New Day Stories
New Day friend Pete Smith – one of our many beloved vulnerable Laurel neighbors – is a living testimony to our motto that “No one should die alone in the woods.” Less than five years ago, he was among the homeless living in his tent in the North Laurel woods “among drug dealers and thieves.” This campsite setting warranted middle-of-the-night police visits and identification checks when fights broke out among his homeless neighbors. His situation also led to complex medical complications when his neighbors broke into his tent to steal essential medicine: Pete secured most medicines at a Laurel day center, well aware of the threat to personal possessions for the homeless, but constant access to that single vial of insulin could mean the difference between life and death for a diabetic. Nonetheless, Pete preferred the sense of independence he maintained living in the tent to the worry of risking his possessions in the shelter alternative -- even when that shelter served as protection from the harsh weather in at least one winter he spent without a residential address.
Pete became homeless in 2010 after medical maladies made it impossible for him to work and to pay the rent in this high cost of living area. After declining the shelter vouchers offered as the solution to his situation, he met Ruth Walls, a Laurel nurse renowned for connecting the vulnerable members of the community with medical care, psychiatric assessments, and substance abuse treatment options, as well as advising New Day on how best to care for our vulnerable friends. Ruth changed his life. She served as his initial advocate during the medical disability process, assisting him in obtaining the appropriate Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits which allowed him to move from his tent to his first residence in 2013. In addition to assisting him with the disability benefits process, Ruth connected Pete with various medical services which ultimately saved his vision and his life in 2015. She also connected him with her daughter Wrenn Skidmore, the Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) who supported Pete throughout life’s trials long before she was hired as New Day’s first and only employee in Oct 2015.
While the authentic challenges of Laurel living continue for Pete (i.e., high cost of living, neighbors tapping into his electricity while trying to get him evicted via the landlord, persistent medical conditions), his connections with New Day relationships and services provide a firm foundation which allows him to remain both encouraged and encouraging.
His encouragement recently extended to the New Day church youth and youth leaders participating in the “Day in the Life” event, where Pete graced the Bethany Community Church barn stage to share his perspective on Laurel homelessness. Recapping his comments in a follow-on interview, Pete proclaimed that “being homeless is not a joke,” a reality participants clearly took away from the Day in the Life experience.
But balancing that reality with the event’s message of hope regarding how New Day supporters can impact our vulnerable friends, Pete reflected on how rapidly the life changing disability benefits process moved with the support of New Day services and advisors: “Isn’t that a blessing from God!”
Indeed, it is Pete! God moves in the most amazing ways, and we invite you to be a part of it through your financial contributions to New Day of Laurel, Inc.
In considering the unique relationally-centered focus of the New Day mission, there is one particular New Day friend who
epitomizes the life-changing impact those relationships bring about. Marvin is a 25-year-old family man with a quick,
infectious smile and a fierce sense of loyalty. While he now radiates a spirit of gratitude for friends and family, broken
family relationships may have led to a bleaker path without New Day’s interceding help and hope.
Marvin was only 9 years old when he found his mother dead in their Georgia home. With his father incarcerated and out of the picture,
Marvin and his siblings were shuffled between various relatives in Georgia and South Carolina. Marvin’s grief grew to anger, and his
anger issues were further aggravated by the onset of epilepsy. An increasingly troubled youth, Marvin was sent to live with a
Maryland aunt and uncle in 2010. He joined the homeless ranks when his guardians kicked him out of the house due to disagreements
regarding his education, career and behavioral decisions.
Marvin faced the typical challenges of life on the streets. Street drugs dulled the pain of life, put some money in his pocket, and connected him with some of his fellow homeless population. However, they also exacerbated his anger issues, leading to his incidents of domestic violence and exposure to the criminal acts of others.
“A defining moment in my life was when TJ killed that man in the [Laurel] trailer park,” he recalls, referring to the August 2012 stabbing of Robert Foster for which TJ (aka, Robert Timothy Joseph Lee Tasker, 21) was sentenced to seven years in prison in May 2013. The intersection of his life with TJ’s served as a wake-up call for Marvin, forcing him to reflect on and change his own activities and decisions to avoid a similar fate.
His more significant, life-changing intersection with New Day came during the 2014 Winter Shelter season. Marvin, like much of Laurel’s homeless population, sought respite from the harsh winter in the rotating shelter of participating churches. A friend affectionately known as “Big Tony” urged Marvin to meet with Ruth Walls, one of the nurses who assess winter shelter participants for medical, psychiatric and substance abuse treatment options. Tony simultaneously alerted Ruth to Marvin, his young, struggling friend with an alarming increase in epileptic seizures. Marvin initially resisted Ruth’s help, maintaining the distrusting, defiant shell he’d developed over the years. Ruth responded with the tenacious compassion of God’s mercy, demanding that he tell the truth about his situation so she could help. She broke the shell. “Ruth took me in like I was her own son,” Marvin recalls, fondly reflecting on her demand for him to take responsibility in his recovery. Wrenn [Ruth’s daughter and New Day’s employee/ social worker] “treated me like a brother.” The tough-love relationship facilitated the rehabilitation, medical care, and merited disability Marvin needed to get his life back on track. Recalling this transition period, Marvin reflected that “God puts you through certain trials in life to get you to a better future.”
That perspective reflects another aspect of New Day’s relationally-centered mission focus: fostering enduring Christ-centered relationships to facilitate positive change in the lives of our vulnerable friends. Marvin credits several members of Bethany Community Church - one of New Day’s founding partners - with coming alongside to support his upward momentum. Andrew Milner, a husband and father of three young girls, mentored Marvin and taught him how to manage his finances. Stephen Brouillette came to the rescue when Marvin occasionally needed a place to go, picking him up and offering him refuge. While face-to-face connections are infrequent since Marvin moved to Tennessee to marry Angel and start a family in 2016, Marvin has sustained these relationships via text, telephone, and social media.
Marvin’s brief, recent return to Maryland allowed him to acknowledge his struggles and to introduce those people who helped him
overcome life’s challenges to his pride and joy - wife Angel and son Dashawn (younger daughter Aniyah to be introduced in future
visits). He admits that “marriage, like anything, is not going to be perfect,” but his wife’s similarly tough life “makes us perfect
for each other.” Their triumph over trials has resulted in their desire to help others, including Marvin’s Maryland friend
Tony. Considering him part of the family, they faithfully watched over Tony during their Maryland visit and invited him to
live with them in Tennessee. Tony played a key role in introducing Marvin to Ruth, recognizing him as “a young man with great
potential”: Marvin is fulfilling that potential through his attitude of gratitude, instilling the New Day value of life-changing
relationships in his blossoming family near and far.
Hebrews13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for such sacrifices God is pleased.
One Friday afternoon in a Washington DC hospital, a client I was working with received terrifying news from a neurologist. “You have a retinal hemorrhage and need emergency surgery, or you will go blind,” said the neurologist as he glanced at his watch. It was 3:35pm and I had no idea what to do since time was of the essence. I felt frightened thinking of where to turn and how this client did not have insurance. I could feel my adrenaline pumping. I knew I had to start with phone calls to doctors who knew me and might help me with this client. I also knew that finding emergency help on a Friday afternoon would be very difficult, if not impossible. I made many phone calls and one doctor I contacted mentioned a Dr. Jeffrey Chung. He said he was a very talented and gifted ophthalmologist and was very kind and accommodating to his patients. I said a quick prayer to myself and made the call to his office.
Without hesitation, Dr. Chung told me to bring the man to his office and that he would wait for us. We were in gridlock traffic coming back from Washington DC and I knew this would take quite a while. I then mentioned the fact that the man had no insurance. “Do not worry about that now we need to save his eyesight!” said Dr. Chung with urgency in his voice. I could not believe what I was hearing. A miracle had just occurred. When we arrived at the office, he took the patient right back to a room and performed emergency laser eye surgery. He treated this man with dignity and respect as if the patient was a family member.
Dr. Chung was successful in saving his man’s eyesight. If more time had passed, this man would have been blind in one eye and would have lost much of the vision in the other. Since his laser eye surgery, this man has become a very grateful patient of Dr. Chung’s.
I am also very grateful to Dr. Chung and have never met a doctor quite like him. He possesses extraordinary skill and talent in ophthalmology treatment and care. He also has a genuine heart for the vulnerable and forgotten patient. His caring and concern is remarkable and so is he. It is comforting to know of a doctor’s office where I can send clients who otherwise would fall through the cracks of the health care system which deals with medical conditions of the eye.
Thank you, Dr. Chung. Laurel is a much better place to live because of you!
Ruth K. Walls, MS, MSN, RN
From Medal of Honor Winner to
Being Homeless and Living in a Tent.
Jacklyn H. Lucas was the youngest Medal of Honor winner in World War II. His 17th birthday was only five days before he landed on Iwo Jima with his fellow marines, after he had lied about his age and joined the Marine Corps when he was only 14 years old after Pearl Harbor was destroyed by the Japanese attach on December 7th, 1941. At the height of the battle, when two enemy grenades landed in their midst, Private Lucas threw himself on one grenade and grabbed the other and pulled it underneath his body also, saving his fellow marines and becoming the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor in the twentieth century and the youngest Marine in history to receive the Medal of Honor. He was left with more than 250 pieces of shrapnel in his body and every major organ, including six pieces in his brain and two in his heart, and endured 26 surgeries in the following months. For the rest of his life he was left with more than 200 pieces of metal in his body.
After the many months of recovery, he completed high school and enrolled at Duke University. He volunteered to return to service during the Vietnam conflict but was assigned training duty only. Jack Lucas became a symbol of patriotism in the decades after the war, meeting presidents and traveling the world to speak with frontline soldiers and fellow veterans. His celebrity status and parties created a difficult situation for his family life and he and his wife divorced. He met and married another woman and they eventually moved to the Washington DC area, where in the late 1970s he owned and operated five meat markets (Lucas Meats) and had his own farm in Bowie Maryland area, where much of the meat for his stores was raised.
Just as happens in many people’s lives, over the next years of his life, poor business and financial issues let to problems in his life. In June 1977, his second wife and son-in-law tried to hire an undercover police officer to kill him for the insurance money. After that incident, he sold his home and moved to a mobile home on his ranch near Bowie. Jack said, “Material things have no value for me anymore”. Heartbroken and filled with despair, he gave away or sold almost everything he owned. He said, “My life was a mess. I would learn to live with the hurt, betrayal and disappointment, but I would never recover from it”.
The mobile home he was living in had electricity but no water and one night he was awakened to find his home in flames. Everything he had left, including his Medal of Honor was destroyed by the fire. He was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted and was diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and he was judged to be totally disabled. When he left the hospital he found himself homeless, moved into what had been a garage and meat storage locker. A friend allowed him to live in a tent on his farm in Cecil county but his friend’s farm was raided by the FBI and he was arrested, because his friend had been growing marijuana on the farm. The newspapers all carried the headline “War Hero Charged with Growing Pot”. Jack said, "Life is not just a bed of roses; it can be like a roller coaster ride, I’ve lived the life of probably two or three men in many ways."
The CBS news show, West 57th, came to interview his as “An American Hero Living Off the Land After Suffering Hard Times”. He was shown bathing and shaving outdoors in cold water that had to be brought in because there was no water available. His humble living quarters and cooking over a fire were show and when the interviewer asked hat had happened, Jack said, “I’m down, but I’m coming back”. A veteran in Hattiesburg, Mississippi saw the show and invited him to come to Mississippi. He looked around himself and saw a vine growing over his property and said, “I guess it is just another parasite sucking what life it could from what I had left."
He moved to Hattiesburg and eventually bought a home and lived there for the rest of his life. He moved his mother who was in her nineties to live with him. In 1995, he was invited by President Bill Clinton to attend the State of the Union address as a guest and was honored in that address.
This story shows that anyone can find themselves in a bad situation and face the possibility of being homeless. Jack found himself at the point where he had lost his family and friends and had nothing left.
Jacklyn H. Lucas died on June 5th, 2008 after battling leukemia. He had said, “The winds of change had relocated the place I call home to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. All my life, God has been a constant guide, tugging me first in one direction, then another, directing me on a straighter path than the one I had a tendency to follow. It has taken me a long time to find a peace in my life like I had never known””.
** Information from the book Indestructable by Jacklyn H. Lucas, 2006, CBS News archives and New York Times.