Looking back on 2021 and ahead to the future

Most people would agree that 2020 was a tough year. But for StreetWise and the clients we serve, it was a particularly hard one because of the loss of Terry Powell, the beloved co-founder of StreetWise, to cancer.

“Terry was amazing at engaging with others,” said current Executive Director Tracy Joseph. “[When I began getting involved with StreetWise in 2016], I was struggling, and I believe Terry was put in my life to help.”

Since 1998, when Terry and Pat Powell started StreetWise, the focus has always been on helping people. In the early days, they ministered in inner-city Atlanta, where they built extensive resource programs, mainly in the government housing communities. The StreetWise bus, loaded with food and clothing, always drew a crowd. Not only would they provide needed essentials, but they also shared the Gospel with the families through Bible studies and small groups. Over time, as the city dismantled the housing projects and people moved into the suburbs, StreetWise moved with them, eventually landing in Lawrenceville and continuing to grow.

Fast forward to 2020. Not only did StreetWise lose its co-founder, it also was hit by a pandemic. God kept working, though, and StreetWise continued to serve and help those in need. By the end of 2020, a new executive director was ready to take the lead.

“I had been on the board of directors, and, before he passed, Terry had been encouraging me to consider the executive director position,” Tracy said. “I was hesitant at first but felt like the Lord was pressing me to step out in faith and say ‘yes’.

“I’ve seen a lot of places [in my past] where God prepared me for the role, I’m in now as executive director: from my time as a professional musician to an architect to even having experienced homelessness myself.

“For example, through working in architecture, God developed in me an eye for finding alternate uses and solutions for retaining the value of things. That translates well into running an organization and interacting with many people, because a building – like people – may be broken, but it can be restored.” 

In moving from a state of mere survival to stability to a new vision for the future, StreetWise emerged from this difficult season ready to continue the work its founders began. And in looking back on it now, Tracy describes 2021 as a year of stabilization.

“We never wavered that God was God and would provide and that StreetWise would make it. We were so unified,” Tracy said. “And while challenges exposed some of StreetWise’s weaknesses, we’ve also clearly seen its strong foundations: in faith, in Christ, in hope, in the belief that we can do something different, and that God is involved with us.”

Not only has StreetWise emerged with a renewed sense of purpose and direction, but goals have emerged as the staff and volunteers have seen God show up when and where it’s been needed.

“One of our goals is to make our methods consistent so they know our beliefs and vision and what we do to help people. And since we’re a ministry serving body, soul, and spirit, we have to teach people how to ‘fish’,” Tracy said.

Tangibly, this looks like expanding StreetWise’s programs to include more robust resources – classes on cooking, financial literacy, mental health, and more – to connect with people right where they are and help them change their position in life and establish true self-sufficiency.

Along with digging deeper internally, StreetWise’s leadership wants to see the organization become both an influence and resource for other nonprofits in the area and a beacon of hope across the region. 

And thanks to the amazing volunteers and staff, StreetWise is well positioned to do just that. 

It was a blessing to start seeing clients again, even without all of our services available like before Covid,” said StreetWise client advisor, Nora Martin. “[We] advisors are getting to meet with clients again to get to know them, better meet their needs, and provide Biblical advice that is encouraging and sustaining. 

“We hope to be able to continue serving more clients during the week in 2022 as the Lord continues to provide a bounty to share with those in need.”