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At Age 85, Alberta Green Continues Her Ministry

Alberta Green is right back where she started more than 30 years ago, sharing a home with strangers, giving people in need a place to go.

Green gave up a career at Pope Air Force Base back then. Now, at age 85, she sacrifices her retirement to continue the ministry at Green’s Home for Women.

She actually did retire once – for a whole four months. She moved to California in 1999 to be closer to her son. But when she returned to Fayetteville for a visit, she could see there was work still to be done and never went back to California. She left all of her belongings behind, including her car.

“She still wants to know what happened to her round-trip ticket,” said one of the women passing through the home’s dining room.

Green just laughed. She does a lot of that. She has a sense of humor – on a steamy summer day, Green wore an oversize T-shirt with huge letters that said CIA and in smaller print, Christ in Action. But she’s also tough and expects a lot from the women who come to her with addictions to alcohol or drugs. She’s tough on herself, too, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings even though she celebrated her 43rd anniversary of sobriety this past spring.

And that’s one of the reasons she has devoted her adult life to helping people overcome addiction. Green was one of them. As a young wife and mother, she thought her addiction to alcohol was hopeless and tried to commit suicide. She wound up in the hospital and finally sought help. And then she began helping others, inviting strangers home with her until her husband finally said, “You have done wore out two couches.”

But Green still did not think of it as her full-time work – she had a civilian job at Pope Air Force Base. She decided to pray about what to do next and after a few months without any decision, a pastor asked her, “Honey, how long does it take you to pray?”

And then, a clear voice told her what to do: “Go ahead.” Green remembers the exact time, the exact day she says God spoke to her: 2 p.m. June 22, 1973.

From there, she opened homes for women, men and children. There have been so many homes, so many people helped, so many volunteers, it’s hard to keep track. The Baptists sponsored Green’s homes, then the Methodists, then the Baptists again. At least 5,000 people have streamed through the doors of her homes. At one point, Green ran six houses and three thrift stores to help support them.

In 1999, her son convinced her it was time to take a break, enjoy her grandchildren. But then she made that trip to Fayetteville, and things fell into place. A woman donated a house on Hawley Lane, a small winding road near downtown Fayetteville. At first, the house didn’t even have heat, so Green took the women to her house. She eventually moved into the house on Hawley with the women she took in, and volunteers provided everything else, furniture, food, pots, pans, dishes, beds, sheets, everything.

“When you’re blessed, be a blessing to someone else,” she said. “I have been double blessed.”

Green is down to one home now. It’s independent, supported by individual contributors and a handful of churches, most of them Presbyterian, including First Presbyterian, Highland and Westminster plus Cedar Creek Baptist and her own church, Southview Baptist in Hope Mills. On a visit in early summer, seven women were living with her and undergoing a six-month program.

But there have been men and women who have stayed much much longer. Nancy Kelly stayed more than a year.

Alberta Green took her in when no one else would. Kelly was an alcoholic, divorced, homeless and uninsured.

“There were two places in North Carolina that would take me,” Kelly said recently, “a women’s shelter in Charlotte and the other was Mrs. Green’s house.”

Green insisted on the standards Kelly had been brought up with but had somehow lost along the way. Perhaps the most important of these was an active faith in God. Green insists on regular church attendance. Every morning at the home begins with devotion.

“A lot of the women are rebellious, they resent her,” Kelly said. “But she tells them what they need to know, not what they want to hear.”

Kelly is one of Green’s success stories. She came to Green at rock bottom and now has been working for six years as a secretary at a law firm. On Mother’s Day, she took Green to church.

“I think of Mrs. Green as my mother,” Kelly said. “She accepted me when no one else would. She doesn’t give up.”

Green’s Home for Women is one of only a few shelters in Fayetteville that accept women. At the beginning of 2007, there were six. But one of them served only women with HIV. Another accepted only pregnant women. That leaves four shelters and includes Green’s Home for Women. By comparison, there were eight shelters for men and another three designated for families.

The board of directors for Green’s home hopes to expand. Rocky and Ellie O’Farrell are husband and wife and chairman and vice chairman of the board. Rocky O’Farrell has known Green for more than 30 years, almost the entire length of her ministry.

“Alberta is quite an inspiration to a lot of people,” he said. “I believe in what she’s doing. She feels that it’s her calling and we (help) because we think it needs to be done. She’s given her life to this.”

Green is modest about what she has done. “My thing is being obedient to God,” she said. “If He tells us to do something, we need to be obedient. He says obedience is better than sacrifice.”

She waves away any suggestion of a second retirement and quotes evangelist Billy Graham: “Christians don’t retire – they just change positions.”