood she remodeled. to help the under-served.
Oaks Village, a Monroe nonprofit that serves thousands of struggling residents each year, and its dynamic leader have drawn attention to their attention even on the little things that can change lives, from products to clothing to ‘interview. Boone recently won USA Today’s Best of Humankind Awards, and that award made her even more determined to serve.
If his mission was not simple, the way forward is now.
“We just want the world to know what we’re doing in this little corner,” Boone said. “And we hope others will replicate what we do.”
His victory caught the national attention of Boone and his team. She said this would only amplify their mission and broad reach in Oaks Village, with its grocery store, daycare, tutoring, addiction recovery, health clinic and more.
“She’s a great woman,” said Robert Tucker, a former resident of the Oaks shelter who now works there. “… This is not a job for her. It’s his life. “
The program had humble beginnings, with twists and turns and miracles reflecting the scriptures she often shares for inspiration.
Boone grew up in Detroit, where the 45-year-old said she was “a very bad teenager.”
Through a religious awakening and conversion at the age of 20, Boone joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, met her husband, Britton, and became a youth pastor.
“Once I found God, I wanted to help other young people not to go through all the trials I went through,” she said.
Over a decade ago, Boone was assigned to lead a small congregation in Monroe. The denomination leaders wanted to relocate her after three years, “but I really felt that God had called us here,” she said. “My husband and I made the decision to start our own ministry. “
Inspired by a Bible passage referring to God’s people, the couple launched Oaks of Righteousness in 2012, meeting for the first time at a community center and school. The following year, they bought a building that once housed a Salvation Army church, which also housed shelter for the homeless during the colder months, Boone said.
The first winter drew over 90 people and convinced the Boones to establish a year-round facility. Guided by prayer, they moved into space while working to raise enough money to do so.
Then came what they called a divine turn of events which brought forth an abundance of blessings.
Learning that the Archdiocese of Detroit was selling the nearby St. Joseph’s Church, which had several buildings, Boone embarked on a “Miracle on 2nd Street” fundraising campaign. Supporters raised over $ 320,000 purchase the property in 2016, which paved the way for upgrading the shelter as well as expanding or creating initiatives under the umbrella of Oaks Village.
Today the shelter has 75 beds, with separate floors for men, women and families. Clients are offered help finding housing, recovering from drug addiction and more.
Among them is Eric Uselton, who recently moved there after meeting Britton Boone on the job. He said he lived in a motel in Detroit and spent hundreds of dollars a day on drug addiction.
This month, Uselton marked 35 days of abstinence. Before heading back to a bunk bed one recent night after volunteering to install spotlights outside, he praised the Boones and their work which he calls transformative.
“If I had stayed where I was, I would have ended up in jail or dead,” Uselton said. “They have their hearts in the right place and they do it for the right reasons. They don’t do it to get credit or anything like that. They do it because they are Christians and want to help.
News of this aid regularly draws hundreds of visitors to the mostly volunteer-run “campus” as well as numerous partnerships.
Boone has seen a growing need since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US Census Bureau estimates that 9.7% of Monroe County residents live in poverty. According to the website of the national network of food banks Feeding America, the county has a food insecurity rate of about 11.9%.
Boone estimates that Oaks Village, which has an emergency pantry, summer lunch cafe and soup kitchen, serves up to 10,000 meals each year.
The donated items come from supporters such as David Voggenreiter, 16, who arrived with his father on Monday to unload canned goods, bread and other items.
The Monroe County Middle College student discovered the site while preparing for a civic engagement project and immediately decided to contribute. “It feels good to be able to help people,” Voggenreiter said.
This is the objective of the association, which also has a “clothes closet” full of accessories, toiletries and free household items as well as a free health clinic which has opened its doors. doors in 2019.
The clinic is run by medical staff from the ProMedica health system and dedicated volunteers such as Sandy Libstorff, a retired registered nurse who first met Boone after helping deliver a patient living at the homeless shelter. -shelter.
Much of their work is now focused on COVID-19 testing, Libstorff said, as well as on patients who “have had bad experiences with mainstream medical care and are suspicious”.
Noting that some patients have reported diabetes or high blood pressure and cholesterol without any transportation to reach fresh food, Boone and his team worked to acquire an old party store shortly before Christmas 2020 and turn it into one. neighborhood market with fresh produce.
Village Market opened this year through a partnership with Meijer, which supplies the products.
“Pastor Boone’s unique approach to bringing fresh food to an underserved community was compelling to us, and something we were delighted to support,” said Frank Guglielmi, senior director of corporate communications at Meijer.
The store participates in a state program that allows EBT / Bridge card users to ‘double’ their fruit and vegetable purchases and is a partner in the special federally funded supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children. children. He also owns a cosmetics business, tutoring space, and products from a local independent dairy.
All of this “means access to the community,” Boone said as he stood in an aisle wearing a black shirt emblazoned with the words “Be kind.”
“We understand that we don’t have everything because we are still a very small store. But when you don’t have transportation, you can get the things you need.
Recognizing a need for some residents of the shelter and others in the neighborhood looking for work sparked another business. Acorn Children’s Village, which opened last year in a donated building renovated through an Art Van charity challenge that raised over $ 50,000, offers free, low-cost child care for children. children up to 5 years old.
It’s licensed for over 30 kids who “love to learn and grow with us,” said Becky McCollum-McCrea, who helped start the installation and working on it.
The longtime educator argues that the long waitlist for his classrooms is a testament to the community’s need and Boone’s vision.
“She has a genuine love for people, and I’ve seen miracles happen because of her,” McCollum-McCrea said. “In my entire life of involvement in the church, I have never seen anything like this happen. I just feel like God is giving him ideas on what is needed or what to do and before long it will come true.
This prompted Libstorff to nominate Boone to the USA Today competition, which recognizes “everyday people who have demonstrated the highest level of kindness, compassion and persistence,” her website said.
His nomination joined more than 600 others before an advisory committee selected the finalists and 72,000 votes were cast to determine the 11 winners.
In a ceremony broadcast live this month to announce the winners, NBC personality Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of former President George W. Bush, described Boone as “living a life of service.”
The accolade underscores the commitment of a pastor who is known to donate bedding if someone else needs it, Libstorff said. “She has dedicated her whole life to helping people. She is an incredible woman.
Tucker acknowledged his support for helping him quit drugs, embrace spirituality, and become a homeowner. “My fall has become a rise,” he said.
Kellie Vining, a member of Monroe City Council whose precinct includes the non-profit organization, said that “her generous spirit has rubbed off on a lot of people. She has a true pastor’s heart.”
Boone is now focused on the future. Amid her daily watch and long hours meeting with residents, she hopes to find support for a program to build affordable housing on plots near the market.
With her businesses making headlines, she gets calls from across the country to repeat the success.
“There is a role model we can give them,” Boone said. “It has been amazing because we want to be successful and multiply. “