Interview at the Franciscan Center

January 29, 2024

Jamie Hunt

Tell me what you’re doing right now?

R: At this particular moment, we are SafeLink Wireless, which is a free government program with phones who help people get back in contact with the world. He help people who are homeless, coming from incarceration, or pretty much don’t have the funds to pay the phone bills every month. So, we have a service that we contract with that pretty much provides them with free phones.

How did you get involved in this?

C: So, it’s kind of a crazy story. We were down on our luck. Bills were due. We were facing eviction. We got this number (at the Franciscan Center) from 211. We didn’t know what to expect. We met Sabrinia. We met Rosslyn. They helped us so, so much. We left out of here just open-minded.

Roosevelt started it first. He went and he found a job. At that point, it was just 9 to 5 just to pay the bills. I started assisting him – I thought, you know, we can do this together – and then we were contacted by the business owners. [They asked] “how would you like to run the company for us?” We could be partners in Baltimore. I was recruited as VP manager and then I hired Roosevelt. And we started doing it together and the rest was history. The first place we went back to was here because [the Franciscan Center] serves so many people. So, we had a meeting about how we can bring our services and add them to what [the Center] already does.

How is your service helping people who are coming to the Franciscan Center?

R: What I realized from being here on both sides of the table is that the resources the Franciscan Center has are broad. There’s so many levels of things that people need, and they don’t know how to get in contact with. They can come here and be able to get correct assistance. With the loving and the caring – I always love it when Sabrinia calls people “my family” … she has this warm glow that makes everyone be at ease with whatever situation that they’re dealing with.

Our company is another platform for [Center guests and clients] to have access to. Having a place to go to be able to say, “I need this, this and this.” And we offer this, this and this. And they’re able to leave with this, this and this.”

C: [Our service] is a way for them to follow up with the different services they need. In the world we live in, telecommunications is important. If you don’t have a phone or a way to communicate, it’s kind of hard to get the things that you need. When they come here, they can sit down and they can get their i.d., they can get their birth certificate, even apply for food stamps here. And, now, we’re providing this phone and they can get in contact with all these resources and many more. And they’ve got a way to contact the Franciscan Center! Having that connection with the world, coming here and being part of the community again and being introduced back into the community after hardship. A lot of people coming out of incarceration are just trying to do right and get things back in order and you need a phone.

R: Makes is accessible for emails. Or on another level, if they just want to take pictures of their kids or just anything. Just being normal again.

C: So many companies are doing this now. But they’re out on the street. I don’t know what it is about anything we’ve tried to bring into the world, someone finds a way to abuse it. And when we heard that people were out there stealing information, and they’re activating devices and not giving it to the people or charging them $20, and if they don’t have it, they can’t get it. And we’re like, oh no, we can do this for free and we’ll be here. So they know they can always come back here and see familiar faces. And if they have problems, they know the person, they know the company, they have a uniform. Very different from when they run into people out in the street. They don’t have uniforms. They take all their information

R: they don’t have any accountability. And that’s where we come into play. And that’s why it’s called SafeLink, honestly. We hold that accountability. We’re always pressing. We’re here every Wednesday and we have a contact that we can reach out to whoever we need to reach out to. And follow the proper procedures.

Now, are you both Baltimore natives?

C & R: Yes!

R: I grew up on the west side of Baltimore in the Sandtown area.

C: Park Heights.

High schools?

R: Walbrook

C: Western. However, I loved Western but I did not graduate from there. My story is, I conceived really early and, you know, it’s a little more accepted but back then, if you went to Western, you couldn’t necessarily walk around pregnant. So, I dropped out of school early and I homeschooled myself, then I went and took the state [GED] test and got my diploma and went straight to Morgan

R: TEST Institute (spelling?)

C: It’s crazy, though, we went to the same middle school. However, we did not meet there, though.

Which one?

C: William H. Lemmel. However, we did not meet there. He does not remember me, but I remember him. We have all the same friends. Like everybody we grew up with, they all knew us. And it’s like, “You guys are married now!” I mean, I was a nerd, though.

So, how did things get to a point where you felt the Franciscan Center was a place where you might get help?

R: Like she stated earlier, we were facing an eviction. I got hurt on the job. So, I was out on workers’ comp. But it didn’t come right away.

C: And he was hurt, so it wasn’t like, go find another job. He got hurt twice. He got in a car accident and got hurt on the job. So, trying to recover from that, he went back to work, and got hurt again. So, we were already coming out of a hole, and we just dug another, deeper one. I tried to stay on top, but after Covid -Covid hit us bad, too. I’m in education, he worked in the field. And they closed everything. We were like, what are we going to do. But we knew we were going to come out of it. So, we just called up 211. And they gave us a thousand numbers and most of them … can’t help you.

R: A lot of them were saying that they were out of funds. A lot were out of service.

C: We went back and called [211], by the way, and had them update that list. Cause look, if you have like 2000 numbers to call –

R: And you’re calling all 2000 because this is the resources that you need.

C: But, around 1500 of them can’t help you. So, at least get rid of the out of service. But Franciscan Center was one of the ones that could help us. But we had never done this before, so we were kind of like nervous about it. But when we came in here, like Roosevelt said, to really have to do that after always having things together, it was really, really hard. Also, even though we’re getting paid for it now, we’ve always been people that everyone comes to. So, being that person on the other side, needing help, it wasn’t easy for us. But when we came here, Sabrinia and Roslyn didn’t make it feel as if we were at a center applying for anything. It was like, “hey, let’s just figure this out. How can we help you?” She gave me her number and her email and said, “we’re going to help you by Saturday” – I think it was a weekend – “and we’re going to send that email and get it paid.” And we were just thanking her. We kept coming back. She couldn’t get rid of us anyway! We’re going to be here one way or another! (laughing) We were so fortunate. That help, it was the most for us. She really changed our lives.

You kept pressing on. You didn’t quit. Why?

After that, it gave us hope. I think in this world people get so desensitized everyday by things that we see and don’t even know it. But when we came here and she helped us, even though this is what they do here, it felt like so much more. Like, she didn’t have to do all that: offer that extra warmth and that extra care. But she did, and when she did that, it gave us so much more: It was a good sign that something good was coming out of this. And every day after that, things just got a little bit easier. We got this, got this call. And then SafeLink picked up right away. And because we were partners, we were able to hire people and like the money just started coming in. And we were like, what’s happening? We still have issues, but we have a way to figure them out.

R: Sabrinia! (laughter)

C: So, when that happened to us, we really got a good feeling when we were here, and we want to come back and we want to sit beside you guys and get that feeling again, and again and again!

How many people are you employing now?

C: Right now, we have about five. We had like ten, but when it’s colder, people don’t want to stay outside. We hope when the weather breaks, we’ll hire some more. We’d like to employ as many people as we can, because there’s so many people we can’t get to, and the service so much needed.

R: This [experience with the Franciscan Center] allowed us to be more understanding of how to help people, as well. We have a couple of contracts with different homeless shelters and nursing homes –

C: And they’re still calling us. We take this very seriously, it’s really a business for us.

R: People thought of it as an outside business – you see people on the corners, handing out phones — but we took it inside, and developed relationships with homeless shelters and resource centers. So, it’s become an inside business.

C: We’re hoping that if we get to the centers and the shelters where the people are gathering, we can eliminate some of danger from people stealing information and provide a reliable service.