Kindness fits them like a glove
Ken Kebrdle the chairman of Wear Gloves, right, talks with Kayla Lacroix, a client, as she assembles wall brackets for ClosetMaid. Wear Gloves plans to hold their Saturday Church In The Garden service in an old house with a Recovery Coach upstairs. The Wear Gloves Dignity Center is founded on the principle of Dignity, Not Dependency and helps people earn what they need. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
A mission trip to Romania would be life transforming for Ken and Wendy Kebrdle.
The couple lived in a large house, had prestigious jobs and went on annual luxurious vacations, but their experience in the Eastern European country was eye-opening.
“That’s what kind of changed everything for us, just working with folks in extreme poverty,” said Ken Kebrdle. “We decided to sell everything (in 2009 and 2010). We sold our house, quit our jobs and moved into a bus with our 12-year-old daughter. We travelled around the country for 4 ½ years, learned and immersed ourselves in poverty.”
The Kebrdle’s founded Wear Gloves, a nonprofit, as a way of helping people who are struggling with homelessness, mental illness, addiction or extreme poverty.
“We just trust that God is in control,” said Kebrdle. “We adjust based on the needs of our clients.”
Wear Gloves assists about 105 people every month, helping them transition from life on the streets or in the back seats of their cars to stable lives. They find housing, teach them to pay their bills. It’s done in a dignified manner, with the clients earning the opportunity to improve their quality of life while building their self-esteem, so they can understand their value and self-worth.
“The whole concept is based on the grace commandment, love God and love your neighbor,” said Kebrdle. “So, we try to do this to better love folks God put in our path. That’s the whole basis of the ministry. We were just looking to help folks who were in need.”
Early on, Ken and Wendy would go to the downtown square in Ocala on Saturdays with coffee, meeting people and listening to their stories. They would eventually transition to Tuscawilla Park, and when more people found out about Wear Gloves and what they were doing, there was a greater need for a permanent home. The experience provided the Kebrdles with the opportunity to learn a lot about relationships.
“The city couldn’t have been better partners after we got this going,” said Kebrdle.
The Dignity Center is a place where people can work to earn the opportunity to have a bill paid, get a bike for transportation so they can go to a job, and it lets them know they have value in a world that at times can be cold and unkind.
About 70 people work each week at the Dignity Center, it’s based on the amount of work Wear Gloves has and they’re looking for more manufacturers. Wear Gloves ubiquity resonates throughout the community with their Litter teams’ presence picking up in the city’s parks daily.
“The concept is to allow folks to earn what they need,” said Kebrdle. “They’ll come here on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and work from 8 am to 2 pm, where they’re doing parts assembly. The original intent was to give them a place where they could work doing art, or whatever we could come up for them to do, to get basic job skills and learn that they have to show up on time. We’d give them a job reference and they would get work based on that recommendation from Wear Gloves.”
When they returned to Ocala, the Kebrdles took the gravitas of those learning experiences, and decided to direct their energies to making a difference in people’s lives. Their first initiative was Church in the Garden, providing a place for people who didn’t feel comfortable with going to a corporate church, said Kebrdle.
“Interfaith Emergency Services let us use their complex for Church in the Garden every Saturday, and that was going on prior to the pandemic, every week for five years,” said Kebrdle. “At Church in the Garden, we developed relationships even further and learned a lot more about the needs in Ocala.”
Volunteers and financial donors are critical components to the ministry. Wear Gloves recently moved into its new complex on North Magnolia Avenue, which includes the Dignity Center, an urban garden and eventually a place where people will be able to sit down for a cup of coffee. Dignity Roasters has provided Wear Gloves with a revenue stream, allowing clients to build their self-esteem through coffee subscriptions. Clients can also create palette art, do woodwork and can learn how to drive a forklift, so they’ll be able to transition back into the workplace.
“Seeing somebody come here, who’s really broken, regardless of what they look like…letting them know that they have value, and that we’re able to put them to work and seeing their dignity restored brings me great joy,” said Sandy Murphy, who interviews the prospective clients and manages the urban garden. “I just love seeing people transformed. The potential that all this has is incredible.”
For more information about Wear Gloves, call 352-727-0239 or visit their website at www.weargloves.org.