Melrose Hensley loves his job.
He loves the sense of pride he has after a shift is done, loves that he can model a positive attitude about work for his young son, and loves that his job allows him to take care of his community.
Recently promoted to kitchen lead after starting as a dishwasher at Ministry With Community several years ago, Melrose speaks easily about his passion for the work of the organization and his role in that work.
Ministry, funded in part by United Way under its Basic Needs strategy, provides food, daytime shelter and other supportive services to individuals and families struggling with homelessness, poverty, mental illness and other challenges.
“I’ll be 51 this year, and I’ve never seen a place like this,” Melrose said. “This is a blessing for Kalamazoo.”
Melrose knows better than most the impact made by Ministry and its supporters. Just a few short years ago, he himself was on the other side of the food counter, receiving services as a member.
At the time, he had suddenly found himself the single father of a 4-day-old baby boy. Melrose had to learn to navigate life with a newborn at a time when he alone was struggling to stay afloat. Giving the child up was not an option, he said.
“I had never been in a position where I was homeless before, and I was like a check away from being homeless,” he said. “I got this infant child that I’ve got to care for, so my whole life perspective had to change on the way I looked at life, the way I was living my life at the time.”
He turned to Ministry With Community for guidance, attending a men’s group there every morning. Social workers helped him obtain his son’s birth certificate, diapers, shoes to wear to his job at a local fast-food restaurant, bus tokens to get to work, and a place to sit down and rest with his baby during the day.
“I used to hold back. I wouldn’t talk to nobody, because it was a pride thing. But down here, they tell me about rebuilding lives,” Melrose said. “They just held me up. There’s times that I’d go into the social work office and just cry, just to let something out.”
When the opportunity to work in the kitchen as a paid staff member came along, Melrose took a chance and hasn’t looked back. Staff continued to support him, looking after his son when he couldn’t find a babysitter, offering encouragement when things got tough.
“I’ve had lots of jobs, and this is the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’m doing something I like, and I’ve learned to love my community more. I’ve learned how to take care of my community, how to build people up in my community. I don’t care if they’re a crack addict, a meth addict, a drunk, whatever. You don’t know this person. I always try to treat them just like my friends, just like I want to be treated. We want people to feel good about coming here.”
It doesn’t escape him that he – or any of us, he points out – could someday be on the other side again.
“I’m only one bump in the road from being right in line with them,” he said. “I’ve been in line with them before, and if I ever had to endure that again, I could do it, but by the grace of God, I just hope I don’t have to.”
Melrose often brings his son down to visit when he’s not in school. Now nearly 8, he’s gotten to know staff and the members that Ministry serves, and loves to volunteer alongside his dad.
“I don’t know how it would have turned out, but no matter what, I wasn’t going to let him go, and I’m so thankful to Ministry,” Melrose said.
“I’ve been to the top, been to the bottom, been in the middle and back up and down. I’m grateful for everything that I’ve got. Today, I couldn’t be more at peace.”
Learn more about how Ministry With Community is changing the story: https://www.ministrywithcommunity.org/