Carrying on the family legacy: loving God and loving people

She’s got a long history with StreetWise, and an even longer history with its founders.

Kerry Gragg, Terry and Pat Powell’s niece, has been serving at StreetWise with her husband and three boys since the grand opening of its current location about five years ago.

And for her, the mission of StreetWise is very personal.

“I miss my uncle tremendously; to have known him is to understand what StreetWise is all about,” she said. “His heart was just huge – for Christ and for people – and I want to carry on that legacy. I want people to see that love in me and in StreetWise.”

Kerry and her family started out as the ones who did whatever job needed to be done. 

“I was desperate for my family to live lives of service; not only doing service projects [here and there], but something consistent and service-minded. I was also looking for service opportunities for our homeschool group,” she said.

“After COVID, my family really dove into serving at StreetWise,” she said. “We try to help [where there aren’t as many volunteers]. My boys fill the need of loading up cars; it’s a heavy job. 

The StreetWise Market has become a special ministry – both to Kerry and to StreetWise’s clients – especially after reopening from being closed during the peak of COVID. Through the Market, Kerry believes she’s clearly seen God show up and, in doing so, displays His care for each individual client.

“[In the market], our clients get to do ‘dignity shopping’; they aren’t just handed items; they get to come in and choose what they want. And there have been so many cool moments – like a woman whose son’s birthday was coming up who was able to get decorating icing.

“[Another] lady was desperate for dog food, and I told her we were out but that I’d go back to the warehouse to check one more time,” she said. “I found a big bag of dog food, and when I brought it out to her, she said ‘Oh my goodness, that’s even the brand that I always get!’ 

Bonding over shared experiences has also been a means of encouragement to StreetWise’s clients.

“I’ve been able to see the joy of clients interacting with each other, where they overhear what one is going through [and realize] ‘I’m not alone’,” she said. “One woman was telling me her life story, and another woman overheard. They had such similar stories and the two of them just stood there and talked and were so encouraged by it. 

“Or the next week: there was a large, older black man who’d served in the armed services and a thin, ginger, white man. The latter saluted and thanked him for his service, and they shook hands and just started talking about their lives. That’s something I wish others could see. People cross [dividing] boundaries; people connecting at StreetWise.”

Along with regularly serving in the Market, Kerry also became the Events Coordinator within a year of starting as a volunteer at StreetWise.

“It takes three months to plan a holiday or special event, so I get started coordinating the next one right after one finishes. Bonnie [StreetWise’s volunteer coordinator] and I have already discussed Christmas,” Kerry laughed. “I basically coordinate the whole ‘package’ and what we want each event to look like.

“Whatever items are donated have to be sorted, wrapped, stuffed into a backpack, or put into an Easter basket – plus a blessing bag for each family. We have to streamline both volunteers and donors to figure out how best to share the Gospel with our clients. And our events are always morphing, as we look at how we can serve better.”

Kerry’s favorite part of her role? Getting to make special moments for kids.

“I’m all about the kids. That’s the joy I feel like I’m blessed with, being in charge of these events. I can ask kids ‘What’s your favorite animal?’ and go to my stash and find one specifically for them.

But even without asking, Kerry has often encountered little “coincidences” of just the right blessing coming to just the right person.

“We gave one little girl at Christmas a stuffed unicorn, and her mom said ‘Oh my goodness, she loves unicorns; she’s wanted a unicorn forever!’ At another [event], we had just a few stuffed animals that were matched up with books, and the mom of the kids who received them told us her kids had been wanting books,” she said. “There’s also a little boy with Down syndrome whose family [has come to StreetWise several times], and I’ve always been able to find a sensory toy for him.”

One of StreetWise’s biggest events is coming up: the Back-to-School Backpack and Clothing event. Every year, families in need with school-aged children can come and get backpacks filled with school supplies – but it’s much more than that.

“Last year, when one family’s children got their backpacks and went in to get their clothes, those three little kids promptly put their backpacks on – and they were not about to take them off. It was special, and it was theirs; they were proud of it,” Kerry said.

“We also want to give our clients a little extra, and that was the thinking behind having the clothing, just helping to eliminate more stress for them. This year, we’ll also have our prayer warriors that pray for these families and their kids as they go back to school.”

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