We asked you to tell us about inspiring women in your life. We went through hundreds of nominations in our Remarkable Women contest. Now, we’re sharing our finalists’ stories.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — With a name like Mickie Powers, you’d think she’s a superhero. You’re right — but she’s not the kind of superhero who lives in the imagination, movies or books. She’s the kind of superhero who lives in Austin with a very real power of changing lives.
“I enjoy the shine in someone’s eyes when they say ‘I got a job,'” she said. “It’s just real important for me to see that and help people out.”
Powers is a retired middle school science teacher, cancer survivor and now the volunteer director at Common Ground ATX, a 170-bed facility in south Austin that houses people off the streets, out of jail or out of luck.
“Some of them are job hunting. I might help them with a resume, bus passes, getting them food that they need and that sort of thing,” Powers said.
Powers said many of their residents are one step above homeless and not accepted in traditional rentals because of a criminal background. Where she works, they’re given a chance.
“When someone has been incarcerated or on the streets for 5-10 years what’s successful — some might consider awfully small, but for them it can be life changing,” she said.
It’s noon as Powers emphatically gave KXAN a tour of the building. She was up before the sun, stopping by the food bank for fresh vegetables and fruits to bring back to the kitchen’s chef. He works with what she gives him — there is no set menu. She shouted as loud as she can — in a caring voice, not to frighten but to gently remind the residents — “roasted chicken! Lunch is here! Roasted chicken!” People started to line up for the boxed lunch.
She then showed us a conference room she said she’s proud of. This is where Alcoholic Anonymous meetings or computer and job learning lessons from experts take place. These are skills many of her residents never had before.
“The whole thing ends up being a real thrill when somebody comes in with their face lit up and they’ve been successful. They may have been in jail 20 years sitting in their cell doing nothing constructive for their future self,” she said.
We passed through the conference to what looks like individual apartment units. Powers took us inside one room, with a freshly-made bed. The person who temporarily lives here is a clearly a football fan: his favorite team’s logo is everywhere. They’re decorations he paid for and added to make the room his own.
“This is what could happen if you get a job,” Powers said, describing the room.
Back outside, we heard birds singing.
“We’ve got birds in here and it adds a little life to the place,” said Powers as she walked over to feed the colorful birds resting in a large cage with room to fly. It seemed like a fitting symbol to have here. And it’s no surprise to learn Powers is also a licensed rehabilitator with Wildlife Rescue. She said it’s her other passion.
Powers not only rescues people from homelessness but also animals she finds on the streets. For the past 12 years, she has fed and trapped feral cats to be spayed or neutered.
Before Powers left the facility for the day and onto her next mission, she grabbed a boxed roasted chicken lunch from the kitchen table. It’s not for her, although she hasn’t had anything to eat that day. It’s for someone else.
She asked one of the residents, “Can you give this to the gentleman who can barely walk in room 119?”
He agreed and said something out of reach for us to hear but it’s clear in Power’s response to him: “Oh thank you. I love you, too.”