A Labor of Love to Tell Stories of People Who are in Need

Posted on November 21, 2013

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GREENSBORO – It’s a Wednesday. So, right around lunch, I know they’ll meet.

They gather in a windowless room off East Washington Street, and they’ll talk about stories around a table topped by a box of doughnuts.

They like to write and help people. They don’t get paid for what they do. They come from all walks of life — college, banking, nuclear energy, you name it. One sings gospel, goes to dialysis four times a week and tells people, “Keep God first!’’

This is the staff of The Greensboro Voice.

It’s a 12-page newspaper. Like at least 110 publications in 40 countries, it’s got a name: a street newspaper. It focuses on poverty and homelessness and does it through art, poetry and the stories of people bruised by bad decisions, mental illness or family strife.

The Voice was started a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2010. It is in its third year and comes out every other month. Its latest issue came out last week, and like any newspaper large or small, the Voice struggles.

That hits home with me.

Even before the Internet, every newspaper I knew struggled with making enough money. But the Voice is different. It does rely on ads. But it doesn’t get many. So it depends on fundraisers and reader donations to cover the $600 needed to print at least 2,500 copies every two months.

If the staff members don’t get enough money, they dig into their own pockets. Well, their editor does or the retired banker on staff.

The banker is Bob Norfleet. He’s 71. He delivers the Voice to the various library branches and plops it on the tables at the county’s social services headquarters on Maple Street. He writes some. He did in the August issue. It was about an ex-felon addled by drugs and alcohol. Norfleet named him Pierre.

The editor is Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater. She’s 70, a UNCG English professor. She polishes stories, drums up donations and talks straight with her staff. After each issue, the newspaper ends up with $100 in its account.

“We’re in bad shape financially,’’ she told the Voice staff last week. “Any help you can give with brainstorming, we’re open to suggestions.’’

The Voice staff meets every week at the Interactive Resource Center, the day headquarters for many who are homeless. Last week, Chiseri-Strater brought out a box from Donut World, looked around the table and said, “What’s everyone working on?’’

Anita Gilmore is working on her column, “Short Takes with Anita.’’ She’s the gospel singing grandmother with the bad heart and crippled kidneys. She writes stories about Kathleen, Glenn and Reggie. They’re homeless, and she wants them to feel like they’re somebody and that they’re not alone.

Nadirah Goldsmith is working on a piece about the nonprofit StepUp Ministry. She’s a single mother of two who volunteers at Aycock Middle, her daughter’s school. She graduated from Bennett College. She plans to attend UNCG and study writing.

She loves to write. She has 129 of her journals, every journal she’s written since fifth grade.

And she’s 37.

Joe Smith is working on a piece about the IRC. He’s 72. For more than four decades, he worked nuclear energy — first on subs in the Navy, later with nuclear reactors. Three years ago, he retired as a senior reactor operations instructor.

He came to Greensboro in his RV to visit his daughter, and he stayed. Now, he’s a writer at the Voice. He wears a $4 cross around his neck and feels comfortable in a T-shirt and a whiskered face.

In August, Smith wrote about Santino Deng Atem, a homeless man from Sudan. In last week’s issue, Smith wrote that his story helped Atem find housing and get legal assistance on an accident he had at work.

He ended his piece with this sentence: “This is the power of the press, no matter how small the publication.’’

In that same issue, Chiseri-Strater wrote that the Voice received $175 from the city. On Sunday, she got a $250 check from a friend. On Monday morning, a reader came up to her at a downtown coffee shop and wrote her another check.

It was for $100. The reader’s name was Lynn. Chiseri-Strater had no idea who she was.

Visit www.greensborovoice.org
Send a contribution to Greensboro Voice at 1852 Banking St., #9252, Greensboro, NC 27408.

By Jeri Rowe
News & Record (print), 11/20/2013
Contact Jeri Rowe at 373-7374 or jeri.rowe@news-record.com
Photo credit: H. Scott Hoffman, News & Record

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