StreetWise adapts to changing times & changing lives

From corporate careers to clown costumes, Terry and Pat Powell of StreetWise Georgia have pretty much done it all.

Married in 1980, both husband and wife had a bright future in already successful vocations. With Terry as security manager for Lord and Taylor and Pat as operations director for Godiva Chocolatier, the couple worked hard and made a good life for themselves. More than a good life and physical comfort, however, they wanted to be used of God and love Him with their lives.

“I had the strong impression that God had a different plan for us,” Terry recounts. “I prayed for many months that we would be able to step into that plan, whatever it looked like.”

This period of prayer and waiting was also marked by an active willingness to serve. Soon the couple became involved with ministry through their church in Norcross. Each week, they would travel to Perry Homes, a low-income housing development in Atlanta, and bus residents back and forth for Sunday service.

“I just lived for the weekend,” Pat says, “because it was so great to see people come to Christ.”

Before long, Terry and Pat started holding chapel services right on the bus. They poured into the families they served as they listened, loved and discipled. These small steps of obedience were good training for the great leap of faith that was coming.

“I would advise anyone seeking a major life-change to consistently pray about their circumstances and then find a place to plug-in and serve,” said Terry. “You’ll be amazed at the doors that can open whenever you are willing to sacrifice a little bit of time and ability.”

In 1988, one door seemingly closed when Terry’s position was accidentally eliminated due to downsizing. By the time his employers realized the mistake, he had already taken the change as divine confirmation to move forward and enter into full-time ministry.

Within a few months, Pat was able to transition out of her job as well.

“Terry left his job with nothing in savings, no stocks or bonds,” Pat laughs honestly. “My car, my computer, everything belonged to the company. One person told us, ‘You’re going to be standing in food lines with the very people you’re trying to feed!’ If God said to do it, though, He’s going to be faithful. He’s not going to punish you for doing what He asked you to do.”

Several times a week, the couple began going to Perry Homes dressed as Baskin ‘n’ Sonshine, the evangelistic clown duo they had developed. Though the area’s crime rate was high, Pat candidly explains that their costumes somehow leveled the ground.

“I’d never heard of any clown being shot in the inner city!” she quips.

Trading in business attire for painted faces and over-sized shoes, the pair brought messages of faith and hope to children who had never seen such characters up close. Before long, parents started coming to see them too.

“At first, they just wanted to see what their children were talking about,” said Terry. “Then we introduced the clothing bus, so they would come to pick out clothes. After a while, they were coming just to learn about the Lord and to be in an environment that they knew was good and safe.”

After a short while, the summer months hit and changed the Powells’ plan for ministry.

“We clowned in Perry Homes and in another housing development for a couple of months, but then it just got too hot for all those layers of clothing and makeup,” Terry says. “When we stopped, we were concerned about how they would respond, but just a few kids even asked where the clowns were.”

Eventually, the ministry expanded to serve Bowen Homes, another government housing project in downtown Atlanta. With church services, Bible studies and their clothing bus, Terry and Pat developed deep friendships and a reputation of reliability.

The housing market proved less reliable, however. Perry Homes was dismantled in 2007, and Bowen Homes followed suit in 2008. Quite suddenly, the families who had lived there were abruptly scattered throughout the metro Atlanta area.

“We were devastated,” Pat remembers. “We felt like we were being so productive, and then the rug got pulled out from under us. We had said no to a lot of offers in order to be there. One church had offered us a $500,000 television studio to produce children’s videos, but we turned it down because we thought we were supposed to be where we were. In the end, though, God just knew what was best for the next season of our lives.”

Instead of throwing in the towel, Pat and Terry prayed for a building that would allow them to continue their ministry. If they could no longer take help to the families with whom they had built relationships, they wanted families to find them in one easily accessible location.

“One day, pretty much out of the blue, I received a phone call from a gentleman that we knew,” said Terry.  “He said he felt led to buy us a building, and then he paid for the whole thing. It was definitely an unexpected blessing.”

Now situated on Cedars Road in Lawrenceville, with a secondary location in Auburn, StreetWise serves up to 66 families on a given week through regular benevolence appointments. Families who visit receive clothing, household items and approximately 170 lbs. of food, as well as spiritual, emotional and financial counseling.

“We don’t just want to pass out food,” said Terry. “We want to help with practical needs, of course, but we also want to give out hope and light that lasts long after the groceries are gone. Only Jesus can change a life.”

In addition to weekly appointments, monthly and annual events allow StreetWise to meet more unique and particular client needs. By partnering with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the organization hosts its monthly Mobile Food Pantry, which provides roughly 200 families with produce, meat and canned goods. Additional events provide annual aid with prom attire, school supplies, Christmas gifts and an eclectic variety of other items that any family in crisis might have a hard time obtaining.

Since moving to Lawrenceville, Terry and Pat have likely served about 30,000 families. Their adventure in obedience has taken many twists, turns and unexpected paths, but God has been faithful. Ask either Powell, and he or she would tell you the whole thing was out of their hands anyway.

“I don’t think you get to choose who you minister to. I really don’t believe that,” says Pat. “I think He just puts needs in front of you and you choose how to respond to that need. I can honestly say that you will never regret saying ‘yes’ to what He has for you.”