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2022 Michiganians of the Year

Monroe pastor Heather Boone gives people a fresh start

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Heather Boone, Pastor of Oaks of Righteousness Church, and president of the non-profit Oaks Village, stands inside the Oaks Village homeless shelter, in Monroe David Guralnick, The Detroit News

Heather Boone wholeheartedly believes God called her and other followers to serve.

To the many who found food, shelter, prayer, a fresh start and more through the many programs under the nonprofit Oaks Village that she started in Monroe nearly a decade ago, the pastor and its team are angels living that message, making Boone the recipient of the Angelo B. Henderson Community Commitment Award.

Their efforts have gained national attention in recent months, coinciding with a sharp rise in residents seeking help as inflation and other economic woes linger amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the economy challenges the campus and volunteers, Boone knows it only magnifies their mission and underscores why they should focus on the future. That includes establishing a housing project on newly acquired land and boosting its shelter operations and feeding initiatives.

“It really is a struggle, but we know this is what we were called to do,” Boone says. “We can’t turn back now.” 

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Pastor Heather Boone, of Monroe, founder of the nonprofit Oaks Village
It really is a struggle, but we know this is what we were called to do,” Boone says. “We can’t turn back now.

To some, the Michigan native and Oaks Village founder has only recently grabbed the spotlight thanks to her 2021 win for USA Today’s Best of Humankind Awards Person of the Year. She was among 11 that online voters selected to win $1,000 for their causes.

Through word of mouth and proud testimonials from those who swear setting foot there changed their lives, the outfit has drawn thousands since its launch in 2012.

Boone, a former leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, worked with her husband to start a new ministry, Oaks of Righteousness, in Monroe.

Recognizing the city abounded in residents seeking more than spiritual sustenance, she and her supporters worked to expand the site through a shelter and warming center, which led to finding a larger property to house more programs intended to make their campus, now called Oaks Village, a hub for help.

Today, there is an array of resources available: an emergency food pantry; summer lunch café and soup kitchen, serving thousands of meals annually; “clothing closet” featuring free accessories, toiletries and household items; child care facility; nonprofit grocery store; and a free health clinic.

Pastor Heather Boone, president of the non-profit Oaks Village
2022 Michiganian Pastor Heather Boone
David Guralnick, The Detroit News

The latter has offered COVID-19 testing and recently added a clinic several days a week devoted to substance abuse, an issue increasing in the last year, Boone says.

At the same time, more visitors are lining up for the offerings from the soup kitchen and pantry, where 100-150 boxes of donated items can head out each week.

The influx includes “people we’ve never seen before, because things are rougher for them trying to choose between gas or getting prescriptions and food,” Boone says.

Early this year, supplies had diminished to the point that Oaks Village pleaded for help on Facebook. Though donors quickly showed up, shelves run the risk of emptying once again, Boone says. “I don’t think people understand the need we see.”

Heather Boone, Pastor of Oaks of Righteousness Church, and president of the non-profit Oaks Village, stands inside the Oaks Village food pantry, in Monroe, April 21, 2022. Oaks Village comprises of a food pantry, homeless shelter, non-profit grocery store, clothes closet, free medical clinic, child care center, and soup kitchen.
Heather Boone, Pastor of Oaks of Righteousness Church, and president of the non-profit Oaks Village, stands inside the Oaks Village food pantry, in Monroe, April 21, 2022. Oaks Village comprises of a food pantry, homeless shelter, non-profit grocery store, clothes closet, free medical clinic, child care center, and soup kitchen. David Guralnick, The Detroit News

Meanwhile, Oaks’ transition housing shelter has been at or near capacity.

It welcomes clients such as Bradley Pugh, who first meet Boone years ago and faced ruin through struggles with drugs.

The Monroe County native now is active with the church while working to recover and rebuild his life.

“This is a foundation, a solid foundation,” he says. “You know, God’s work is done here every single day, seven days a week. … Anywhere here in Monroe, if they need anything, they need help. Everybody knows to come here. And Pastor Boone has her arms and her heart wide open for all of us.”

Shelter recipient Lynne is a single mother of two young daughters who has been there for nearly two months. She previously stayed there after leaving an abusive relationship and had been living in a van while seeking a new job.

Lynne, who declined to give her last name, has been able to work in elder care while her two girls are in school.

Oaks has provided much needed stability and comfort, she says. “Other places, they don’t offer things like this. It’s a good, uplifting place.”

Pastor Heather Boone shops at the Village Market, in Monroe, April 21, 2022. The market is part of Oaks Village comprises of a food pantry, homeless shelter, clothes closet, free medical clinic, child care center, soup kitchen, and non-profit grocery store.
Pastor Heather Boone shops at the Village Market, in Monroe, April 21, 2022. The market is part of Oaks Village comprises of a food pantry, homeless shelter, clothes closet, free medical clinic, child care center, soup kitchen, and non-profit grocery store. David Guralnick, The Detroit News

Boone and her team strive to offer more to lift spirits in a county where the U.S. Census Bureau estimates 9.7% residents live in poverty.

There are plans to transform a building into a beauty salon for haircuts and grooming services.

Perhaps the largest upcoming endeavor is forming a project for “tiny houses.”

Inspired by Detroit’s Cass Community Social Services pushing to erect a cluster of such abodes ranging from 250-400 square feet on small lots, Boone and her team have acquired three parcels across the street from its grounds to pursue a similar effort.

They are working with officials on rezoning and tapping architects to map out the homes, Boone says.

“It is so hard right now to find affordable housing, and some people have so many barriers — not only just affordability, but background issues, credit issues," she says. "We want to be able to give people homes and also give them an opportunity to be homeowners.”

Heather Boone (Angelo B. Henderson Community Commitment award winner)

Age: 46

Occupation: Pastor, leader of the nonprofit Oaks Village

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees from Spring Arbor University, a master's in pastoral ministry from Ecumenical Theological Seminary 

Family: Married with one daughter

Why honored: For spearheading Oaks Village's comprehensive services to those in need in the community.

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