- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - When Roberto Henry was growing up in a small home in Brooklyn, things got tight.

But times were never so tight, he said, that he was turned out on the street.

“We had some tough times, sure, like most families,” Henry said. “I come from humble beginnings myself. But I always had a roof over my head.

“I can only imagine how hard it is for people who don’t.”

Henry knows he can’t change the world. But in his small appliance store on a side street near Raeford Road, he’s literally helping the homeless to a clean start. During working hours, he reserves a few laundry machines as a walk-in laundromat for the needy.

In a little over a year since the store opened, in what had been a motorcycle shop on Old McPherson Church Road, Henry has offered soap, bleach and encouragement for anyone in need who drops by. It’s a word-of-mouth service, and the Panamanian-born businessman said his goal isn’t to get rich - or even to be lauded for his idea.

“It’s not a mission, it’s not a ministry,” he said. “It’s what it is. It’s a nice thing to do. There aren’t enough nice things it seems, so I figured, why not start here?”

Like many, the military drew Henry to Fayetteville. His dad served, and he graduated from E.E. Smith High School. Now Henry sells refurbished appliances nestled between an auto service center and a small engine repair shop. (“Best prices in town with a one-year warranty!” he said.) It’s honest work, and it pays the bills.

“I’m not here to get rich,” Henry said. “We don’t even have a sign on the front door. But we have a good reputation. People find you when they can trust you.”

Part of Henry’s business is making sure the washing machines work as promised. That takes time and water.

“I was thinking about how much water was just going down the drain,” he said.

Then he saw a video on Facebook. A homeless man back in his hometown was talking about life on the street.

“He talked about how hard it was to get going, to find a job and all, when all you had was dirty clothes and an empty stomach,” Henry said. “That stayed with me, haunted me, I guess.

“Then it hit me. I may not be able to do much about the food, but I could help with the clothes.”

He began sharing his idea with people. One day a lady knocked on the glass door of Henry’s business.

“She asked if I was the washing guy,” he said. She was pregnant and someone had brought her here. They wanted to make sure that it was true, that someone would really have that kind of service.

“We have the machines and we have to use the water, so … why not? We even have laundry powder and some bleach.”

What Henry doesn’t have is attitude. With tattoos on each arm, he’s big enough to be a football player. But that size comes with an easy smile and an appreciation of the needs of others.

“There’s nothing to it really,” he said. “I just try to help the best I can. That’s all there is to it.

“I’ve always believed that if you always give, you always get,” he said. “As long as we’re open, we’ll work with them. We’ve never turned anyone away.”

___

Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, https://www.fayobserver.com


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