Voices Changing Communities: Baraka Riptoe, Leading with Her Heart

The Bethesda Center for the Homeless in Winston-Salem has a new executive director since September 2021.  Her name is Baraka Riptoe, and she leads this important center with a caring heart and first-hand knowledge of the challenges of being homeless.  Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Ms. Riptoe describes her career in the helping professions as a “life that chose me.” Her background in social work and private sitting as a certified nurse assistant positioned her perfectly to help those in need in Winston-Salem.  But what taught her the most about how to help those in need was being homeless as a single mom in Jackson, working two jobs, and benefitting from a shelter much like the Bethesda Center.  She found the help she needed and paid it forward in a career caring for abused children, homeless people of all ages, and those with mental illness or who struggle with substance abuse. Looking for a change of location where she could continue her career in caring, Ms. Riptoe chose Winston-Salem, drawn here by the small-town feel, friendly people, and generous spirit of giving in the community.  “Life’s GPS rerouted me here,” she said.  Winston-Salem is lucky to have her (her second choice was Alaska)!

Coworkers describe Ms. Riptoe’s leadership style as firm but fair, her treatment of guests at the Bethesda Center as compassionate and genuine, and her view of everyone at the Center as family. She knows the names of all the guests at the Center, which has 100 beds (60 for men and 40 for women). She can do any job at the center, from checking in guests, who call her “Ms. B,” to hiring personnel.  She strives to make the Center feel like a comfortable home, but not too comfortable! To help guests transition to a home of their own, guests receive assistance with clothing, support groups, skill building, resume writing, and job applications. Staff also work with potential and current landlords to help guests find a safe place to call their own home. The Center benefits from important community partners like landlords that understand the needs of their tenants, will work with the Center staff, and help without judgment.

Director Riptoe learned to help others without judging them at a young age.  Her grandparents, who raised Baraka and her younger brother, taught them old-fashioned values of giving clothes to those in need, helping your neighbors, respecting your elders, and “if you see a need, fill a need.”   Riptoe praises the beautiful outpouring of the community in response to a television interview she did last fall asking for donations to the Bethesda Center.  Winter was approaching and the Center was low on warm clothing.  The community filled their clothing needs that day!   The Center continues to have needs for bottled water, bath soap, undergarments, undershirts, and clothing detergent. The Center has a day shelter open for showers, washing clothes, getting lunch and snacks, and a care package.  Lunches are donated by supportive community partners.  While the Covid pandemic has limited volunteers at the Center, other opportunities to help include volunteering skilled services such as plumbing, electrical repair, and carpentry.  The center is an older building and has a high amount of bathroom usage.  Things break!  They hope to welcome more volunteers in the center when the pandemic allows.

Ms. Riptoe urges our community to never give up helping others and not to be afraid to give from your heart. To her, that means keeping an open mind about giving to those in need and not worrying about what they do with your donation.  “Homelessness can affect people from all walks of life.”  If you would like to donate time, talent, or material goods to the Bethesda Center for the Homeless, please contact Micah Gains, Executive Administrative Assistant (phone: 336-722-9951 – ext. 1410 or email: mgains@bethesdacenter.org).  Ms. B and the Bethesda Center for the Homeless thanks the community for their support and for giving from the heart!


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