Midtown Muse: Project gives gifts of comfort

01/21/2014 11:26 AM

01/21/2014 11:27 AM

By January’s end, the men and women who rely on The Healing Place of Wake County for a place to lay their heads at night will have something few of us consider a luxury: new pillows and pillowcases.

Kudos go to Tyler’s Pillow Project, the year’s first mother-son monthly community service project chosen by Eboni Lewisand her 8-year-old son, Tyler.

Each month since January 2013, the duo has taken on a community service project or filled volunteer spots. They don’t do it so people know they’re doing it, or so they can get recognition or praise.

“I like that we’re giving to people who don’t have things they need,” said Tyler, 8. “When I’m giving to them, they will be happy, and when you give to someone who needs, you’re filling your own bucket.”

Tyler’s monthly projects with his mom are as much as giving as they are about receiving gifts of the soul. With each project, Eboni said, the pair takes a tour to drive home awareness and information, and to connect with the people they’re helping.

Today, Eboni and Tyler will be in Raleigh to tour The Healing Place of Wake County, a recovery and rehabilitation program for homeless men and women dependent on alcohol and other drugs. From now until Jan. 31, Raleigh-area residents can help by donating new pillows and pillowcases to The Healing Place.

This is the second year for Tyler’s Pillow Project, but it’s the first time the mother-son duo have expanded the project outside their hometown of Charlotte. This year the project will also include IRIS Center in Baton Rouge, La.; The Homeless Voice in Hollywood, Fla., and My Sister’s House in Atlanta.

“I have had experiences in my life where I needed the help of other people and I’m fortunate, even at 37, to have parents who are able to help me when I need help,” Eboni said. “That’s the only difference; some people have safety nets and some people don’t.

“I can’t write a big check to an organization, but I have my resource of time,” she said, adding you can find Tyler on the football field with his dad during father-son time. “I do it without the expectation of payback or recognition, but it has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life.”

Eboni said she knew Tyler was ready — old enough to benefit from monthly service — when it was clear he could understand the importance of helping others.

Brandi Delany, a friend of Eboni’s who lives in Midtown and spearheads several community service projects in the area, including Relay for Life and Empty Bowls, is helping coordinate Tyler’s Pillow Project here.

“I follow her blog about her and Tyler and the stuff that they do,” Delany said. “It’s a good idea. When young people serve, then they will grow up and instill service in their children, and that’s definitely a good thing.”

The pillow project came from a list of ideas idea Eboni received during an Obama Administration National Day of Service.

It’s welcomed, said Barrett Joyner, the development director at The Healing Place.

“In raw numbers, there are about 1,200 unsheltered adult homeless people in Wake County,” said Joyner. “About 250 of them will be at the Healing Place every night, laying their heads down, and it’s nice when you’ve got a nice pillow.”

Joyner said Tyler’s awareness and tours of organizations like the Healing Place not only earns him the kind of understanding that destroys stereotypes of people down on their luck, it also spreads hope.

“Everybody that comes here, they know they have issues,” he said. “What they don’t have is hope. When somebody like an 8-year-old comes in, they see somebody cared enough and it’s a connection they don’t expect.

“You never know what’s going to spark somebody’s moment of clarity,” Joyner said. “It could be a painting, a phone call or a pillow. You just never know.”

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