Arise and Shine ready to help those in need during time of crisis
MICHIGAN CITY – At the onset of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, a local pantry and resource center held an emergency staff meeting on how to respond. The Arise and Shine Food and Outreach Center has more than 900 Michigan City residents who depend on their services, according to president and co-founder Antwan Burks.
A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Alisa Burks Simmons and Antwan Burks
If there’s something good to come of growing up in poverty, it’s that in some, it instills a deep-seeded empathy that compels them to help others. Such is the case with Alisa Burks Simmons and Antwan Burks, co-founders of Arise and Shine Food and Outreach Centers in Michigan City.
The brother-sister team are two of nine siblings who grew up poor on Michigan City’s west side.
“We basically have experienced everything there is to experience from the poverty cycle,” said Burks, who serves as president and director of programs and partnerships. “It’s frightening not to know where your next meal will come from, but our mother always taught us: no matter how little you have, there’s always room to give to others.”
Back in 2014, Simmons, a nurse by trade with that inherent caring nature, took notice of the homeless on Michigan City streets and felt the urge to help.
After working with the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church clergy and other partners, Simmons served her first meal soup-kitchen style out of the basement of the church and a breakfast ministry was born.
Since then the organization has evolved to a full-fledged food and outreach center offering meals and food pantry access five days a week to the homeless and working poor, and outreach programs that focus on life skills, education, food and household subsidy, employment training and placement, personal empowerment, counseling, mentoring, assistance with insurance and healthcare, and referrals to other collaborative programs in the county.
Simmons serves as CEO and director of the center.
In 2017, Burks, who had been living in Florida working for various not-for-profits, came back home after a death in the family. He and Simmons realized they could be a dynamic team.
“I had the business knowledge that could help Arise and Shine grow, and she had the outreach expertise,” Burks said. “We both work in the medical fields – she as a nurse, and I in sales – so we put our skills to use to create a more formal structure for Arise and Shine.”
Since then, the organization has grown to serve more than 1,000 individuals and families, and they have seen a spike since the pandemic began.
Their work is even more meaningful now that they are carrying on a legacy.
“Our mother passed a way in February,” Simmons said. “She is the reason we do this.”
Mildred L. Hervey was a nurse’s aid and Head Start teacher, and while she had retired by the time she passed, she was able to see the values she worked so hard to instill in her children come to life.
“She always taught us – love thy neighbor – and that is the basis for everything we do,” Simmons said.
“Every person we encounter at Arise and Shine is deserving of our love and respect. Our mission is to provide the support they need to emerge from crisis, but then also live a better life, whether that’s to find employment, get counseling, or come out of isolation,” Burks said.
The Shine Aid for Family Emergencies (SAFE) program is the cornerstone offering of Arise and Shine – a three-tiered service offering weekly free hot breakfast, and access to both the community food pantry and community clothing closet.
Other programs focus on employment assistance (Best Food Forward), life skill education (Communiversity), and prevention of senior social isolation, among others.
While they have had to suspend some programs focused on physical gathering, and modify some practices to comply with federal, state, local, and CDC guidelines regarding the pandemic, they are still able to provide meal service and food and clothing via pre-arranged curbside pickup. Regular updates can be found on their Facebook Page.
Both Burks and Simmons said that while they feel blessed to have emerged from childhood poverty, they can’t help but thank community supporters who have made the program possible.
“This isn’t just our effort. This is the whole community coming together to lift each other up and support those in need,” Simmons said.
Support has come from individual donors and organizations/businesses such as Leeds Public House, Fiddlehead, Harley Davidson of Michigan City, WeConnect, Healthlinc, Mak Salon and Spa, Moore’s Auto and Towing, South Bend Ruff Ryders, Healthcare Foundation of La Porte, Integrative Flavors, La Porte County Association of REALTORS, Reprographic Arts, Palko Services, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Franciscan Health, and Michigan City Community Enrichment Corporation.
As Simmons and Burks look to fulfill their mission in the future, they plan to keep one thing at the center of it all.
“We just keep going back to our mom and her inspiration. She taught us how to be resourceful and work with having less. And in the midst of our own poverty and being exposed to the different risk factors associated with it, she taught us how to look out for your fellow man,” Burks said. “Even though your situation looks bleak, there’s still a way to give back to others.”
Ready to shine a little brighter
Arise and Shine plans further growth, new programs to fill need
MICHIGAN CITY – If you walked into the Arise and Shine Food and Outreach Center today, you might not recognize it as the same place that opened in December to provide meals, shoes and other necessities to the less fortunate in the community.
But upgrading to what director of programs and partnerships Antwan Burks calls a "community engagement and resource center for the homeless and working poor," with a lineup of new programs about ready to take off, did not come easily, he said.
"Arise and Shine is ready to shine a little brighter," Burks said of the "transformational programs I created for the organization with tentative plans to go live the second week of July."
But first, the family-run operation had to take care of some housekeeping issues – major ones.
"We did run into some challenges shortly after our grand opening in December because the building we leased was found to have several code violations and hazards," Burks said.
Given a deadline by the city to remedy the violations, which he said were "not disclosed or remedied prior to or after our move-in" put a strain on the organization's resources – both financial and in terms of manpower.
A $5,000 grant from the Michigan City Community Enrichment Corporation had already been used for basic operating costs, but ...
"Shutting down our operation was never a consideration because so many in the community depend on our organization," Burks said. "We basically rolled up our sleeves and used every resource we had to get the building up to par.
"Although the building issues were not our contractual responsibility, the people we serve are, so without hesitation we got the building up to par."
So much so that Arise and Shine, located at 1010 W. Garfield, served as a polling station for the May election "and received lots of compliments on the upgrades to the facility," Burks said, "That was our confirmation we did the right thing."
And they didn't stop with fixing code violations. Also added was an intake room complete with cubicles, a revamped dining area, food pantry, 120-inch projector screen for movies and presentations, and 10 iPad workstations complete with free wifi.
"We will serve meals with all of the programs and if a restaurant or business would like to sponsor a meal during any of our presentations or events scheduled under our Communiversity program, we would in turn list their name and logo as sponsors on all marketing and advertising," Burks said, going back to the partnership part of his job title.
As for the new programs, they kind of run the gamut of everything a person might need to get back on their feet, and that was the plan all along.
"If I had to describe Arise And Shine, I would say we are a community engagement and resource center," Burks said. "There is something for everyone here. Yes, we provide resources for the 14 percent in La Porte County considered the homeless and working poor, but we are also a community center.
"Through our targeted programs we will have many activities for our youth, families and seniors. We are also looking for partnerships in the areas of affordable housing, mental health/counseling, insurance, healthcare, education, employment and job training..."
He said the "Arise And Shine model is all about convenience and self-sufficiency and we believe having all programs and resources under one roof makes it easier for those in need to gain access and lessen their commute around the city."
Burks, who returned to Michigan City after working with the homeless in Florida, thinks some of what he learned there will translate well to La Porte County.
"I've experienced working within this model in the state of Florida, which has a much larger homeless population, and it was very successful.
"A person who comes through our doors will be able to get most of their needs met, including hot meals, food pantry, clothing, transformational programs and agencies, and even entertainment. We also have a brochure display area for other agencies to leave literature in case there is someone we need to refer."
Burks co-founded the organization with his sister, Alisa Burks Simmons, who serves as director of the facility and manages the volunteers. His brother-in-law, Anthony Simmons, serves as director of food services.
"We are a true family-owned and operated organization with no other ties or affiliations with any other individuals or organizations," he said, pointing out that "some have confused us with different churches and organizations."
But they do want partnerships, he added again. "We plan to collaborate with other individuals and organizations for some of our programs and services we will offer."
And while all the growth and new programs are exciting to Burks and his family, they already realize their current facility might not be big enough to handle it all if the community response is as big as expected.
"Due to our rapid growth, the search is on for a bigger space. Ideally, we would need at least an 11,000-square-foot building in order to reach our full potential and impact lives on a much larger scale in Michigan City and La Porte County," he said.
"I believe we have the right model and vision to positively impact the community, we just need more room to operate."
Seeing how far Arise and Shine has come in the last six months, there's no doubting it will happen.
Arise and Shine Food and Outreach Center programs, including new programs to begin in July:
- Weekly Free Hot Breakfast: Arise and Shine provides a weekly free breakfast to the homeless and working poor in Michigan City and La Porte County. Some 53 percent of MC households are "struggling" to afford the basics – housing, food, health care, childcare and transportation – despite working, according to a 2018 report from the United Way.
- Community Food Pantry: Arise and Shine provides both perishable and non-perishable food items, including dairy and meat proteins, to needy families.
- Community Clothing Closet: Arise and Shine provides clean clothing and shoes for all ages and sizes for those in need, including business attire for those seeking employment.
- Best Foot Forward: A supplemental resource assistance program for those in La Porte County who are seeking employment and identify with the 14 percent who are living in poverty. Resources include: Resume Assistance in-house computer lab and printer; Transportation Assistance; Breakfast and/or lunch on day of interview; men’s and women’s business attire and hygiene products. Participants must have a scheduled job interview or be registered for a job fair or similar event.
- Communiversity: Information-sharing sessions for the community presented by the community. The most valuable asset in a community is residents, and Arise and Shine will provide an information-sharing platform at our facility for local community members with various employment backgrounds to do presentations on any topic relating to employment, life skills or the skilled trades. Some examples include hiring events, first-time homebuying seminars and skilled trade presentations. The purpose is to inspire and educate the 14 percent of La Porte County residents at or below the poverty line, and promote businesses and individuals who serve their communities in hopes of generating more community engagement. Meals are provided by sponsorship or by Arise and Shine during each session, which last about an hour with time for questions at the end. A 120-inch projector screen and projector are available.
- Senior Social Isolation Prevention Program: About 12.5 million older adults live alone, representing 28 percent of adults 65 or older, according to the U.S Census Bureau (2015). SSIPP offers programs and social activities to combat social isolation of seniors, and include games, meals, clubs, educational sessions, guest speakers, fitness, movies, food pantry, resource center, senior socials and more.
- Mentor Meals: About 24.7 percent of children in La Porte County are living in poverty, and this program is a weekly one-on-one mentoring program for boys and girls 18 and under to meet with a qualified mentor each week for an hour. The goal is positive engagement with an affected youth who may be experiencing the risks associated with poverty, such as cognitive, emotional and social functioning issues. Sessions are on Friday or Saturday, with meals provided. Children enrolled in the program have access to hot meals, food pantry, clothing/shoes and other activities and programs available at the center (immediate family members also get access).
- Youth Event Series: YES is a program focused on specific events for youth ages 18 and under, including retreats and outings, tutoring, 10 IPAD workstations with Internet, Movie Nights with meals and refreshments, social events and activities, volunteer opportunities (for ages 16-18).
- Arise And Shine Faith Works: Some 63 percent of adults in Indiana believe in God with certainty, and 72 percent identify as Christian. Although Arise And Shine is not a church, they understand some prefer a faith-based approach to crisis management. Faith Works will offer faith-based programs and partnerships to those in need, including prayer, motivational speaking and empowerment, mentorship, Bible study, faith-based events and outings and missions.
Free Breakfast Not Enough
New community center next step in nurse's 'idea'
MICHIGAN CITY – Alisa Simmons, nurse and minister, saw a problem in 2014, and had "an idea" for how to help. On Saturday, her plan will take its next – and largest – step.
Back in 2014, the Michigan City resident said, "I started noticing more and more homeless people in the streets, so I asked my pastor at the time, the Rev. Stanley Mason of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, if I could start a breakfast ministry and utilize the church basement space, which included a full kitchen and dining area."
The Arise & Shine Breakfast Ministry was born.
"Without hesitation, Pastor Mason donated the space, and with the help of a few local businesses that donated food and other products, and personal finances, my husband Anthony and I started serving free breakfast for those in need," Simmons said.
Those meals became so popular, more space was needed.
"Our breakfast grew very quickly, so we had to move on from the limited space at Mt. Zion, and had brief stints at other locations throughout the city before finding a stable location on the property of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church" at 717 E. 10th St., Simmons said.
"That remains our location thanks to the generosity of Pastor James Lane, with whom we have a rental agreement. Our main outreach there is a breakfast that is served every Saturday morning. And we serve between 250-275 people monthly."
Starting Saturday, that outreach will grow.
Arise & Shine will open its second location, and first standalone site, on the west side at 1010 W. Garfield St., a space that will "enable us to offer more transformational programs and services to the 17 percent of people in La Porte County who fall below the poverty line," Simmons said.
The leased building "will allow us to provide so much more to the people we serve," she said. "Our long-term vision is to not just be a handout with free breakfast, but to be a hand up and provide a myriad of services to help someone in crisis become self sufficient again."
The goal is to become "a community center in every sense of the word, and offer a myriad of services all under one roof."
That will eventually include crisis outreach, case management, lifeskill education, food and household subsidies, employment training and placement, personal empowerment training, and active referrals to other collaborative social service providers, she said.
For Simmons, an ICU nurse at Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary, helping others is a personal thing she inherited from her mother.
"I’ve always had a passion for caring for others after watching my mom work in home care growing up as a teen," she said. "My mom retired from St. Anthony’s Hospital as a nurse's aide, and she was a local Head Start teacher, so I learned early on how fulfilling it is to care for others, even when you come from humble beginnings.
"I eventually took inspiration from my mom, and also became a registered nurse."
While there are organizations and programs helping the homeless in Michigan City, Simmons knows more can be done.
"We do not [think enough is being done] and that is why we exist, to hopefully change that," she said.
She also knows Arise & Shine can't do it alone. Part of the goal of the new location is to be able to work more effectively with the other groups.
"Partnerships will be key in reaching these goals and our director of partnerships and provider relations, Antwan Burks, will be leading the charge," she said.
Burks, a City native, previously resided in Orlando, where he had experience working with nonprofits in central Florida.
"He relocated back to Northwest Indiana this past year to be closer to family and assist with Arise & Shine," Simmons said. He also serves on the organization's board.
While the homeless are the target of the outreach, Arise & Shine also welcomes veterans and police officers, and Simmons thinks getting the latter involved will be a plus.
"We recognize the disconnect between the police and the community, and hope to be part of the solution by bridging that gap – providing an environment where our officers can have a hot coffee and breakfast alongside the people they are sworn to protect and serve. People in uniform and veterans are always welcome."
Simmons said it's all part of that original idea.
"Our goal is to become a beacon of light in the community and not only offer a hand out to those in need, but a hand up to self-sufficiency."
Arise & Shine
Who: Arise & Shine Breakfast Ministry
What: Grand opening of second location, featuring free breakfast and lunch, free shoes, motivational speakers, giveaways, information and more
Where: 1010 W. Garfield St.
When: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday
Info: [email protected]
Organizers wish to thank: Michigan City Community Enrichment Corporation, Pastor D. Glenn, Advancing Christ’s Ministries Kingdom; Rev. Stanley Mason, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church; Rev. James Lane , Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church; Bobbi Hampton, Road To Life Church; Marty Corley, Michigan City, MCPD; Sacha Gee Burns, Solid Waste District of La Porte County; Walmart, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Hearthside Food Solutions
Shoes are just a start
Arise & Shine plans to go beyond bare necessities
MICHIGAN CITY – On a chilly Saturday morning on the west side, they came for breakfast and fellowship, and maybe a pair of shoes.
The Arise & Shine Breakfast Ministry opened its second location at 1010 W. Garfield, offering meals and more, part of the organization's vision for the years to come.
"This is what it's all about," said Alisa Simmons, ICU nurse, minister and co-founder of the organizaion, "a place where the community can come and get what they need. In this case, it's shoes, but it will be much more."
The shoes were a big hit, as people shopped for their size and style, and kids rushed around showing parents what they could find.
"These may seem like small things," said Antwan Burks, who returned to Michigan City from Florida to serve as director of partnerships and provider relations, "but they're important if they are things people need."
The room full of shoes came from Bay City Church in Bay City, Michigan, Simmons said.
"They were originally donated to send overseas, but some couldn't be shipped, so they were just put in storage. They had all these shoes and they didn't know what to do with. I said, 'Oh my God!' I know what to do with them."
Volunteers, who also served up free breakfast, helped people find the shoes they needed, which Simmons said came in "all sizes, all styles, all colors. Shoes for whatever they need."
One of those volunteers was Marquette High School junior Travon Moore, who said he started volunteering at age 13.
"At first I was just looking for a volunteer experience. Volunteering and community service are big at Marquette. We have to do so many hours every semester."
At some point, he found, the time spent volunteering was much more rewarding than anything else he was doing.
"I started coming every weekend. This was something important to do rather than just sitting around weekends and playing video games. I love it. I love being here and serving people and serving the community.
"This is like home in here now. They treat me like family here. I've been doing it for 3 years and want to keep doing it."
Simmons said she is more than just proud of Moore.
"He has the most hours of volunteer work of anyone except my husband and I. We are going to be starting a scholarship fund that will be ready by 2020 when he graduates."
Moore said he plans to go to Indiana University to study business and possibly real estate. "I'd like to maybe open a restaurant someday," he said. "And if I get there, maybe I can do something like this someday."
He's also been reaching out to classmates to get them to come in and help as well.
Spreading the work is also part of Burks' responsibility at Arise & Shine.
"He came to us with a lot of experience with non-profits and that's what we needed," Simmons said.
Burks said the goal it to "be a place of refuge for people in crisis; to provide transformational services to help them become self-sufficient again. We want to offer a handout and a hand up."
For now that includes meals, shoes and small everyday items people might need, like toothpaste, and even a small toy or two for the kids.
Eventually, Burks said Arise & Shine is hoping to offer crisis outreach, case management, lifeskill education, food and household subsidies, employment training and placement, personal empowerment training, and referrals to other collaborative social service providers, she said.
"But we need to form partnerships to help reach our vision for 2019."
Partnerships with donors, other community groups and businesses.
"If we get the right partnerships, there is no limit to what we can do here."
Anyone or any business looking to partner to help the cause can call Burks at 813-494-9012.
People who want to voluntter should contact Simmons at 219-221-2111 or [email protected].
As they look to expand, they will continue to serve breakfass on Saturday mornings at the new site, and the east side location at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, 717 E. 10th St.
"It's just so very exciting to see people just come and sit and enjoy each other," Simmons said. "It's amazing to see all this."