As a rule, Carrie Powell never gives out money to women. Not because they aren’t deserving, but because if she does it once, she knows she’ll never stop. But there was one young woman Carrie couldn’t turn down.
“I loved her so much,” Carrie, 43, recalls. “I wanted to house her myself because I wanted her off the street.”
One day, the woman came to Vision Ministries, where Carrie works, and Carrie decided to give her some money anyway — she couldn’t help herself.
“It wasn’t 12 hours [before] she was in jail for possession of meth,” Carrie said.
Carrie is familiar with the behavior of addicts, but the betrayal Carrie felt didn’t stop her from continuing to help others. As women’s coordinator at Vision Ministries, a faith-based Denton nonprofit, Carrie has dedicated the past three years of her life to helping countless women in crisis. They include women in poverty, women in recovery, women who have survived abuse or human trafficking, and women suffering from disabilities. She also spends weekends doing street outreach by visiting homeless encampments and women behind bars.
Video by Asharhri Falls
Carrie’s mantra, “Not a handout but a hand up,” best represents how she’s chosen to help these women, providing them with resources to help them better their lives. She has transformed the Denton community by building relationships with people who go unnoticed and bringing awareness to issues that women face.
“When you see [women] beaten down, and they have been exhausted from one door to the next, and they get here, and the volunteers will just love on them,” Carrie said. “There’s a difference when they leave here. It’s just like, ‘Wow.’”
‘Something got a hold of me’
Carrie, who was raised in Richardson, was the most daring sibling in her family. Whether that meant jumping out of a tree or sliding down the stairs, she never seemed afraid.
“Having a boy in the family, you’d think he was the reckless one,” said her sister Kate Best, about their younger brother. “No. Carrie’s the one that went to the hospital as a child more times than any of us. … My sister’s not one to back down.”
Carrie’s strong resolve didn’t go unnoticed when she attended Berkner High School in Richardson. After a few students were killed in a drive-by shooting outside the school, she started an organization called Students Against Violence.
“When there’s something where she can help somebody, she wants to do it,” Kate said. “And a lot of times she’s the first person to do it.”
Carrie’s first experience with a woman in crisis came long before her work with Vision Ministries. Her father, once a successful businessman, had made some bad investments and went bankrupt. Her mother became an alcoholic, and her parents soon divorced.
“I grew up with that dysfunction,” Carrie said. “I lived with an alcoholic mom until I couldn’t live with her anymore.”
The emotional stress of living with her mother became too much, and Carrie moved in with her father, a source of her strength.
“My dad was integral in who I am today,” she said.
Texas Woman’s University classmate and friend Ahna Hubnik also noticed Carrie’s compassionate side.
“She’s been that way since the day I met her,” Ahna said.
While in college, the two bartended in an establishment where the regulars were older and rougher. But Ahna was never scared — not if they worked the same shift.
Carrie credits her time as a bartender with inspiring her to help women.
“I was watching women be devalued,” she said. “And it bugged me. I didn’t do a lot about it, but it bothered me.”
Perhaps she would have done more if she hadn’t fallen into drug use herself at the time.
“I didn’t know the Lord then, but he saved me from a lot of bad situations,” she said.
Then in 2001, on the steps of the Courthouse on the Square, Carrie married her husband, David. Three years later, they had a son, Jack, whom Carrie would choose to home-school after quitting her job at Barnes & Noble.
The untimely deaths of her mother (alcoholism), grandmother (a stroke) and father (pancreatic cancer) came in rapid succession and sent her into a deep depression.
“I couldn’t grasp death, and it was all happening at one time,” Carrie said. “I had a kid and a husband, and I didn’t really care. But something got a hold of me … it changed me.”
The sequence of tragic events spurred her Christian faith and caused her to reexamine her life.
“I’m definitely a believer that God can change your heart to be something totally different,” she said.
A Vision for helping
In 2011, Carrie went on a mission trip with Denton Bible Church to Tennessee to volunteer at a food pantry and clothing closet.
“To see poverty at that level was eye-opening,” she said. “In the Appalachian Mountains where there is no money, it is so bad.”
The mission trip inspired her to give more of herself to others. A friend referred her to Vision, a ministry of Denton Bible Church.
Vision, housed in an unlikely looking warehouse, is open to anyone who needs help, counseling or just someplace to relax. Inside are couches and home decor to make visitors feel comfortable.
The ministry’s food pantry receives fresh produce from the church’s community garden (the largest in the nation) as well as beef and sausage through a cattle ministry. The clothing closet, designed like a retail clothing store, gives away casual clothes for adults as well as children.
Carrie started at Vision as a volunteer, bringing along her young son, sorting donated shoes and filling bags of rice. Her once-a-month visits became weekly, and she began to manage Vision’s food pantry, where she helped develop its “grocery store” feel. She created the Food Club, which helps sustain a group of families who meet every two weeks. She also helped build the pantry’s chicken coop, which supplied the pantry with eggs before it began taking egg donations.
In 2015, Carrie was offered a paid position with Vision as its women’s coordinator. With her increased exposure to the Vision clientele, her husband began to fear for his wife’s safety. But he soon learned that his anxiety wouldn’t change anything.
“Any apprehension I might have had was quickly removed with her excitement and joy to do the job,” he said.
Some remnants of concern still linger, though.
“There’s a certain fear factor every now and then, when she’s going around to motels, doing flyers or something along those lines,” David said.
But when Carrie brings home sad stories of women in crisis, the two of them spend time figuring out how best to help.
“She comes home emotionally spent from time spent with women who are going through all sorts of stuff,” he said. “It’s something that she would do no matter what. Even if she was not involved with the organization, she would do it on her own.”
‘How did he protect her?’
A woman in her late 20s once came to the Vision warehouse, and Carrie helped her.
“She was in this pretty little dress. Adorable, cute,” Carrie said. “But she was with the homeless guys that I knew. And I thought, ‘What is she doing?’”
The woman didn’t ask for much, and Carrie didn’t see her again until one rainy Saturday when the woman knocked on the bright red warehouse door. The woman was drenched, her long blond hair soaking wet.
“Well, it’s Saturday, we’re not open,” Carrie reluctantly told her
“Oh, I didn’t know what day it was,” she said. “I’m just cold.”
Carrie brought her in, gave her a jacket from the clothing donation and told her to come back. A couple months later, Carrie found her sitting on the curb of a busy street, balled up, rocking back and forth. Carrie asked if she was OK.
“I’m fine,” she repeated in short breaths, jittering on the pavement.
Her hair was matted and her deterioration evident, no longer the attractive woman from months before. Carrie brought her to Vision, where a volunteer gave her a haircut. The woman later spent several months in jail, and Carrie would visit. Their relationship strengthened, even though Carrie knew she was a meth addict. They became so close that the woman would sometimes call Carrie “Mom.”
The woman later became pregnant, but that didn’t stop her from using. When the day came to give birth, she needed an emergency C-section, and Carrie was by her side.
“I thought the girl was gonna die,” Carrie said. “I had no idea what the baby was gonna look like.”
The infant, however, had no abnormalities. At 7 pounds, 5 ounces, Carrie thought it was a miracle.
“It made me believe that God can do anything on others,” she said. “That baby for nine months had been using meth. How did he protect her?”
Around 3 a.m., hospital staff found meth in the woman’s jacket pocket. The police arrived, and the baby was taken from her care.
“Being pregnant, a meth user, she still hadn’t hit her bottom,” Carrie said. “She’s still a user. She’s still living on the streets. She’s still a mental health issue.”
Carrie realizes that some women just can’t be helped, haunted by the bad choices they can’t seem to overcome.
“What’s important is the relationship with that person,” she said. “We’ll talk to them, figure out the holes, and they either appreciate that or they don’t. And that’s fine.”
‘Her giving is never depleted’
A single mother of two once visited Carrie at Vision. The woman had just moved from Houston to attend TWU on a scholarship. Because the woman missed class registration and couldn’t register until January, she didn’t have housing. And she had only $1,000 to her name. Carrie later learned the woman was sent to Vision by Giving Hope, a nonprofit in Denton that provides housing.
Carrie went to Giving Hope and managed to get the woman on the waiting list for the Wheeler House, which finds transitional housing for single mothers.
Soon after, the woman got a job, and her children were enrolled in school. But she was down to just a few hundred dollars, and there was still no available housing. Carrie spent a lot of time talking and praying with the woman. Rather than just “pushing [her] off” on another nonprofit, Carrie chose to build a relationship with the woman. Days later, Carrie got a call about a spot that had opened at the Wheeler House.
Had Carrie not stuck by this woman, she could have become homeless with two children, no money and nowhere to go.
“A lot of nonprofits give until they’re depleted, but she won’t,” said Carrie’s friend Ahna. “She makes sure her giving is never depleted.”
Three and a half years ago, Stephanie Siddle, 57, moved into a home after spending six months on the streets. But she had no food or household items until she turned to Vision for help. That’s where she met Carrie.
“She played the role of helping me know that being on the street wasn’t my final destination,” Stephanie said. “That there was hope, there were other options.”
Stephanie now volunteers with Vision.
“Because of [Carrie’s] mentorship, now I can mentor others that are going through it too,” she said.
Through her work with women in crisis, Carrie has become more than just a bystander to the hard issues taking place in the streets of Denton.
“Helping women is Carrie’s true calling,” said Ahna. “We need more of her in this town.”
JASMINE ROBINSON can be reached at JasmineRobinson3@my.unt.edu.