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What One Participant Really Thinks of Friendship Place

Cordell Williams bigger

From: Cordell Date: Fri, Jun 13, 2014 at 4:52 PM

Subject: To My AIMHIRE Family; Jermaine, Bianca, Mariam, Drew, Tiffani and the front desk volunteers

To: Bianca Palmisano <bpalmisano@friendshipplace.org>
For all that you all have poured into me during my time of need I have to say thank you. You’ve been a pleasant smile, a friendly face, a listening ear and true friends to me and for that I will never forget you all. I look forward to giving back to AIMHIRE in the near future, I’ve personally seen attitudes and lives changed because of what this organization does. I also want to thank the donors especially because without their selfless acts of kindness none of it would be possible. A true miracle from God! You know I have to give Him honorable mention too.

Keep up the good fight of faith in us.


Bianca Palmisano, AimHire Employment Specialist, forwarded this email to Friendship Place’s Director of Institutional Giving, Christine Lauterbach, who contacted Cordell to learn more about his story. The following was written from the ensuing interview.

I’m a Washingtonian, grew up in Southeast, part of a large stepfamily. I married a few years after high school, went to Lincoln Tech out in Maryland. My wife and I bought a home in Forestville, Maryland, and raised two sons. It was a good life.

But I got caught up in the world of addiction. I lost my marriage, my home. It all went out of control in 2004. I was 41. From that point, it felt like a downward spiral. When it wasn’t my addiction killing me, it was my behavior – not being honest with myself.

Being homeless made me look at who I was and who I wasn’t. You like to think you’re more than you are. When you find out you’re not, that’s kind of devastating. It took a long time to figure that out.

I became homeless in 2005, but it wasn’t continuous; I’d get back on my feet and then I’d lose my job and find myself back in a shelter. I almost got to the point of accepting that as a way of life.

But I’m a fighter by nature. I finally got around some people who cared about me. And that made all the difference. After a relapse, some guys I knew from a recovery ministry came by when I was renting a room. They showed me love, and we prayed together. I didn’t have to be ashamed with them. That’s when I got clean [in 2012]; the Lord walked me through that.

I knew about Friendship Place, but I didn’t know about AimHire. Mike [an AimHire participant] was telling me about the different services they had, because he was already volunteering there.

I started coming to AimHire every day. I was in there all day, submitting applications, grinding on that computer. When I would get interviews, they would make sure I could get there transportation-wise. The SmarTrip cards they gave me, the computer lab, the help building my resume, it all made a difference.

A spot at St. Paul’s opened up [small transitional shelter at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, run in partnership with Friendship Place]; I was there for a month, and that’s when I got the job I have now. It was on the sheet of listings that’s posted every week at AimHire. A salaried job. I’m a mechanic by trade; I’ve been doing that for 30 years. It’s the perfect job, right up my alley. I make hydraulic hoses for construction equipment at manufacturing plants. I’m outdoors, traveling around, meeting people, not cooped up indoors.

People have a vision of homelessness, and it’s usually living on the street or eating out of trash cans, but there are a lot of creative minds that find themselves homeless, who just need a little assistance. They’re not looking for a handout, just a hand up. Sometimes you end up in that situation because of one wrong turn. Sometimes you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing and life just comes at you. You also have a lot of people who have mental or physical health issues, and that’s how they find themselves in homelessness.

Some people use this season as a learning opportunity. You learn a lot about yourself, things you wouldn’t have learned, had you not found yourself in a homeless situation. It gives you a greater compassion. I know before I was homeless or ever thought I would be homeless, I would walk right by people in that situation. But now I have a heart for people who are going through that.

[While Cordell was job hunting, he volunteered at the AimHire reception desk.]

Volunteering at AimHire, you get to help people right where they are. They look at you at the desk and they think you’re different, but you are them. My personal ministry is to share my story, to let them know I was in the same boat. I’ve gained a lot of friends at that front desk. When they come in and they’re angry and hopeless, I get to give them some hope.

When you’re living in a big emergency shelter, you can get an institutional mentality; somebody’s yelling at you to get up, to get out; then you’re running someplace else to eat, standing in another line, like cattle.

Friendship Place turns that institutional mentality on its head. At the AimHire front desk, I could let people know that nobody’s going to tell you what to do; they’re just there to assist you.

For people who are homeless, Friendship Place is their getaway, their own little personal oasis.

Cordell is now living at St. Luke’s Shelter, a partnership of Friendship Place and Metropolitan Memorial Cooperative Parish that provides transitional housing to AimHire participants. He is saving money to move into his own apartment. “My church family and AimHire, I have my network set up around me to succeed,” he says. Cordell has joined the Friendship Place Speakers’ Bureau, Voices of Hope, and is available to share his story with interested groups.

Video of Cordell may be seen at FriendshipWalks.org

Your Donation Helps End Homelessness!

Your support for Friendship Place has a lasting impact. In 2023, our programs ended or prevented homelessness for 4,993 people, including 1,507 children in families and 670 veterans. We empowered 167 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness to get jobs through innovative, state-of-the-art job placement services. Make a donation today in support of our work to end homelessness. Questions? Please feel free to call our fundraising office, 202.957.7834.

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