Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Clark, an amazing woman who organized an initiative called Project Love around the holidays. Driving through the valley in which she lives, Melissa spotted a campfire from a homeless enclave. Seeing folks struggling to stay warm on such a cold winter day moved Melissa in a very personal way. You see, not too long ago, Melissa herself was homeless and struggling with substance abuse.
I connected with Melissa through her current home, Acres of Diamonds , in Duvall, Washington, USA. AOD is a faith-based non-profit that provides housing, life coaching, and a variety of support services to homeless women and their children affected by domestic abuse, substance abuse, and mental health problems. AOD provides more than just temporary shelter. The residents at AOD join a program to break the cycles that keep them from self-sufficiency.
The goal for the residents is to achieve complete independence via graduating out of the residence and supporting themselves and their children on their own while making meaningful contributions to society.
At the time of our talk, Melissa had been at AOD and sober for 9 months. Her 7-year-old son was living with her, and she found employment at a local pizza shop. Melissa shared that she finally feels safe, secure, and loved. When she saw that homeless person’s campfire on her drive home, though, she remembered a different time in her life. The cold, the helplessness, and the spiritual battles all came to mind, and she felt God spoke to her heart in that moment to take action. But before she put plans in motion, she thought it best to honor the individuals she was trying to help by figuring out just what they needed. She and a friend visited some of the homeless folks in the community, invited them to lunch at McDonald’s, and asked them directly what they could use.
From there, the two friends put together a PowerPoint presentation for their church and pitched the idea to create care packages to deliver to the local homeless population. These efforts, titled Project Love, in partnership with an event at a local gym, resulted in huge numbers of clothing, toiletries, coats, sleeping bags, and other essentials getting directly into the hands of those forgotten members of the community.
Furthermore, Melissa, along with her son and an escort for safety, delivered packages to the homeless on Christmas Eve. Since then, she has also secured a standing gift card at the local bike shop for any homeless persons who come in needing repairs and provided a pair of insulated boots to a homeless veteran, who thanked her with tears in his eyes. She hopes to organize donation drives at least twice per year.
Melissa feels it is her ministry to show love and understanding without judgement to the homeless. Her goal is to let these people know that she sees their humanity by taking the time to listen to their stories and helping them get what they need to make it through the seasons. She views it as her duty to share the love and security she has received with others still struggling to break the cycle of homelessness. Whether she gets a person a warm meal or gifts them new gloves, she plans to keep taking steps to lift up those around her.
Talking with Melissa inspired me. I admire her ability to celebrate her own milestones while not placing value judgements on those still farther back on the path.
I admire the example she is setting for her son on overcoming obstacles to build a better future for oneself while still showing compassion for others. And I admire her willingness to look another human being in the eye and ask, “Are you ok? What can I do to help?” We live in such contentious times right now in America. People are struggling to find common ground, and they are lashing out at each other daily. Hearing Melissa’s story reminded me how simple gestures towards those around us make a huge impact and prompted me to consider what more I can be doing to help people in my community.
Melissa’s journey to sobriety and self-sufficiency is a testament to her strength, but her generosity shows her outstanding character. It’s not about how much you have, but how much you are willing to give to help those around you. And sometimes paying it forward doesn’t have to cost a thing. After all, love is free.
Who inspires you in your community?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Picture used with the permission of Melissa Clark.
As parents, we tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the world are growing up in. There seem to be threats lurking everywhere, from seemingly innocuous neighbours who turn out to be child molesters to terrorist organizations and dangerous people being elected to powerful positions.
It is easy to be frightened for our children. It is easy to let the tragedies and the negative messages of the media overwhelm our lives.
From time to time, though, good things happen that give us hope for the futures of our children. That hope is multiplied when something good happens as result of a kid – a symbol of the future – going above and beyond what most people would do.
The story I want to tell you today started at a motel just down the road from me, which is used as a shelter for incoming refugees. Recent arrivals include several Nigerian families who have come to Canada to escape Boko Haram.
One of the Nigerian mothers, who had been in Canada for just two or three weeks, put her three young children onto a city bus so they could get to school. At the bus stop closest to the school, two of three children got off the bus. Their brother, who is in Grade Two, didn’t notice that they had left the bus, and they didn’t notice that he hadn’t followed. The two sisters went to school under the assumption that he was trailing behind, while he continued alone on a bus in a busy city that was new to him.
It didn’t take long for the school staff to notice that the child was missing. They put out a school-wide announcement for him and they searched the school yard.
Meanwhile, on the bus, a Grade Eleven student who was on his own way to school noticed that something was amiss. He had seen the three young children board the bus, and from the way they were chatting it was obvious that they were together. After the two sisters left the bus, he asked the little boy what his name was and what school he attended.
The boy was able to give his name, but being so new to the country, he did not know the name of his school. The high school student took out his phone and used Google Maps to find out the name of the school closest to where the two girls had gotten off the bus. He called the school, told them the boy’s name and asked if he was their student. When they said yes, he promised to get the boy safely to the school.
He got off the bus with the boy and crossed the road with him. The two of them got onto a bus going the other way, back toward the lost child’s school. The child, being under the age of thirteen, was not required to pay a fare. The high school student used his last bus pass, the one he had been intending to use to go home at the end of the day.
About ten minutes later, the child was returned safely to his school by the high school student. The little kid went to class while his principal drove the big kid to his own school. Lives that could have been changed forever by a tragedy instead went on as usual.
Sometimes, life turns on a dime. Most people are so wrapped up in the busy-ness of their own lives that they would not notice a seven-year-old traveling alone on a crowded bus. That child could end up lost, killed, hurt – the possibilities are horrifying. But because of one teenage kid who took the time to observe what was going on around him, and who cared enough to take action when he saw something that didn’t look quite right, this story had a happy ending.
In the comments below, tell us about something good you’ve seen or heard that gives you hope for the future.
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Canada. Photo credit: BK. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
62,000 people. That is the estimated number of Haitians who are still displaced from the 7.0 earthquake that shook Haiti in January 2010; a heartbreaking disaster that claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced as many as 3 million people.
Elouse’s four cousins
….this is only 1% of the 900 people who lost their lives in Haiti to Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
900 lives…fathers, mothers, teachers, grandmas, little brothers, babies…lost in the waters of a sea that came on land and washed it out. A land crushed under debris created by a 145mph wind that knocked down concrete walls and tore down palm trees as if they were saplings just transplanted from a kindergarten classroom the day before.
To say that we feel for our sisters and brothers in Haiti is an understatement. My heart is heavy and it wants to scream because although it believes that we, together, will make things better, it is hard to see the road ahead when there is such a harsh wind blowing in one’s face.
To look at the state of Haiti now, with the lack of food and access, and the abundance of poverty, one may not remember how powerful a nation Haiti actually is.
In the 18th century, Toussaint-Louverture, Henri Christophe and Dessalines revolted in an effective guerilla war against the French colony. All three had been enslaved: they successfully ended slavery and regained freedom for the nation. They did this in 1791 against the French, in 1801 against the Spanish conquest, and in 1802 against an invasion ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte. They renamed Saint-Dominique after its original Arawak name, Haiti, which became the second independent nation in the Americas.
Such history should not go unnoticed because it is a significant example of the perseverance, love, and determination that courses through the veins of Haitians.
If I could say anything to my sisters and brothers in Haiti right now, if I could speak at all, I would say this:
“In the midst of the chaos; the heartbreak; the loss of life; the search for lives; the feeling that rebuilding will simply take too much energy…again; the pain; the tears that will run dry; the anguish, and all the feelings that weigh down your soul and may make you doubt your abilities, please remember who you are, what you have accomplished, and what you are capable of doing. You do not stand alone, because we stand with you. You do not sit alone, you do not swim alone, you do not cry alone, you do not hug your loved ones alone, you do not cry alone.
You do not cry alone, and you will not rebuild alone.
We are with you.
We are with you and we will laugh together again and you will see that we can get out of this. Please believe with me. I know it’s hard right now, and I do not pretend to understand what you’re going through, but please believe with me”.
To anyone who would like to assist, you may consider contacting any and all of these organizations:
Food For The Poor
Save the Children
Please remember that there is also a cholera outbreak because of lack of clean water, and it is also claiming lives. Help is needed most urgently! Please lets do what we can.
My heart goes out to everyone affected by this hurricane, not only in Haiti but in neighboring countries including the southern US states. Sending you all love and happiness in the hopes that you keep believing and looking forward to another sunrise.
Have you ever been directly affected by a devastating storm? What would you say to those who are trying to rebuild their lives?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Sophia at ThinkSayBe. Photo credit: Ricardo’s Photography. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
In the wake of the devastating tragedy that struck Orlando early on Sunday morning, I have seen and heard all of the usual arguments. Gun control activists are insisting that America has a gun problem, gun rights activists are denying that America has a gun problem, conspiracy theorists are perpetuating all kinds of bizarre stories, and people are saying terrible things about other people.
49 people lost their lives in Orlando on that terrible day, and another 53 were injured. Countless other lives were forever changed. And yet the arguing, judging and hate seem to have eclipsed the human impact of this tragedy.
In the midst of all this noise, my ten-year-old son asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks.
“How can we help?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“All those people who are sad and hurt. There must be a way to help them.”
At the risk of using a cliché, I was moved to tears. While adults who are supposedly wiser than kids were bashing each other on the Internet, a child was very eloquently stating what is really important: people are hurting and in need of help.
That is what we should be focusing on. In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, our priority should be the survivors and the families of the deceased. We need to do what we can to enable the injured to heal and the bereaved to bury their loved ones. We should be banding together to lift up those who have had their world ripped out from beneath their feet.
After some discussion, my son answered his own question about how to help.
“Just be kind.”
Because any act of kindness to the people in our immediate circles can have a ripple effect.
Recipients of kindness are far more likely to be kind themselves. My son is growing up with the belief that if he treats others with respect and empathy, if he speaks out against injustice and stands up for those who are being discriminated against, he can make a difference.
And maybe, in making that difference, he can plants seeds of new hope in the hearts of people who have been affected by tragedies.
How have your kids reacted to the shooting in Orlando? How do you talk to them about tragic events like this?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada. Photo credit: Feed My Starving Children. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
If you’re a parent, or a child, or anyone, you may have heard the phrase. “It takes a village” (to raise a child). After reading a post written by a fellow contributor, KC, I remained in thought about this village that’s needed to raise our children.
KC is currently a stay-home-mum to a precious toddler, so you know she has one of the most rewarding and challenging positions in the universe; one weighted with a lot of responsibility, as well. Thankfully she takes the time to write about some of what’s going on in her world as a mum, a woman, and as a person, because out of her writing I found something I want to discuss, too. Check her out at http://www.mummyintransit.com. She is a really good writer, and she’s funny too.
In reading KC’s post I thought about my own experience as a child in Italy, a teenager in Tanzania, and an adult and parent in the United States. What was my village like? Who did my mum include in forming my personality and my worldview?
My mom was visiting with us in Kenya recently, and I decided to take her to Heshima’s Dignity Designs, a specialty jewelry shop I had heard great things about. I thought it would be a fun mother-daughter day out, and we could buy some lovely African beaded jewelry. What I didn’t realize was that we were about to learn about an inspirational program supporting special needs children in Kenya.
When we arrived at the shop, we met Heshima founder Tracey Hagman. She asked if we would like a tour of their children’s center before we started shopping, and we said, “Sure!” What we saw there touched and inspired us both.
Many special needs children in Kenya live a life with little dignity, and even less support. Heshima, meaning “dignity” in Swahili, provides assistance and services for Kenyan children with special needs, as well as their mothers.
Kenya sorely lacks institutions providing services for children with disabilities. Many special needs children in Kenya are kept at home, out of school, sometimes hidden from the community due to stigma. Those that do attend public school often languish, neglected, without any targeted assistance. Very few special needs children ever have the opportunity to receive the special education or therapy they need.
Heshima seeks to meet the needs of such children – children with cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, physical and learning disabilities, epilepsy, and other conditions.
Heshima provides meals, basic education, and specialized therapy (physical, occupational and speech) to the special needs children in their center. Heshima also supports the mothers of each enrolled child, providing them with training, employment, and much-needed income. Heshima moms are employed as water distributors, jewelry makers, or as assistants within the Heshima program.
We got a chance to meet many of Heshima’s children, moms and staff during our visit that day. The center is beautiful – bright, cheery, and full of brightly colored toys, bean bags, and books. The children were so HAPPY. As we passed through the center, some children were contentedly napping. Other children were starting their therapy sessions, using both locally made and imported devices to help the children develop their gross and fine-motor skills. Still other children were sitting in class, working on their handwriting or listening to stories. It was a warm, welcoming space full of smiles and cheer. I felt good just being there.
After we toured the center, we made our back to our original destination – the Dignity Designs jewelry shop, and picked up several gorgeous pieces. The proceeds from jewelry sales all go towards salaries for the Heshima moms, giving them the income they need to support their family. The jewelry is truly beautiful and unique!
I was so inspired to see the work that Heshima is doing with these wonderful kids. These children deserve love and support. They deserve to be seen for who they are as individuals – not as labels, stereotypes, or stigma. Their moms deserve to make a living wage, and to connect with and get support from other moms going through the same challenges. Thanks to Heshima, they’re getting all this, and more.
If you would like to support the work done at Heshima, you can visit their website to make a donation. The center operates almost exclusively on individual donations, and relies heavily on the support of people like us!
Are quality services for special needs children available where you live? What is being done locally to support people with disabilities in your country?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara Wambugu. Follow Tara and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mama Mgeni, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Photo credits: Heshima, used by permission.