Taylor Batten

To find her calling, she just had to listen

Kathy Izard’s new book comes out Oct. 1.
Kathy Izard’s new book comes out Oct. 1.

The chain of events that led to hundreds of chronically homeless people getting off Charlotte’s streets and into homes started when Kathy Izard’s mom started hearing voices in her head in 1969 in El Paso.

The efforts ramped up in earnest almost 40 years later when Izard decided to listen to the whispers in her own head – the ones she had long feared.

The creation of Moore Place, home to scores of people who long lived under bridges and in holes in the ground, is a well-known story in official Charlotte circles. Less known is the story behind the story – about how Izard’s discovery of her calling, stemming in part from her experience with her mother’s manic depression, birthed one of Charlotte’s biggest successes of recent years.

Izard tells that tale in gripping fashion in her new book, “The Hundred Story Home,” coming out Oct. 1. With it, she spins a movie-worthy drama out of a mundane policy issue – no easy feat.

But Izard is getting into the habit of pulling off improbable achievements. Like, say, raising $10 million in the depths of a recession to benefit a forgotten and sometimes seemingly undeserving group. Izard did that, with a lot of help, and built not only Moore Place but a new awareness of the chronically homeless and how to help them. That is playing out with Moore Place sequels today.

Izard’s idyllic childhood was shattered one morning in the spring of 1969, when she was six. While playing with her sister, she looked out the window and saw her mother speaking rapidly to no one in particular. The normally meticulous house was disheveled. For Izard’s mother and the family, it was the beginning of 16 “lost years” in and out of psychiatric wards.

It struck young Kathy during those years how her church’s congregation would endlessly help the families of those dealing with cancer or other disease. But “there are no casseroles for crazy,” Izard found.

Amid this tragedy, Kathy’s father and grandmother each instilled a lesson in her. From her father: “Do good.” From her Gigi: “Love well.”

Fast-forward to 2007. Izard and her family volunteered regularly at the Urban Ministry Center soup kitchen as part of her effort to obey her father’s commandment. Her mother recommended a book – “Same Kind of Different As Me” – by and about Denver Moore. He lived on the streets for 30 years before being rescued and becoming Fort Worth’s “philanthropist of the year.”

The book spoke to Izard, and she kept telling herself: “Invite him to Charlotte.” When he came, she showed off the great work the Urban Ministry Center was doing.

“Where are the beds?” Moore asked. There weren’t any.

“You mean to tell me you do all this good in the day and then lock them out to the bad at night?” Moore asked. He looked at Izard: “Are you going to do something about it?”

So Izard’s saga begins. She’s merely a volunteer, but she feels a calling. She hears whispers telling her this is what she is meant to do. That scares her.

“From my childhood, the fear of listening to voices was immense.” Since her mom first went to the hospital, “I worried similar voices would haunt me, too.”

Instead, she listens to them, and that made all the difference. A series of coincidences that she calls “God-incidences” follow.

It’s a remarkable story, and the reader can’t help but embrace her final message: “Trust the Whisper.”

Email: tbatten@charlotteobserver.com