by Will Kitching
Imagine coming across a homeless man who was almost blind living in a tent in the woods. What would you do?
In 2004, Ruth Walls, a 49-year-old psychiatric nurse, witnessed a Laurel police officer kindly assist a homeless man who was panhandling in front of a store. The store owner had complained about the man and requested police assistance. The officer told the homeless man he couldn’t panhandle in front of the store. Walls thought, wouldn’t it be nice if the officer had something tangible to give the person, something that might help him?
Problems can lead to great ideas, and Walls’ response to what she witnessed that day is a case in point. She developed a resource card for Laurel that lists services to support individuals and families in crisis. Resources listed on the card include the Homeless Hotline, Mobile Crisis Team for Mental Health, Elizabeth House and the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, among others. So far, over a thousand laminated resource cards have been printed and distributed, with one side in English and the other side in Spanish
Many people were involved in making the resource card that is specifically targeted for the Laurel area, Walls said, and many people are helping distribute it. The Laurel Police Department, Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services and the Laurel branch of the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System all carry them to offer to those in need.
“We are very appreciative for being able to hand out the resource cards to members of the community as we see people who may need assistance,” said Russ Hamill, Laurel chief of police. “It is a very simple way to make sure people have the necessary information to more easily connect with providers in our area and we see it as a great benefit to the community.”
Alia Bakry, a junior at the University of Maryland majoring in studio art and Denise Aguilar, who works as a pharmacy technician at The Main Street Pharmacy in Laurel, were instrumental in helping the resource card come together.
Bakry, who designed the resource card, recapped her involvement with Patrons for Peace.
“I major in studio art but have a passion for the social sciences and may even continue my original path of study in that field in addition to my art studies. I got involved with Ruth because I felt like it would be a great opportunity all around, to get myself out there in the realm of social activism, and I just loved the idea that I could use my artwork skills to help people,” Bakry said. “I love that my (art) work is out there in the world making a difference for someone. In any capacity, I feel like that means a lot.”
Aguilar met Walls during her many trips to the pharmacy advocating and assisting clients of Patrons for Peace Project. She volunteered to translate the resource card into Spanish to increase its use among Laurel’s diverse population.
“The Main Street Pharmacy is very involved with Patrons for Peace Project,” Walls said. “They are incredibly helpful with many people I work with and always help in a crisis and an emergency. It is an incredible pharmacy!”
Patrons for Peace Project is a nonprofit Walls formed in 2004 that is committed to providing alternative types of support and creative resources to help homeless individuals and consumers of mental health services achieve and maintain a quality of life with dignity. According to its website, the nonprofit starts by “micromanaging each client’s struggles and walk beside them — ‘hand-holding’ when necessary.”
Services include but are not limited to the following: obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, cognitive assessments, housing, legal services/representation, transportation throughout the country, veterinarian services for homeless individuals’ pets, and referrals to treatment centers for addictions and charitable hospice care.
Patrons for Peace Project is not a typical nonprofit, Walls said, as there are no employees.
“We function with an informal network of individuals, volunteering to help as needed, including our state legislators,” Walls said.
Funding is provided primarily by private donations and grants.
C. Michael Walls, Ruth Wall’s husband, has significantly contributed to the organization.
“Without him, Patrons for Peace would not exist,” Ruth Walls said.
A lawyer, journalist, musician and all-around Renaissance man, C. Michael Walls helped incorporate PPP in 2004. He continues to help by assisting with grant writing and proofreading material, and by performing music at events, Ruth Walls said.
“Perhaps the most impactful assistance that has come from Michael has been his assistance with clients as a criminal defense lawyer. He has donated so much pro bono work over the years assisting our clients with a myriad of issues such as DWIs, theft, assaults and MVA troubles,” Ruth Walls said. “Michael has always been available.”
It was Patrons for Peace that rescued the nearly blind homeless man in the woods.
“We immediately put him into a hotel for safety. We then were able to partner with the Wilmer Eye Clinic and provide transportation to Baltimore City, while housing him and arranging for him to have two surgeries on each eye,” Ruth Walls said.
After over a year of treatment, the man can now see.
“It really is about collaborative efforts occurring to help people. If one person is helped, as far as I am concerned, my mission has been accomplished,” Ruth Walls said.
Donations are always welcomed. Go to patronsforpeace.org to help support this incredible nonprofit that is making a difference in our Laurel community.