UMWC: 40 Years of Compassion, Dignity, and Care

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Urban Ministries of Wake County’s service to our community.

We continually evolve to meet an ever-changing need, but one thing hasn’t changed – that we do so with compassion, dignity, and care.

It all started back in 1981, when downtown Raleigh congregations of diverse faiths and denominations wanted to respond to unmet needs in the community. They formed an organization known initially as the Urban Ministry Center.

In June of 1984, they opened The Ark Shelter which offered emergency shelter to 25 homeless men.

1984: Ark Shelter Opens

The next year, the Open Door Clinic opened under the leadership of Dr. Donald T. Lucey. The program was one of the earliest free and charitable clinics established in North Carolina and remains one today. We also have our own licensed pharmacy onsite.

In January of 1986, The Ark Shelter expands to accommodate 10 women. 14 years later, it would become an emergency shelter specifically for single women experiencing homelessness. It was renamed the Helen Wright Center for Women, in honor of Helen Wright, the agency’s first director.

After 26 years of service, Executive Director Ann Burke retired in 2013. Dr. Peter Morris became her successor and is still Executive Director.

In 2017, our food pantry became the largest in Wake County to offer client choice, allowing food-insecure families to choose their own groceries instead of receiving pre-bagged food.

A grant from Wake County helped fund a new 73-bed Helen Wright Center for Women, which opened in June of 2020.

Though homelessness, hunger, and access to healthcare have existed for a long time, we have spent the last 40 years responding to the need at hand. We were there to help after hurricanes caused devastation and hunger. We were there as the health insurance industry went through many transformations. And now, we have been here during a pandemic.

“The lessons of the pandemic will shape our future,” says Dr. Morris.

Urban Ministries transformed nearly everything in March of 2020. We took our mostly volunteer model and made it a staff majority model. We began seeing patients via telehealth. We started curbside grocery and medication pickups. We took over operations of 3 buildings to keep women experiencing homelessness safer. We have added workforce development classes to help women get better paying jobs. Currently, we are also operating the county’s White Flag shelter for men, women, and children.

“We will use what we’ve learned to respond better to our neighbor’s needs and to be more intentional in our all our programmatic directions,” Dr. Morris adds.

Our wish is that poverty, or even the threat of it, will be eradicated. However, if that is not the case, we wish to keep evolving to meet our neighbors where they are the next 40 years.

What we do would not be possible without the generosity of our community. Whether you have given of your time, talents, or money; YOU uphold our mission. Thank you, Wake County!