In the midst of our busy lives, we can miss seeing the need all around us. Need is hard to see. It’s invisible. Just by looking we can’t usually tell if someone is homeless, hungry, desperately alone or suicidal. Pain and fear hide in the eyes and hearts of a child walking beside her mother, or the tough-looking teenager walking down the street. But sometimes the need reveals itself, years later – in stories I hear from young men and women; stories like the one that resonated with the work we do at CHRIS 180 which a successful Atlanta business leader shared with me.
“When I was just seven years old, my mom and I were homeless. I was smart and did well in school, where I got a solid meal, at least once a day. I remember one day when my mom decided — out of the blue — to move across the country. She sold what little we had, then we got on a Greyhound bus to the West Coast. After a few days, mom took me with my half-eaten peanut butter sandwich to the welfare office. They told her that we couldn’t get food right away because there was a waiting period. My mom got so mad she grabbed what was left of my sandwich and threw it at an employee. I couldn’t believe she threw our food away. She grabbed my hand and we marched out straight to a grocery store, where my mom asked me if I wanted hamburgers for dinner. I liked that idea. She started putting meat, cheese and buns in her bag. Then we were stopped by store security. I heard something about her having a kid with her and they ended up letting us go. I was relieved, but I felt even more scared and hungry. And, I was really disappointed that there would be no hamburgers for dinner. Now, as an adult, I still enjoy a good burger for dinner!”
Her story has a happy ending; family members were able to get her out of that situation and on the right path. But not everyone has a support system. And it makes me think of what my dad, a minister, always said: “Love demands action. If we truly love, we have to act.”
This holiday season, as we go about our tasks — shopping, decorating, going to religious services – perhaps each of us will stop for a moment and decide to offer support to those in need. One of the most effective ways to help change directions and change lives is by going online to give to CHRIS 180, or another nonprofit. For the price of a coffee or a bottle of wine, you can make a gift that brightens a child’s life, provides a homeless young person or family with necessities, or provides a counseling session to help lighten someone’s load. Each of us has something to give. What action will love demand of you?
Kathy Colbenson is president and CEO of CHRIS 180 in Atlanta and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. CHRIS 180 is a nonprofit agency that provides housing, mental health and other services for children, young adults and families in need.