I was asked to speak at the lunch portion of Leadercast 2015 in Salina, KS today. The theme was “The Brave Ones.”
Exactly two months ago, on March 8, video footage from a surveillance camera in a tiny town near Spokane, Washington, was shown on national news of a man running down the street with a toddler in his arms. Shortly after, you see a little girl running down the street after him. The owner of a nearby antique store said she was screaming, “That man got my baby brother!” Not far behind the little girl, you see a young boy running down the street pushing an empty stroller.
Thankfully, that store owner sent her teenage grandson and his friend to chase the man. He abandoned the 22 month old boy and fled. Though they were unable to find him, the toddler was unharmed.
When the 10 year old brother and eight year old sister were interviewed by the local news, they said nothing about fear or courage. They simply said they were trying to get their brother back.
Courage comes in all forms and is fueled in different ways. My actions in our community and whatever courage that displays are fueled first by my love for God, and secondly by empathy for my “neighbors.”
One of the guiding inspirations of Salina Shares is Proverbs 13:12 from The Message:
“Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick but a sudden good break can turn life around.”
Stick with me as I use that same news story as an analogy for what has now become Salina Shares.
It all began with a “fun” day. Those children near Spokane had headed to the park for some innocent fun. Two and a half years ago, I gathered some friends for a fun “random acts of kindness” party. It was such a hit that we continued the practice for the next year. Everybody was hooked!
So I talked to them about a place in Salina that I call “the tucked away community.” Many in town don’t know it exists. From all appearances is the epitome of poverty.
This is what we assumed as we sat around my dining room table… that most residents were hispanic, that we would need an interpreter, that many were here illegally, that it was dangerous and that we knew what they needed. Sometimes that is what happens when we sit in our living rooms, conference rooms or churches meeting about what we could do. Though filled with good intentions, we assume we know the needs and that with a committee and proper financing (at the very least) we can get a “project” started.
We had neither. What we did have was a willingness to do something. One day I drove up to the area and stopped my car a half a block short of those trailers. I said, “God, I’m so tired of talking about it! Show me what we can do.” The answer seemed way too simple: Play at the Park. I had pulled my car over and parked alongside a little neighborhood park. What if we just invited them to play in their own park and simply provided some friendship and fun? What if we spent our time being community together instead of fostering the “us” and “them” mentality and doing our good deed for the day?
The next time my friends and I got together, I told them what I wanted to do. Instead of heading out for acts of kindness, one carload of friends drove up and began posting brightly colored signs all around the neighborhood inviting them to play in the park from noon-1:00. When we arrived back shortly before noon there were about 20 people there, with more arriving over the next half hour.
Here’s what happens when we leave our living rooms, conference rooms, and church sanctuaries. We meet people, we look into their eyes, we learn their stories, we meet their children and we understand that we are so much more alike than we are different. This is what else happens when we leave the comfort of our own homes. It gets uncomfortable. It can be downright scary. And we can even come face to face with the evils of this world just like those young children did when a stranger came and took their brother.
We have met many people living at the edge of homelessness and steeped in hopelessness in that neighborhood. The most threatened I ever felt, however, is when I stood toe to toe with the owner of a run-down hotel as we moved two families with young children out and into public housing. We know there is drug abuse. We see the mental illness. We hear the story of the taxi cab driver that was shot on the corner of where we host our times together. Just a couple of weeks ago a few of us drove into this area, set up a long white table and served tostadas on the spur of the moment. Some of the men there told us we were brave – that nobody will even deliver pizza there after dark. We were there from 5:00-7:00 and served over 100 tostadas.
In the course of the last two years we continue to play in the park with this neighborhood. We share our food and clothing. We took solar lights to over 200 homes to bring an element of light and safety. We filled backpacks with new clothes, socks and underwear, instead of school supplies. We took Santa Claus at Christmas and passed out gifts to the men, women and children. In July, we will serve another meal and create more good memories with a Disney themed afternoon. We help them create good memories right where they live.
What we have learned in the last two years is that we don’t need interpreters; most speak English. They all wish they were living in better conditions. They want better for their children than where they are right now. It is a transient community but they watch out for one another and share what they receive with each other.
In a way, I am that little girl running after that mean man who took her brother. I’m chasing down things such as poverty, hunger and homelessness, believing that they have valuable lives in their grip. I’m not thinking it’s so courageous. I’m just doing what I can with my one little voice. I’ve hardly given a thought to what will happen if I actually catch these mean taskmasters. Realistically, there may be little I can do. But just like that one little girl – her voice caught the attention of others nearby and because of that her brother was safe.
Salina Shares is the brother running behind his sister. They are united in purpose. He has the stroller. He too, responds by taking the one thing that he does have that his brother will need when they get him back. Salina Shares is clusters of friends, throughout our town who are willing to give what they can to help others out. Being out in the community and identifying needs has led to two year round projects.
Salina Shares works with Salina Housing Authority to help those who move into public housing sometimes with virtually nothing. Almost overnight, we are able to provide furniture, dishes, pots and pans, silverware, towels and food.
Salina Shares is the driving force behind Laundry Love in Salina. We are at the Missing Sock and Westside Laundromats on the 4th Saturday of each month and will pay for up to 5 loads of laundry per family. We have also been given permission to go into Speedy Wash as well but don’t have the funds yet to be able to do so. Our dream is to turn the empty Wash House on North Santa Fe into a Laundry Love laundromat. Clean clothing and bedding is something that every person deserves.
Mark Twain said that courage is resistance to fear, not the absence of fear. I have found that to be true. I have learned that my faith in God, having the support of friends alongside me, offering hope and affirming the dignity of others all give me courage to do what I can when I can.
Serving Alongside You,