From Gwinnett County to Mongolia: living a life of service

She’s passionate about loving on and showing people their value. And ever since a friend from church introduced her to StreetWise in May 2020, Deborah Fenton has been doing just that as a volunteer at StreetWise.

“When I started, I mainly loaded items into cars and helped on Friday pack days for our Mobile Food Pantries. But after being there awhile, the lady who told me about StreetWise asked if I’d be willing to help check our clients in and pray with them,” Deborah said. “I agreed, was trained, and ended up out there one or two days a week.”

Deborah has found volunteering fulfilling for several reasons.

“I love two different aspects: Really getting to know some of our clients and working alongside the other volunteers,” she said. “There are several ladies [StreetWise clients] who have really opened up and shared very hard things with me, and I’m so humbled and honored that they’d share a piece of their lives with me. It’s been such a joy to come alongside them, pray with them, cry with them, and laugh with them. 

“The [other StreetWise volunteers] are so much fun, and I’ve so enjoyed getting to know them. These are people who have such big hearts, and they make me feel so welcome and loved.”

Over the last couple of years, Deborah has had many impactful encounters with clients. But one in particular stands out to her.

“The first two times this woman came to StreetWise, when I asked how I could pray for her, she just burst into tears. So I prayed with her, and she left. Her crying and inability to express what she was going through absolutely broke my heart,” Deborah said. 

“A couple months later, she came again, and I recognized her immediately. This time, when I asked her how I could pray for her, she was still tearful but was able to thank me. I’d been thinking about her constantly and, on an impulse, I asked if she’d feel comfortable giving me her phone number and that if she needed to talk, she could call me. 

“We talked twice, and the second time, she really opened up and shared everything she’d been dealing with. It made me so sad, but I was so thankful for the time we talked. Our paths crossed a couple more times at StreetWise, but recently, she came with her daughter and told me they were moving. 

“It was precious to be able to see her smile and in a much better place. Her daughter even gave me a beautiful bracelet she’d made. What beautiful people I’ve come in contact with and how thankful I am to God for these friendships!”

When she’s not volunteering, Deborah enjoys reading books on theology, Christian living, and biographies; cooking and baking; playing games and chatting with family and friends; and jogging to get fresh air, relieve stress and talk to God.

She also works for an organization that sends teachers to countries in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East and is herself preparing to move to a small city in western Mongolia to serve as an English teacher. 

Here at home, Deborah has seen the change a simple hand up can make in the lives of people across Gwinnett. And she believes that the volunteers and donors aren’t the only driving force behind this change.

“I know that the food and prayers going out are making a difference in people’s lives, but [ultimately] they’re being changed and encouraged by Jesus working through StreetWise.”

The future she wishes for StreetWise and its clients goes far beyond the here and now.

“My dream for StreetWise is that 1. we’d see more and more people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and 2. they’d truly come to a place where they don’t need to come to StreetWise any longer,” she said. 

Admittedly, volunteering isn’t always easy. After all, there’s no shortage of ways to spend time. But for those desiring to see lives changed for the better, Deborah believes sacrifices made are always worth it. 

“Volunteering at StreetWise is such a humbling experience. Staff, volunteers and our clients are all being touched by God,” she said. “It’s so easy to walk in with the idea that we’re helping and blessing people, but what I’ve come to realize is that we all have stories. We all have so much to learn from each other.

“I highly recommend to those who want to experience the joy of sharing God’s love with others, and are willing to open up to others: come and volunteer at StreetWise.

“You will get hot and sweaty volunteering here. You will get cold and wet. But all of that is so worth it.”