Tell me something about your early years. My Mom was married 8 times, had multiple affairs and birthed a whole lot of babies. I think only 2 of us survived. She gave birth to me in 1967 at the General Hospital downtown. It was a charitable hospital and free to the black community I was born into. I was the only white face in a sea of black babies on the ward! My mom had a lot of problems and her younger sister, my Aunt, adopted me. My adopted Mom eventually married but her first husband left us so, we were on our own for a while. Then she married my step-dad and they’ve been together for over 40 years. They had a baby born with Downs-Syndrome—my sister—but of course, she’s my cousin really! She’s 10 years younger than me and she’s very cool!

I’ve lived along the Troost corridor all my life. Either on the east of Troost with people of color or, on the west with mostly white folk. The color of people’s skin doesn’t matter to me. I’m not just a white person, I’m a person who cares for the people in my community whether they are black or white.

How did you hear about RS? I first heard of RS back in the early 90’s. I had met a kid who was homeless and I didn’t know what to do with him. I was in my 20’s and I didn’t have a way to help him. I’d heard through my church that RS would take in homeless folk so, I brought him down to RS and Fr. Alexii (David) Altschul, took him in. Years later Fr. Alexii and my wife Jennifer met at UMKC. They were both studying for their Masters in Social Work and they became good friends. Jennifer became a licensed clinical social worker and volunteered with RS for a few years. She now works for Truman Medical Center but keeps connected to the work in different ways. 

Tell me about your career. I received my Bachelors in Interior Design from Park College. It took 10 years for me to finish because I needed to work too. I also studied to become a Master Carpenter. I’ve owned my own company—Modern Renaissance—for 10 years. I design and build whatever people want. It’s a lot of fun! I get a lot of great projects and I love what I do. 

Recently Fr. Justin needed a contractor to re-model the RS Cafe. They had a minimal budget and a stellar vision to create a great space for the community at 31st and Troost. So, we got creative together. We carefully took everything down and re-purposed a lot of the materials to repair the floors and the walls. Donated kitchen cabinets and granite were re-purposed to become the front of house reception and a place to order coffee. Nothing was wasted or thrown away that we could re-use. There are computer bars, booths and tables for people to meet with friends, drink coffee and connect to free Wi-Fi.  We installed meeting pods for case management to give privacy and dignity to clients. 

These pods are made out of stacked hollow doors, the offcuts were used to make desks. Ceilings have been repaired and painted and new lighting installed. The Community Capital Fund (CCF) supported the vision and local businesses donated and played a part too. The church, RS staff, friends, families, volunteers all worked long hours late into the night to transform the space. It’s a new beginning for the community that RS serves. It was a privilege to be a part of working with the team. I was changed by working here. 

Can you say more about that? Yeah. I think it was the attitude of the people – it was sweet. People working together for something greater than themselves. There was a lot of joy and laughter. I received a lot more than I gave, that’s all I can say.

You were born into this community and you’ve chosen to remain connected to your roots. What’s the one thing you’ve learned that you want to share with others? People are basically all the same. We all want and need the same things in life. We need each other and each of us has something to give and to share with others. Gratitude for the gifts we receive from God is best expressed in giving to others!

Read more stories of courage from Troost
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Story: Lyn Morse-Brown
Photos: Tom Morse-Brown