Ms. Purnell Not Only Gives Those In Need a Roof, She Provides Family.
Ms. Purnell has lived in the Overbrook neighborhood of Philadelphia for 40 years, almost half of her life. It’s where she raised her children and watched them go off into the world. After having an empty nest, she became unsatisfied with her hospital work. Ms. Purnell had a yearning to help even more people. She had a destiny.
"I was bringing sandwiches to people I saw on the streets, but I knew I could do more," explained Ms. Purnell as she sat at her dining room table. “I started to take people in off the streets – I had a large home and knew I should be sharing it. I want to care for these people.”
Ms. Purnell offered sanctuary to people abandoned by their own families or who had fallen on hard times. Her house is now a home to people with mental and physical disabilities. She found people to take in from hospital social workers whose patients needed a place to live. Ms. Purnell is now famous around the area’s hospitals and the Department of Public Welfare.
This need to help has evolved into the funded, social service operation known as Labor of Love. Ms. Purnell operates three homes in Overbrook under Labor of love. These homes shelter about 20 new family members at a time.
“These are people with no one else to turn to. Eighty percent of them do not have any family. They’d be out on the street if they didn’t have Labor of Love,” Ms. Purnell said.
She focused on Dennis, a resident since 1973. “I’ve had hundreds of people come and go through my home and program. But he’s been here pretty much from the beginning.” Her other residents lounge in the living room or enjoy the sun on the front porch.
Her house doesn’t just serve as a shelter; it acts as a Labor of Love museum. Countless photos hang from the walls, featuring the people who have been housed and loved by Ms. Purnell. “These are all the people who’ve lived in my home and been part of Labor of Love. These people are my family.”
It isn’t easy to operate three homes and sustain human lives. “All this time, no one has ever asked to help me. I’ve had to do everything myself to keep this place running. I even hung the fire escapes myself.”
Rebuilding Together Philadelphia worked to ensure that Labor of Love could continue to be a safe and healthy environment for Ms. Purnell and her extended family. Rebuilding Together Philadelphia gave Labor of Love energy efficient upgrades, installed new kitchen sinks, countertops, and window treatments, put in a new stove, secured the 3rd floor main stair handrail, and renovated their food storage closet. They also painted the kitchen ceiling and walls, the ceiling and wood paneling in the dining and living room.
On the renovations, Ms. Purnell said, “It’s a God send, I am so grateful for the help. I can just cry, knowing that there are people who want to help make my home better. Homes offer comfort and contentment. The people in Labor of Love feel the same way; they know that it means to have a place to sleep.”