Zinith’s Third Place

The following is a guest post from community member and volunteer Zinith Barbee. Read more about him at the bottom of his post. If you’re interested in sending us a guest post, click here. – Sara

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“Love Wins, this is Zinith, how can I help you?”

The caller’s questions stretched me. It’s hard enough to remember my lines. This much I recall:

“Is it a food bank?”


“A shelter?”

“Nooo, I wouldn’t call it that.”

“A church? Welll… yes and no.”

Indeed, it’s easier to explain what Love Wins is not.

Volunteering at the information desk at the hospitality house, I’m always challenged by my symptomatic memory loss. I can explain the complex geology of the rock someone used to break into the Jones St. hospitality house (I’m a retired hydrogeologist). Yet I might not remember what I ate or where I spent an afternoon— examples of how my life changed after brain surgery for a tumor.

My past aside, it’s still difficult for me to explain Love Wins, especially to callers with notions of church and community. For them, answering “yes” to “church” means describing worship, which Love Wins has, but not in the sanctuary of the church whose address it shares. Saying “yes” to “community” means services, which Love Wins gives, but not as a referred resource.

You see, the hospitality house is my “third place” — sort of.

The article defines the third place as a “social gathering spot.” No longer defined by workplace and resisting the confinement of home, a group of elderly folks in New York sought an inexpensive third place – anywhere livelier than senior centers. In their case, a local McDonald’s. They justified stays with periodic purchases of french fries and commandeered tables for hours. Deprived of seating, “real” customers complained.

(These group of elderly friends became to McDonald’s what people experiencing homelessness in Raleigh reportedly are to frequenters of Moore Square— “squatters.” Police removed them.)

Retired, living alone, and needing sprightlier settings, I demographically fit in this population of third placers, only I singly occupied Starbucks. Retirement, however, didn’t really define me, disability did, which is why I retired early. I learned from a woman with autism I met in Starbucks that my disability gave me more in common with her than with seniors lingering in restaurants.

I never recovered from my tumor and surgery six years ago. Relationships recovered me.

I disengaged from life after losing my lifeline— work. Suffering dizziness, headaches, nausea, and seizures, I disengaged even more. Instead of needing people to give me a place to sleep after becoming homeless, I needed people to get me out of bed and out my house. And they did. People were there for me.

Love Wins is that, it’s there, I tried to tell my caller.

At the hospitality house, I do all I can to handle the telephone and more, like some of the volunteers who have known disabilities all their lives. But we are homeful. We do not necessarily need a place to be but a safe place to be more.

Love Wins is that, too, a safe place.

At the information desk, I feel purposed. Maybe a more accurate word is abled. Or is it valued? I’m a retiree commanding a desk for hours and nobody complains. Maybe I helped my caller.  Maybe I did explain the narrow and broad boundary between homelessness and homefulness and how Love Wins addresses homelessness differently from every place the caller knew.

About Zinith: Volunteering in a ministry is new to Zinith Barbee. Not new is volunteering in his community, where he helped save a stream, talked to school children about geology, and where Love Wins Ministries is now located. He attends Raleigh Mennonite Church.

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Sara Acosta

Author: Sara Acosta

Sara is a fan of snark, sushi, and sunblock. Her purpose in the world is building community through communications.