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Founder of nonprofit uses her own homeless experience to fuel mission

 Twotone Grant in her Albuquerque home with some of her paintings. Grant is the founder of A Light in the Night, an organization that helps the homeless in Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Twotone Grant in her Albuquerque home with some of her paintings. Grant is the founder of A Light in the Night, an organization that helps the homeless in Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

By the age of 12, Twotone Grant lived on the streets of Los Angeles.

The 43-year-old said her mother’s struggle with addiction and mental illness, and less-than desirable foster homes left her with little choice.

“In some instances, I was safer on the streets,” she said. “My mother had four kids, and I was the youngest. She was a struggling alcoholic.”

It was her troubled childhood and experience with homelessness that would compel Grant years later to start the nonprofit A Light in the Night Community Outreach, a nonprofit organization that provides blankets, socks and other basic needs to the homeless people of Albuquerque.

Volunteers with A Light in the Night organization hand out goods to the city’s homeless in Downtown Albuquerque.

Volunteers with A Light in the Night organization hand out goods to the city’s homeless in Downtown Albuquerque.

Twotone is the official street name she gave herself, inspired by her different-colored eyes and her mixed heritage. Her mother was Anglo and her father black. The new name, she said, also symbolized the start of her new life.

Grant spent more than eight years off and on being homeless. The state had tried to reunite Grant and her siblings with their mother, but it was unsuccessful and she would run away to the streets again.

“She (my mom) was ill-equipped to take care of us,” she said. “It was very difficult for her. We all had special needs, and she struggled with severe mental illness. She could not manage.”

A couple permanently took her in and committed themselves to helping the 21-year-old Grant heal. They gave her a place to live and spent thousands for therapy and stays at intense trauma centers.

Grant decided to move to Albuquerque in 2005 to work with a reputable trauma therapist, but that move came with a difficult decision. Grant decided to give up her newborn, her 4-year-old son and her 8-year-old daughter for adoption. The children all went to different homes, but the adoptive parents all knew one another and agreed to raise the children knowing their siblings and knowing who their mother was.

“I was suicidal for years,” she said. “I did not think I was going to survive.”

Shortly after arriving in Albuquerque, she saw a news story about a homeless man freezing to death.

“I could not wrap my mind around that,” she said. “Nobody froze to death on the streets of LA.”

 Shoes await Albuquerque's homeless, courtesy of A Light in the Night. (Courtesy of Twotone Grant)

Shoes await Albuquerque’s homeless, courtesy of A Light in the Night. (Courtesy of Twotone Grant)

She didn’t tuck the thought away in the back of her mind though. Instead, she took action. She was in art school and set up a box outside her art classroom asking for blankets, gloves and other winter wear. She printed out fliers and posted them at other places. The donations started to arrive and never stopped. Her movement grew and became an official nonprofit organization. Two years ago, she established a board of directors and running the organization has become a full-time job. Anytime temperatures drop, she and her crew of volunteers hit the street searching for the homeless.

Torri Lester and Grant became fast friends when the two were in art school together. Lester, 32, had been homeless as a teen and admired the work Grant was doing. She described Grants as one of the most compassionate, selfless people she has ever met, a person willing to offer a helping hand anytime of day.

Bunnie Cruse, chairwoman of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico board, met Grant through her work. Cruse has also experienced homelessness.

“I think she (Grant) provides a much-needed service for our community,” Lester said. “It’s not just about the items she gives out, but the compassion and human contact.”

Grant said she believes her organization has had success because of its simplicity and the absence of religion or ministry in her efforts.

“I think people like it because there is no middle man,” she said. “It goes from their car, to my car, or storage unit, to the street.”

She will host a yogathon fundraiser April 6 at Blissful Spirits. Participants are asked to take one to five classes that day 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. while getting sponsorship from family and friends. The event costs $25 to participate and includes classes and breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Grant, a practicing muralist, has healed from her past, re-establishing a relationship with her two oldest children, who are now both over 18. She recently left a relationship and has her own place for the first time in her life. She even made peace with her mother, whom she moved to Albuquerque a few years ago. Grant’s mother passed away last year.

“She had some health issues and I felt I needed to take care of her,” she said. “There was no Hallmark repairing of our relationship, but it was cathartic.”

Grant said she plans to continue her work and feels it’s necessary, especially because she can understand what people living on the streets are experiencing.

“I want to make sure people know they are cared for, no matter where they are at,”she said. “There is no judgment. Knowing somebody does care, just that is enough to want to survive for some folks. Being treated like a non-human is the hardest part of being on the street.”

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