Empowering people in their own community to help create true life change

Sometimes you just need a little help to get going again. 

And thanks to StreetWise cofounders Terry and Pat Powell, StreetWise was formed to do just that for people in Atlanta, shifting over time to serve Gwinnett and surrounding counties.

Terry’s passing at the beginning of 2020 left behind a legacy that is dear to dozens of StreetWise volunteers, including his niece Kerry Gragg. 

“Being hit with COVID and the loss of my uncle at nearly the same time changed things,” Kerry said. “But Tracy [StreetWise’s current executive director] has some incredible visions, and I can’t wait to see what transpires.”

The mission of StreetWise, despite the last several years of change, has remained the same. And Kerry is proud to be a part of it and encourages others to join her.

“I’ve created this partnership with [StreetWise and] my own church, and a lot of the youth from my church now volunteer at StreetWise,” she said. 

And for kids in low-income families, seeing peers volunteering to help them is something Kerry has noticed really makes an impact.

“In some kids’ hearts, maybe they expect adults to do something special,” Kerry said. “But to see kids around their age [serving them] – I think that’s really touching to those kids.”

With so many avenues to serve the community – and so many needs to be met – StreetWise staff and volunteers often reevaluate and remind themselves of the “why” behind what they do.

“My uncle never wanted StreetWise to be a handout; he always wanted it to be a hand up. So we kind of create a mission statement every time we do something,” Kerry said. 

“Asking ‘Why are we doing this?’ seems like such an obvious question, but it’s not. [At our backpack event] we want to supply kids with backpacks and supplies, but that’s also our avenue to serve families as part of the bigger picture and show them the love of Jesus.

“We can and do give people bread, but we really want them to have the true living bread – the Gospel.”

Kerry believes there’s something special about StreetWise.

“To drive by or see us in the parking lot giving away food, StreetWise probably wouldn’t look that different [from other food pantries] to you. But there are so many people who, just sitting there in the car – their hearts are broken. They cry and talk to us, and they get prayed for.” 

Recently, Kerry had the opportunity to meet someone with a unique connection to her late uncle that perfectly shows the heart of StreetWise. 

“A young man recently visited and showed us a photo of him around age 8. It was him with my uncle, and they’re hugging each other. He told us he was in a bad place [growing up] and that my aunt and uncle had just treated him like he was their child,” she said. 

“He told us what an impact that had on him and that he wanted people to know how much my aunt and uncle had done in his life. He’s started a pressure washing business to help keep young people off the streets and pay it back to others. And I just teared up, because that’s the heart of StreetWise. 

Kerry’s dreams for StreetWise’s future involve not just serving more but serving even better, too.

“I know we have numbers for how many people have come to Christ and whose lives we’ve seen change. And of course we want to see more lives changed, but the bottom line is that Jesus went back for the one,” she said. “I want to see more intimate involvement with our clients; whatever that might look like. 

“My aunt used to have Bible studies with clients, and I’d love to see Bible studies created and led by StreetWise, disciples made, and then those Bible studies led by clients themselves.” 

As Kerry has seen firsthand, it’s the people who rise above difficult circumstances who can make the biggest impact on others in that same position.

“My family goes on mission trips to Cherokee, N.C. And you usually start off thinking ‘I want to change things up there’, but it’s the people in the community who can really change it. It’s about empowering the people in their own community,” Kerry said. “I want our clients to encourage each other and create a community for which we provide the resources, to serve as a rock for them.”

She’s experienced the joy of seeing thousands of lives touched by the kind words, fresh food and prayers StreetWise offers. But Kerry is also grateful for the way volunteering has changed her life for the better.

“I’m a very passionate, all in, big-picture-focused person. I don’t know if I could say before [serving at] StreetWise that I could see God as much as I wanted to in the small things.

“At Easter, we had a family come through in a huge van, and as we handed them their Easter baskets, we saw there were more kids than baskets they’d registered for. Not only that, but this needy family with seven kids had also taken in two Ukrainian refugee families,” she said.

“We got baskets for everybody, got them diapers, and we’ve called to say that we’re praying for them. That [situation] was so powerful to me.

“ I think StreetWise [helps you see] the power of the small stuff.”