Caring for people and watching God work

“Very rewarding.” “Life changing.” “Worth everything.” 

These are just some of the phrases Candy Stephens uses to describe the friends, fulfillment and fun she’s discovered as a volunteer at StreetWise. 

Mother, grandmother to 13 and great grandmother to five, Candy retired seven years ago at age 73. After only a few months, she came to StreetWise to volunteer and has never left.

Having done a little of nearly everything at StreetWise, Candy started as a greeter and then moved into doing whatever was needed, from office work and mailers to answering the phone and scheduling appointments to putting eggs in cartons and cans on shelves to all sorts of work in the clothing room. 

Now, she’s settled in as a client advisor — a role she didn’t feel equipped to do at first. 

“I had the opportunity to be trained as a client advisor, but I never had any inclination that I could do it. I thought I’d just take the class, but then I thought, maybe this is where God is leading me,” Candy said. “The first time I counseled, I remember being so nervous thinking, ‘How do I talk to these people? What do I say?’ But it was so easy, because God wanted me there. Now, that’s what I’ve been doing for about the last five and a half years, and it’s so fulfilling. I can’t imagine not doing this.”

Candy with best friend, and fellow StreetWise volunteer, Sally

The only time Candy has ever taken a step back from volunteering was due to severe illness. After contracting COVID-19, Candy suffered a heart attack and had to have quadruple bypass surgery. While she fought to regain her health, Candy’s StreetWise family came through to keep her company and to encourage her. 

“After my surgery, a group of girls from StreetWise came out to see me. One of them who has a beautiful voice sang me a song, and they brought me goodies and love and prayers. We just had a wonderful time being together. The people that I’ve met here at StreetWise and become friends with — it’s worth everything to me,” she said.

Candy has left her mark on StreetWise in a special way, compiling a bundle of resources that can be shared with clients for help beyond StreetWise’s facilities. The packet is used in the advisement office and contains a list of places clients can go for medical care and supplies, dental care, insulin, additional food pantries, places for help paying bills and more.

“Every time I’m at StreetWise, I meet somebody different and wonderful and fascinating. These are just some fabulous people that are so down on their luck. They’ve been wounded,” she said. 

“Some of the women that come will say things to me like ‘I love coming here, because I can talk to you.’ And we don’t judge them; we just listen. We have wonderful prayers with them, and they’ll just cry because they’re so thankful and grateful to be able to unload in that way.”

Candy has seen countless individuals throughout the years she’s been at StreetWise. But the one thing has consistently proven to break through people’s walls? Love.

“We can’t do everything, but everybody [who volunteers] is here because they want to be. StreetWise is an incredibly loving place, and whatever your problem is, we’re going to try to help you – whatever your ethnicity, race, religion, etc.,” Candy said. 

“We’re a Christian organization, and we’re always going to talk about God and about Christ. But we’re also going to do everything we can to help. With people having to pay so much more for food right now, we’ll make sure you leave here with good food for your family, and with love, too.

“By just loving on these people… when someone weeps on your shoulder, you know you’ve helped them in a way that somebody else couldn’t, didn’t want to, or didn’t think of. 

Candy has the chance to see God work very directly in the lives of StreetWise clients, reminding them of his love and care for each individual. 

“Awhile back, this beautiful young girl with a little daughter had lost her job three months earlier. And when she finally came to get groceries for the first time, she was about to lose her apartment,” Candy said. “She’d applied to work at all of these different companies, but nobody had called her back. She was just desperate. 

“I said, ‘Let’s just pray about that right now.’ I prayed to the Lord that He’d loosen up the applications and cause hers to come to the top of the pile, because she desperately needed a job, and we know He’s a God who answers people in their desperation. 

“She walked out of my office, got into the hallway and her phone rang – it was one of the places that she had filled out an application with. And they said they’d like to hire her and asked her to come in the next day. 

“The blessings far exceed anything you give up to come here. If you really want to know God and know how He works, just volunteer here at StreetWise and you will be blown away – just amazed.”