Rob Sampson calls Haywood Street Respite a “God-send.”
He knew to expect cancer. It’s not a good family history: Rob’s mother is a breast-cancer survivor. Rob had moved from Indiana to Asheville to be with his father and was working in day-labor. When his father developed cancer and was taken in by Rob’s stepsister, Rob was left without a place to live.
He talked about another God-send, his doctor ¬– Scott Joslin – who seemed to take a personal interest in Rob.
Annually, Rob had been plagued by bronchitis and, with a bout of it at the end of the summer 2014, he went to the hospital thinking they would give him some medicine as usual. Instead, they told him they had found a “big old black spot. We’re not going to let you leave.”
Dr. Joslin told him, “They really want me to let you go, but you need treatment.” He gave Rob his personal telephone number. When tests were complete, Joslin said he’d call with the outcome. When the doctor himself came in to deliver the news, Rob knew it was bad. “I had nobody here,” Sampson said, so that was a significant gift. Joslin also volunteered to call Rob’s mother in Indiana.
After the surgery, the next challenge was the decision to go back on the street or find a place to recuperate. It was mid-September so he knew as colder weather moved in he would never make it to treatment on his own.
There were mixed feelings about moving from the street to Haywood Street Respite with as many as eight other people. After having half of his left lung removed, Joslin understood that going back on the street would be a death-sentence for Rob.
He might have gone back to his mother in Indiana. But “I wanted to keep my doctor,” Rob explained. “I don’t know what I would have done,” he said, had he had to give up the familiar, supportive doctor.
Haywood Street Respite companions drove Rob to chemo once a week and picked him up five or six hours later. Radiation appointments followed. “Dickie (Dick LeDuc, who often drove him) made me feel comfortable. It was like we were old buddies.”
The chemo left Rob very weak, he said, but when he’d had a day or two recovering, he wanted to stay busy.
“Rob was a big help while in Respite. He’d vacuum, mop, washes dishes, washes clothes and, on mornings when he felt well enough, make breakfast for everyone else,” said HSR program manager Jody Halstead. “He set a good example for community living.”
On Sunday nights, Rob goes to Daybreak Community, a ministry currently housed at Central UMC centered on recovery, not just from drugs or alcohol but from whatever recovery is needed, and he enjoys the people he meets at the Downtown Welcome Table on Wednesdays at Haywood Street Congregation.
“Most of the time,” he observed, Respite’s residents are not going back on the streets. Jody, an R.N., and her largely volunteer staff “work with these people to get something ‘over their head’ when their time is up at Respite.”
For Rob, it was a warm welcome to stay in the home of three Haywood companions, Brian and Beth Hook and their daughter Eva.
He also appreciates Rathburn House where his mother was able to stay when she drove down from Indiana to see him.
Rob has trouble fighting back tears when he addresses his future, but, for now, he knows he has a safe, comfortable and loving place to be.
“The people at Respite – I mean, like – WOW!” he said, referring to the staff.
“I never thought you’d see me sitting in a church,” but Haywood Street is a regular place for him now. Haywood’s “Pastor Brian (Combs) and Pastor Ben” (Floyd ¬– with the Daybreak ministry) have changed all that. “They are like two peas in a pod. It’s love,” he said. “That’s what I see there all the time. There is no judgment.”
Sampson is awaiting the next report, but he’s feeling good about his prospects. He has some numb spots from the surgery and can’t lift his left arm. He plans to take advantage of the exercise classes at the YMCA for those recovering from such surgery, and at Goodwill, he’ll learn to use a computer.
He’s certain he wants to stay in Asheville. “I would probably move some place if I could take the church with me. The ‘honest-to-goodness’ love you feel here” compels Sampson to stay. “There is nothing fake here.”
(For volunteer opportunities, contact, Jody Halstead, firstname.lastname@example.org)