March 15, 2014 at 10:09 AM ET
Homeless for three years, Ressurrection Graves vividly remembers the week she slept in her car, waiting for beds to become available at a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter. It was the week of Aug. 23, 2011, when a 5.8 earthquake shook the Virginia area and Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast with wind and rain.
“I prayed and was asking God how this could end,” she told TODAY.com. “It was like, 'Make it stop!'"
When beds finally became available at the shelter, Ressurrection checked in. And there she met Deven Graves, the “kind” man with whom she would leave homelessness behind and start an organization that is helping people caught in a cycle of poverty, including more than 75 homeless individuals so far this year.
“I had this guy staring at me,” Ressurrection recalled of her first encounter with Deven. “It felt like he was looking into my soul. It’s certainly not what you’re expecting in the environment I was in.”
In an interview with TODAY's Lester Holt on Saturday, Graves added to the story and said she "certainly did not go to a shelter to look for a man," but the pair had an instant connection that she called "magical."
Deven, a veteran, had a difficult time making the transition from military to civilian life. That and the death of a family member left him feeling “a little bit lost,” Ressurrection said. He was living at the shelter while working construction jobs and looking for something more permanent.
Deven wooed her over a game of chess, and asked if she would edit his resume. As an entrepreneurial-minded mother who owned her own massage business before she fell on hard times, Ressurrection was impressed. But she didn’t want to get serious until they were out of the shelter.
It didn’t take long. After a month, Ressurrection and Deven saved up enough money from their jobs to move out. Their first date was “romantic and affordable,” a picnic at a park near the water.
Five months later, Deven proposed. They decided to hold a wedding ceremony on a day of special significance: the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.
So on Aug. 28, 2013, two years to the date after Ressurrection and Deven played their first game of chess, the couple exchanged vows on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial as they heard President Obama's voice echoing across the water during his speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
“I felt nothing but peace and joy,” Deven said. “It was a blessing.”
They celebrated the union by giving back to the homeless community. After the ceremony, the wedding party handed out sandwiches to homeless people who frequented two nearby parks. Everyone prayed together, cried together and hugged each other.
“Some of our guests had no idea what we really went through or what our experiences were,” Ressurrection said. “That outreach gave them a way to see inside our experience a little bit.”
The couple's giving didn’t end with sandwiches. They co-founded Glory Soldiers Global, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness and poverty. One of their programs provides counseling and, when funds are available, financial resources to help the homeless find a place to live. Another organizes community “housewarming” parties that provide renters with essentials like cooking utensils and bathroom supplies through donations.
They want to give people the means to undergo “a total transformation." And in that spirit, Ressurrection is also a source of emotional support for community members as a mentor for victims of child sexual abuse.
“While I was homeless I realized that there was a correlation between child sexual abuse and adult homelessness,” Ressurrection said. “Both of those things have happened to me in my lifetime, and I didn’t realize how they were interconnected.”
Ressurrection speaks at colleges around the country, and the couple's efforts have been featured in several publications, most recently in FOX5’s pay it forward column. A memoir penned by Ressurrection about her experience will be re-released next month. (It was originally published in 2011.)
On top of all that, Ressurrection has been participating in a common parent ritual: college applications. Her daughter, now 18, has already been accepted to two universities.
Life is stable again — though it took some time for the couple to reach that point. They live in a house together, and Deven has a full-time job that provides for his family. Special financial programs for veterans also have proved helpful, and the couple encourage other veterans to explore such options.
“It was a blessing to have Ressurection come in my life,” Deven said, adding that he's relishing his new role helping others who haven’t overcome homelessness yet.
“People can feel rejected, or they feel a sense that no one cares or understands,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling for me to help them see that people really do care and other people have compassion. That’s one thing we need more of in this world, compassion.”