By Robert W. Dalton
Dr. Youmi Efurd and Emma Humphries ’22 are delivering hope and comfort to local individuals who are homeless.
Efurd, Wofford’s curator, has designed art activities and programming for clients of the Spartanburg Opportunity Center, which provides individuals in the community who are homeless with food, showers, clothing, laundry services and access to additional resources.
Each Friday, Efurd and Humphries, an art history and government double major from Gaffney, South Carolina, lead the center’s clients in a variety of activities, including painting, coloring, journal writing, meditation and gardening.
It started as a research project, but it has become personal for both Efurd and Humphries.
“It’s going to be difficult to break the cycle of chronic homelessness. We all know that,” Efurd says. “I was hoping to give them some stress relief and something they could focus on other than their situation.”
Humphries says she enjoys hanging out with the clients, hearing their stories and building relationships. She says the weekly art and mindfulness sessions are informal but important, serving as a self-care routine for the clients.
“That’s where my research comes in,” she says. “I’m looking at certain types of crafts and how they can aid with decision-making.”
Efurd began volunteering at the center in December. She wanted to learn about the staff, the volunteers, the services they provide and the clients. And she wanted them to learn about her.
“It’s important to have an acquaintance with them, a personal bond to some extent,” she says. “They know me, and that’s very important.”
Efurd started researching art therapy and different approaches, materials and activities designed to provide relief, even if it’s just for an hour at a time. She also consulted Katie Harmon, a 2015 Wofford graduate who worked with Efurd as a student and now does the same type of programming for individuals who have recently been released from incarceration in New York City.
On a Friday afternoon in June, Efurd and Humphries provided the materials and the guidance to help clients create a book about themselves. Samantha, a woman who is recently homeless, filled the pages with scenes about her family; her puppy, Maples; and lilies, her favorite flower.
“It’s been terrifying, and this (program) is very helpful, a very positive influence,” says Samantha. “This whole place has been a lifesaver.”
Efurd says participation can be sporadic because the center doesn’t have a regular clientele. It doesn’t routinely offer overnight stays, so it serves a lot of people who are coming and going.
“It’s not like a shelter, where there are returning clients,” she says. “Some people will disappear for a while. Sometimes we have seven attendees and sometimes only two, but we are there because it is important to be consistent.”
Rich Lancaster, pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church, serves as chaplain at the Opportunity Center and also assists with operational duties. He says the center’s clients are drawn to the activities because of the energy that Efurd brings to them.
“I see strong participation, not because of what is being offered in art or music or whatever, but because of their strong affinity for Youmi,” Lancaster says. “They appreciate who she is, so we see a lot of our beneficiaries participating. To have her be a part of the services we provide is amazing. She just brings a positive attitude — an aura of light and enthusiasm — that helps set the tone for our day. She personifies what we’re all about.”
Efurd hopes that once the program is established, it can be operated entirely by Wofford students.
“I started it, but it doesn’t have to be me,” Efurd says. “Eventually a body of students can take over, and I can step aside.”