When the news cycle is full of disasters and horrors and mean people, it is refreshing to be reminded that helpful, compassionate people exist. And while author Kathy Izard’s story of quitting her job as an award-winning designer to lead the development of a housing solution for over one hundred chronically homeless men and women in Charlotte, North Carolina (USA) is told through her personal journey, she is ever mindful of the team of people who influenced, supported, challenged, and surprised her through the four-year process. It is a story of revelations, wisdom in unexpected conversations, shocking choreography of timing, and generous and passionate people allowing their lives to blend, mix, and change. It is a story of losing faith and finding it.
This account of Izard’s journey is personal, candid, humorous, amazing, and well-written. She begins the narrative as a six-year-old girl watching her mother prepare her birthday invitations. The journey starts here. The overall journey is Izard’s own experience with faith and with her family, a story of reconciliation. But the catalyst for finding the purpose she missed were a set of questions from Denver Moore, a homeless man turned celebrity author who was visiting for a presentation.
“Where are the beds?”
And “What are you going to do about it?”
Those questions were spoken directly to Izard while she was giving a tour of the Urban Ministry Center (UMC) of Charlotte to Moore who was visiting for a presentation later in the evening. She didn’t have an answer for either question, but through the hours, days, and weeks that followed she became convinced she would do something.
Her confirmation came time and again in strange affirmations: a conversation pre-empted by the person already on the same page, sizable donations coming from generous donors who just felt that they needed to pass the money to the UMC in order to get housing figured out, and the right people stepping out or stepping in or stepping up to fill a void, answer a question, solve a problem, fill a staff role. Over and over again Izard recounts these miracles. Over and over and over again. Without her honesty about her shortcomings and overwhelming doubt at times, the story would be wholly unbelievable.
But she is frank about her skepticism and this allows readers to experience the same incredulity. Her reflections are touching. Her stories are powerful. She synthesizes the personal details of her life with the professional pressures of her role in unchartered territory for Charlotte.
The theme that ties everything together in The Hundred Story Home is listening. Listening to voices. Listening to whispers. Listening to family. Listening to strangers. Listening to, as she carefully refers to it, “something bigger.” What she hears she is dogged in her effort to discern if it is real, what it means, or, as hindsight often reveals, what it could have meant. Her family history, her conversations with UMC neighbors, her husband and daughters, and even the promptings from her inner world influence her experience, her passion, and her doubts. She recognizes that without them, she could not have done anything to create Moore Place.
This storyline of navigating a cityscape to provide housing for one of its most overlooked populations is captivating in and of itself, fraught with tension, obstacles, and courage; but, Izard’s writing, honesty, and vulnerability put it in a place to inspire readers at many levels. The writing is approachable and the storytelling is compelling. A non-fiction read for anyone interested in a “good book” – even if you’re not usually a reader of non-fiction. This is it: a good book. Highly recommend.