Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hope Heals: Making a difference one person at a time.

There is so much truth in those two words "Hope Heals." When all else is lost there is still hope, if only for a better tomorrow than today. Without hope, we would surely all sink into total despair.

I am a firm believer in hope and a couple of months back I met a user on Twitter named "HopeHeals." I found out very quickly that she more than lives up to her name. I don't think I have ever met anyone with such a positive outlook on life. I found myself making it a habit in the mornings now to sign into Twitter and look for HopeHeals. She has never failed to start my day off on a positive note with a kind word, a positive quote or just a "Good morning Mary! how you doing?" HopeHeals is proving to be an excellent friend!

But, HopeHeals is much more than a friend and her reach goes beyond the digital world of Twitter. In her community of Grand Rapids, MI, she is Karla. And Karla and her partner Amy have a passion for helping others in need. It all began after Karla spent 2 weeks in Tajikistan last October 2008 as part of "Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program." The experience had a tremendous effect on Karla and from that, quite literally, a dream evolved. That dream became "Hope Heals" Karla tells it better in her own words than I possibly could: Hope Heals: Michigan. When I read her words, I came away inspired.

It has only been eight months, but already many people have been helped by her dream. Hope Heals started with the Helping Hands Project in March 2009. It was a month-long mission of paying it forward with random acts of kindness in their community. Each day Karla and Amy had set different goals. Day one started with passing out 30 care packages to homeless people in their community. Throughout the month they did things like paying for peoples gas, leaving $5 restaurant gift cards on cars, putting exact change in envelopes on pay phones and washer/dryers in laundromats around town, distributed umbrellas and handmade scarves to the homeless, delivered a handmade baby blanket to a newborn at the hospital. I particularly liked the pay it forward for St Patricks day, instant lottery tickets in envelopes randomly placed on peoples cars! The month of paying it forward, by giving to others in their community, ended as it had begun with care packages for the homeless.

A full list of daily "Pay it Forward" activities for March 2009

But the project that has been the most successful and helped the greatest number of people is"Project Grab a Bag" which began in June. Hope Heals "took it to the people" and on Sunday afternoons brought bag lunches to the homeless at a local park. Karla describes it best:

Project Grab-A-Bag….

It’s more than just a free lunch.

It’s about getting out there and getting to know our homeless neighbors.

It’s about sitting along side them and talking with them over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an iced cold glass of lemonade.

It’s most definitely about smiling…joking….and laughing.

But it’s also about listening.

About building that trust…

Building friendships.

And, without a doubt…

It’s about Hope

I became aware of this project through Karla's Twitter updates one Saturday night as she and Amy were making the sandwiches. Karla told me later that it takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours to put it all together. If I remember right it was week 2 of the project. I got curious after a few updates and went to her profile and checked out the Hope-Heals blog. As I read, I was hooked by the enthusiasm, energy and the caring embodied in the founders of Hope Heals. I wanted to be a part in the effort, even if only through a financial donation. You see, I also learned that although they have received donations, a large part of the effort is funded from their own pockets and thus is limited by their own finances. So I took the money that I had set aside to gamble at a casino on my vacation and donated it to Hope Heals instead. It was an easy thing for me to do as I was touched by Karla's words:

There isn’t a time that passes when we do these type of events where I don’t see people, despite their circumstances, with smiles on their faces and gratitude in their heart.

So often I hear them say…”We’re blessed.” ….”We’re thankful.”

Now most would feel the urge to remind them that they have nothing.

They’re homeless.

How could they feel that they are blessed?

For what do they have to be thankful?

Then you look around…..and you see a homeless man set up a makeshift barber shop in the corner….hooks up a couple of speakers….a boombox….grabs a pair of clippers….and offers out free haircuts to his fellow homeless neighbors.

You stand back and let your eyes gaze over the crowd and you see people looking out for one another….rushing out to the middle of the street to lead the blind, homeless man back onto the sidewalk….

You see them winning at a game of bingo and, despite their hopes to get a certain prize for themselves, let someone else at the table get up and pick out a prize.

It is in these special relationships….these brotherhoods and sisterhoods of the street that you find people truly grateful for one another….feeling blessed to have each other….living in the moment….hoping for more….but grateful with less.

Project Grab-a-bag was such a success that it is being continued beyond June for the remainder of the summer.

I think we have all had concerns in these past months about our own financial situations. I know I have as at this time last year I was facing a layoff and an uncertain financial future myself. The stress of that is incredible and in the back of my mind I know I considered what would happen if I were to someday become homeless. My sister and I refer to it as the "bag lady syndrome." I know many of my coworkers had the same fears as it always seemed to come up in conversation at least once a day. What were we all going to do? At times it certainly felt like there was no hope.

Now, feeding the homeless lunch on a Sunday afternoon might not seem like such a big deal. But, it is huge for the people that Hope Heals serves. And knowing Karla, I have a feeling this is only the beginning of the Hope Heal's outreach. Later this month Hope Heals will be going to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to assist with others in efforts there. And this October, 2009, Karla will again be be going overseas, this time to Zambia, through "Habitat through Humanities Global Village" to build houses. Hope Heals is also expanding to New Jersey and Philadelphia this month as two more of my Twitter friends are joining the effort and starting programs in their own communities.

I think we can all agree that there is great need these days. Hope Heals is trying to meet this need by making a difference in their community and also reaching out beyond. It is a noble effort that should be encouraged.

If you would like to help in their efforts you can donate via the website: Financial Support

Anything at all will be greatly appreciated! I will try to come back in the future with more articles to keep you all updated on their progress.

To any who contribute, thank you in advance!

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