The Daily Memphian: Ms. Jean lived on a corner outdoors, providing a gift to her neighborhood

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The Daily Memphian: Ms. Jean lived on a corner outdoors, providing a gift to her neighborhood

Featured in The Daily Memphian

By Sally Jones Heinz

When we spot a homeless person on the street, we most likely see ourselves as the potential benefactor, or not. We almost automatically register a dichotomy: have/have-not, blessed/not blessed, productive/not productive.

But a recent event in Memphis turns that whole way of thinking around.

Dorothy Giles Stansbury, known only to the neighbors near Park and Mt. Moriah as Ms. Jean, lived on that corner for three years, and, when neighbors offered her help or shelter, she almost always quietly refused.

But, almost as if by a magnetic force, people in the neighborhood were drawn to her. The few gifts she would accept – an occasional hamburger, a blanket or a bag of cherries – were small. But the gift she gave was enormous: She activated compassion in a group of people, and drew them closer together as neighbors.

After she was struck by a car while crossing the street on the night of May 18, Rev. Richard Cortese of nearby Holy Rosary Catholic Church was able to see her in the hospital and perform a final blessing before she died. The “family” that she had created simply by being herself attended her funeral on June 12, and an anonymous donor has given funds to pay for her burial.

This incident provides a meaningful context for a significant series of events that MIFA is presenting to deepen our community’s understanding of homelessness and to show the transformational possibilities when we are willing to enter into personal engagement with homeless people.

First, we are sponsoring a community-wide read of "The Hundred Story Home" by Kathy Izard, already underway. In the course of volunteering and fundraising for a soup kitchen, Izard met formerly homeless author Denver Moore, who challenged her to do more: “Where are the beds?” he asked.

With no training, but with a heart that had longed for deeper meaning in her life, she began a process which resulted in the construction of homes for 100 chronically homeless people in Charlotte, North Carolina. As she entered the lives of these people and opened herself up to their vulnerabilities and her own, the us/them dichotomies melted away, transforming for her the potential of home and family as she invited them into her life.

We at MIFA urge you to read her story, compelling in both her practical accomplishments and her inner transformation. 

In September, Kathy will be in Memphis for two events: Homelessness Here and Now, a forum about homelessness with a panel of local experts (Sept. 10); and MIFA’s Do Good, Love Well Luncheon (Sept. 11), when she will share her personal journey. (Find more information here.) 

As MIFA begins its second 50 years of service and building community, we find that these words from Kathy Izard resonate with the spirit of our founders:

"Once I started trusting that there was something bigger than me going on, it was much easier to find the people who were also drawn to this cause. I definitely now believe that those whispers we want to ignore are our best guides for living life."

Posted by Ellen Whitten at 10:21 AM