“This is what happens when excess meets need: a new story begins.” – Jeff Shinabarger
It was nearly a year ago that my daughter took me for a drive to show me a part of our city that I never knew existed. I venture to say that many in our town know nothing of this little community. The images are like those that we have seen in pictures reflecting the poverty of a third world country. It is quietly tucked behind trees off a dirt road that continues where the pavement ends.
Honestly, the sight is heartbreaking. It isn’t a group of homes in a neighborhood that people have ‘let go.’ It is a group of pieced together structures of tin and cardboard of what at one time was a mobile home. There are families living there. Families who love their children. Families who are trying to simply survive. Long ago they realized that the ends never do meet. I think about them often and, together with our daughter and a few of her friends, have truly wanted to make a difference.
From what I was told, many are Spanish speaking. I thought about who I knew that could go with me to interpret, who I knew that can write Spanish as well as speak it. Where do we begin to build rapport on the long road to trust while trying to show genuine care and help them with their needs?
With each Acts of Kindness Adventure, I pondered how to reach out to them; how to incorporate this community with ours. So last week, I drove there by myself and prayed. I told God I was tired of talking about it and asked for wisdom in what we could really do. The answer was so simple that I thought it might not work. There is a park less than a block from these homes. It is a place the families could be gathering; where their children could be playing. The April 6 weather forecast was for a beautiful day. I made up handwritten notes. Nothing fancy. An invitation to come “Play at the Park” from noon to 1:00. It said there would be free toys, candy and snacks.
The car with the younger women who had gathered at my house for our Acts of Kindness Adventure, headed up there first to post the signs all around the area. The rest of us left for other areas of our town to give of ourselves, to put smiles on faces, to bless.
I asked all 3 cars to meet at this park at noon. I also asked my husband and a couple other men to join us with basketballs and footballs, in case some boys came to play. One of those men speaks fluent Spanish. We had bubbles and stuffed animals, fruit cups and candy for the children.
I wanted to meet at the park because I did not want to invade their territory. I did not want them to feel ashamed. I did not want them to perceive us as a threat or as those without a clue, coming to do our good deed for the day. That is not our heart. Our heart is that they would know that they matter… that although they are tucked away, they are not invisible. We want them to know that there are people who care.
When we drove up to the park just before noon, there were already people there. Tears filled my eyes immediately. In that split second I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Some adults came and we had the chance to visit with them. The majority, however, were children who had walked (and run!) over, not just from the hidden homes, but from the surrounding streets and neighborhood as well.
What we had talked about for so long and what I had spent so much time and thought trying to figure out how to begin, had simply begun. I will share more details and photos in the days to come.
“I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized, I am somebody.” – Anonymous