Small Bible study group a big influence on homeless family


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Rayven Green was walking from summer school on Hamilton Avenue in June when Carmelita Kirvel handed her a flier. It advertised the upcoming community Bible study session at the Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library.

Rayven, 15, was six months' pregnant at the time. She, her brother and mother, Kisha Gardner, were living with a friend. Theirs had been "a bouncing-around life" for several years, Ms. Gardner said.

"I didn't want to go" to the Bible study, Ms. Gardner said. "I had not been in church since my mom passed in 2000. She said, 'C'mon, Mom, please.' And I'm so glad I did."

Ms. Kirvel and her daughter, Portia, 20, are founders of the Holy Ghost Fun Outreach Ministries, a small group whose weekly Bible study is, in part, a vehicle to bring people together to discuss the power of love for others.

"We had been talking about being homeless, and I asked [the group], 'If I was in need, what type of love would you demonstrate?' " Ms. Kirvel said. "Some people said they would give money. Others said they would refer me to shelters."

When Ms. Gardner and Rayven walked in, they were the real deal.

"They came in," said Ms. Kirvel, "and we got to talking. I knew they needed help and needed it now."

Relating the story through tears, Ms. Kirvel said, "I told Portia, 'We're supposed to help them.' "

The baby is due Sept. 6, so the Kirvels hit the streets asking people for $1 to prepare Rayven with baby supplies. In several outings Downtown and at the Waterworks Mall, they stopped people and heard a lot of "Not today" but also a lot of "Yes."

They filled page after page with names of donors and amounts, from $1 to $7.50. They brought back more than $100.

On Thursday, after the Bible session, they threw a baby shower for Rayven.

"It was gorgeous," Ms. Kirvel said. "She had a lot of gifts. A day care in Garfield wanted to donate a crib, but we didn't have a way to haul it. We bought a bed at Babies R Us that we can put together. She got a stroller."

Several days before the shower, the friend who is putting Ms. Gardner and her family up called to tell them that she was being evicted, making all of their lives more tenuous.

Ms. Gardner has her own experience with eviction.

She said she has had numerous health issues over the years and was evicted from an apartment during a hospital stay because a friend who was supposed to pay her rent didn't.

"The three of us have been through so much," she said of herself, her daughter and her 14-year-old son. "The shelter experience wasn't good for them and I don't want to put them through that."

With limited options, it may be the next step.

The Kirvels have set out to find the family a temporary home as they wait for a unit with the Pittsburgh Housing Authority. Since May, Ms. Gardner and her children have moved up from No. 30 to No. 12 on the waiting list.

Ms. Kirvel learned of a shelter that accepts boys older than 12, but it has a waiting list, she said. "If they can't get in there, we'll bring them out to Monroeville with us."

The Kirvels have found a distributor of furniture to the needy and someone to move it when Ms. Gardner and her children find a place. They also have received support for the family and for their ministry from Homewood's retail owners, including Betts Market, Rosen's, Gandy's Bar and Misha's Gallery Restaurant -- cash, refreshments, clothes and toys.

Ms. Kirvel is a property manager and her daughter is studying to be an architect at the Community College of Allegheny County-South. They are seeking nonprofit status to establish a permanent home for their ministry.

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, said they contacted him for advice.

"The work she is doing on pure will is fantastic," he said. "I shared with her that you have to become a nonprofit to show people you're sound so that no one passes on a good opportunity to give."

Hitting the streets to raise money a dollar at a time was a method Ms. Kirvel said she and her sisters used to pay for transportation to a gospel singing competition when they were younger.

"We know what it is to be in need," Ms. Kirvel said. "I had a child at 13, and my family stuck by me even though my mom was disappointed.

"There was something in [Rayven] to make her bring her mom. We made it a goal, that whatever they needed, we'd do whatever God put in our hearts to do. When you get in touch with the best part of you, you want to stay that way. We will help them, not as a crutch but as sisters and friends."

neigh_city

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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