By Kristen Watt (’14)
Allison Eskew (’09) moved to Austin, Texas, looking to set out on her own and do something new. It wasn’t long before she found a calling that allowed her to help the less fortunate of the city.
“I wanted to move to a new place and try out something different,” says Eskew, a College of Communication graduate and East Tennessee native who left home in 2010.
However, there was something that very soon began to trouble her—the city’s very large homeless population.
Nearly 6,000 individuals access homeless services in the city annually, and each day more than 2,300 individuals live on the streets.
“Every street corner has panhandlers, which was something I wasn’t used to, and I didn’t know what to do or how to react to them. It was a culture shock and it was very hard for me to just ignore them.”
After taking an interest in the homeless population in her community, Eskew learned of the nonprofit ReWork Project, which had just begun putting down roots.
The citywide program helps the homeless get off the streets by giving individuals the opportunity to work in a safe and secure environment where they can use their existing skills to create sellable products such as wooden chairs and Cornhole game boards.
Three months later, she decided to leaver her job at a local credit union to join ReWork as a full-time assistant director.
“The first year or two was a major struggle for us, and it got to a point in 2013 when the program seemed to be falling apart,” says Eskew. “The church that supported the program was struggling to come up with resources to cover the rent of the facility, and our program was running out of funds for operational expenses.
Eskew’s coworker left the program, leaving her as the sole director and the person responsible for coming up with the $40,000 needed to continue operations.
“It almost felt impossible to continue,” she says.
Eskew had only six weeks to raise the needed funds or the ReWork Project would have to shut its doors.
As she began her fundraising efforts, Eskew recalled her time as member of APO. She utilized the knowledge she gained with that organization as well as her communications background from UT to begin raising the needed funds.
Eskew’s efforts paid off when donations began coming in. When deadline day came, ReWork had raised more than the original $40,000 goal, with the majority coming in during the last couple weeks of fundraising.
“It really was a miracle that we raised as many funds as we did. I just kept asking, and people kept giving,” Eskew says.
The ReWork Project is now even better than it was before, reaching milestones and expanding its programming to include events such as a weekly Bible study.
“It’s crazy the kinds of changes that can be spurred by giving someone your time and your ear,” says Eskew. “I don’t know how to fix a person, but I know that people pursue greater things for themselves when they don’t feel alone in the pursuit.”
She says it’s neither an easy nor a short road, but helping a person feel worthy “is a giant first step toward a better story.”