The Power of Testimony

In 2016, I published my story of building Moore Place, Charlotte’s first Housing First apartment complex for the chronically homeless and all the God Moments that had transpired to make it a reality. Publishing The Hundred Story Home was another act of faith, following a whisper to Write it down. It felt important to say and to share what had happened. The whole project and all those who helped—we were all part of something much bigger.

I could not be certain, but it felt like the whisper to write it down was part of something much bigger as well. Maybe there were other people hearing whispers to Do something they felt unqualified for. If they read The Hundred Story Home, maybe it could help give them courage to follow their whisper. I kept telling myself there were surely at least ten people out there who were hearing their own whispers, so my book needed to find its way to those ten readers.

Months before, a church director of outreach and missions had pressed a copy of The Hundred Story Home into Caroline Bundy’s hands and told her, “You have to read this.”

As it turned out, Caroline really did. She had been hearing her own whisper for quite a while. One that was inconvenient, unexpected, and uncomfortable. While her day job was as the development director for a nonprofit called AIDS Alabama, Caroline’s whisper was not directly related to her career. What broke Caroline’s heart was the complicated problem of runaway teens trapped in sex trafficking.

Caroline and I met for breakfast, and I learned her story. She grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, the youngest of four children, but she had been raised more like an only child because her siblings were so much older. Even when she was young, Caroline knew the problem of homelessness bothered her in a way that felt different from her friends.

“At Halloween, when kids would dress up as ‘hobos,’ all dirty with a bandanna on a stick, I didn’t like it,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t right, and I felt sorry for those men who jumped trains and slept in the woods.”

Growing up, Caroline was never sure what she wanted to be. “My mom always said I would be a good lawyer because I loved to argue!” she told me.

But after graduating from the University of Alabama with a BA in communications, Caroline still felt her path was unclear. She described what she called her “broken road,” a long series of jobs that led her to where she was now. She’d found her way into the nonprofit world first as the program director for the YMCA in Birmingham and then through raising money for AIDS Alabama.

It was at that nonprofit, working with a colleague on a program called the Ascension Project, that she first began to understand the needs of young adults experiencing homelessness and heard a whisper to Do something about it

“I feel crazy,” she told me. “This idea just won’t leave me, but I don’t know how I could possibly do it.”

Caroline’s insistent whisper was not exactly about housing; it was about runaway teens.

“They come on the bus to Birmingham from all over Alabama to escape bad situations at home, but they know no one,” she told me. “The traffickers prey on these kids by offering them help, but they are just trapping them. Within hours after arriving at the bus station, these poor kids are lost into the sex trafficking system.”

She rolled off some statistics about the need, and I could tell Caroline had been studying the problem. These young adults needed so many things to create stable lives: housing skills, job skills, financial literacy. She had so much empathy for these kids who left what they knew for the dream of something better yet ended up in a nightmare.

“If you don’t have love and support at home, how in the world do you ever get past that?” Caroline said. She had deep admiration for the teens finding the courage to overcome unsupportive and traumatic childhoods.

“What I keep thinking about is that the solution is so easy,” she said. “We just need to put a shelter with services for these teens right next to that bus station. If we did that, then we would be the first people these kids meet, not those sex traffickers.”

Caroline’s idea was so brilliantly simple, yet, at the same time, so complex. Her idea would require a lot of time, money, and community support to make it happen.

“I even have the name for it,” Caroline said. “It would be called ‘The Way Station.’”

By the time she told me all this over breakfast, it turned out she’d already written two grants asking for money for the Way Station and had received both of them. Now she had an idea and some funding, but there was still a long road ahead. When she was given The Hundred Story Home, Caroline felt like it was the God Moment she needed to listen to her own whisper.

After a long “broken road,” Caroline was finally becoming exactly who she was meant to be and beginning the project she was born to do. Over the next few months, we emailed several times, and Caroline kept me updated on her progress. It was a bigger task than she had imagined.

“If I had known what it was going to grow to be, I am not sure I would have done it,” Caroline admitted to me later.

In order to fully serve the young adults who needed help, the Way Station would grow to become a 15,000-square-foot building with room for forty, including an emergency shelter and longer-term transitional housing. It would also be a 24/7 operation with three eight-hour shifts of employees providing counseling and life skills as well as three meals a day. It was going to be much more complicated than a “simple solution,” yet at the same time it was simple. These kids needed help, and someone needed to care enough to help them. Caroline Bundy became that someone.

It took more than six years to raise the necessary $4.2 million and work through the development, construction, and licensing hurdles. The global pandemic would delay progress for almost two years, but Caroline Bundy finally helped cut the red ribbon on her whisper in 2022. More than three hundred donors had helped fund the Way Station, and the mayor showed up to deliver remarks at the grand opening. Caroline remembers pure elation from that day and saying over and over to herself in amazement, We did it!

It was dark by the time all the invited guests left, and after Caroline finished cleaning up from the ceremony, she collapsed into a lounge chair in the courtyard of the Way Station. She looked up at the stars above her, shining as if in a celestial celebration of her long journey. So many times over the past six years she had wondered if they would make it or if she was losing her mind to think she could do this.

That heavenly sky felt like confirmation that Caroline had never lost anything. Her whisper had been the beginning of being holy found, and I am grateful that The Hundred Story Home was the catalyst.

Excerpted from Trust the Whisper by Kathy Izard. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2024. Used by permission.

Kathy Izard
Kathy Izard

Kathy Izard is an award-winning author, a national speaker and retreat leader, and an advocate for housing and mental health services in Charlotte, North Carolina. She co-led the citywide effort to build Moore Place, Charlotte’s first permanent, supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness, and was instrumental in establishing HopeWay, Charlotte’s first residential mental health treatment center. She wrote about her efforts in her memoir The Hundred Story Home, which received a 2017 Christopher Award for inspirational nonfiction.