Paying It Forward

Those Who Give Thanks By Giving Back … All Year Long

By Kate McDermott | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 11.20.18 – Feature, Lifestyles, People & Places

It’s a recent Thursday and Linda Parker is, like most Thursdays, volunteering at Lucas Village’s weekly Community Market, where residents can purchase fresh produce at significantly reduced prices.

The market is part of the Community Table program, a partnership between the nonprofit Federated Charities and the Housing Authority of the City to promote healthy eating to residents of the city’s public housing communities. The items are supplied through Hungry Harvest’s “Produce in a SNAP” program and generally reflect the season’s local bounty but may also include other items that grocers reject because their skins may have a few bumps and bruises—aesthetic imperfections that do not affect their taste or nutritional value in any way.  

The produce is different from week to week. On this day residents are paying $7 for a bag of mangos, oranges, eggplant, potatoes, lettuce, green beans and cauliflower. Parker, a grandmother and nutritionist, has made providing her family and neighbors with fresh produce a personal mission. “I know from experience that when you eat fresh vegetables and fruit, it improves all aspects of your life,” she says. 

Parker raised her children to eat their veggies, but she acknowledges that for some members of the Lucas Village community, some of the fresh produce is intimidating. That is why she encourages people to attend free monthly Community Table cooking classes. “People can see that cooking these items doesn’t have to be a huge production,” she says.  

Parker and her neighbor, Linda Jones, have participated in several of the cooking sessions. Residents who do so receive a free crockpot and cookbook to encourage them to continue to cook and eat healthy. Support for this incentive comes from The Common Market, the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek and the Women’s Giving Circle of Frederick County. 

For Jones, the Community Market and cooking classes have allowed her to put into practice former First Lady Michele Obama’s goals for encouraging children’s health and fitness. “I got to thinking about what my grandkids were eating,” she says. A former produce manager, she also volunteers at the market and uses her knowledge of some of the weekly items to give residents tips on how to prepare and incorporate the produce into meals. “I just really want to encourage people to try something new,” she adds. 

For the two Lindas, assisting with the Community Market is a way of saying thanks for the generosity, but is also a way to help their neighbors. “Gardens give me life,” says Parker, who is an avid gardener herself. She sees the Community Market as a way for her to share the bounty of life-giving gardens with others. 

The two Lindas are just two of the local residents who are giving back to the organizations that have helped them in the past. For them, giving thanks isn’t limited to one month.

No Place Like Home 

Like many single women, Patricia Galloway used to think that the idea of owning her own home was out of reach. Houses she could afford required more work than she could tackle on her own, and conventional mortgage terms and rates were often beyond what she could manage.

“So I started doing some research and discovered a loan product that would work with my situation at the time,” she recalls. The USDA’s Section 502 Direct Loan Program is designed to help low- and very-low-income applicants obtain safe, livable housing in eligible rural areas by offering lower rates and longer terms than traditional mortgages.

Galloway was thrilled when she was pre-approved for a 502 loan, but quickly realized that properties in her price point would not pass the USDA’s inspection requirements for the loan without significant upgrades. Then she learned about Interfaith Housing Alliance’s (IHA) Purchase-Repair Homeownership Program, which provides free assistance on how to repair and maintain a home.  

With the help of IHA’s construction manager, Galloway was able to get referrals for roof repair, electrical work and the replacement of an oil tank. The costs of these required repairs were financed as part of her USDA loan. In exchange for the assistance she received from IHA, she was expected to invest her own sweat equity in the project. And she did. She sealed the home’s exterior masonry, tiled the bathroom and repaired the interior plaster walls. 

A year or so after she was settled in her new home, Galloway decided she wanted to volunteer with IHA as a way of giving back to the organization that helped her make home ownership a reality. “I help review applications for the same loan product I received, making sure that applicants have all the necessary paperwork and that their applications are complete,” she says. 

Galloway now helps people who are facing the same “life stuff” that she dealt with just a few years ago. “I think when I share my story they begin to think maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “I also used to think that there was absolutely no way I would ever be able to own a home, but when they see me, they know it can be done. They realize this goal is attainable.” 

Changing Lives 

As a child, Jake Sexton says he always thought he’d like a career that would involve helping others, perhaps something like being a police officer or fire fighter. But in high school he started dabbling in drugs—and things started to go downhill quickly. “I was on a destructive path,” he admits. “It didn’t take long to become an addict.” 

But with lots of support from his family and friends, Sexton was introduced to the Frederick Rescue Mission’s Changed Life Recovery Program. The program attempts to help men reclaim their potential through faith, recovery from addiction, education or job training, and by repairing damaged relationships.

Sexton entered the Changed Life Recovery Program in 2013 at the age of 23. When he successfully completed it a year later, he was invited to intern with the Rescue Mission. He lived in the Mission’s transition house where he continued to strengthen his commitment to sobriety and helping others. During that time, the Rescue Mission’s program director saw his potential and asked Jake if he’d be interested in the Mission’s case manager position.

Sexton applied for the job and got it. Now he is responsible for coordinating care for men at the Rescue Mission. “They are dealing with a lot of baggage,” he says. “They often have legal issues, health issues and family issues. I see myself in these guys. But I think they look at me and see that change is possible.” 

It is as if, at the ripe old age of 28, Sexton’s life has come full-circle. Those childhood ideas of helping others have manifested themselves in his work at the Rescue Mission. “Apparently this is what God has in mind for me,” he says. “I think pretty early on in the Changed Life program, once I had accepted Christ and began to serve others—even when I didn’t have anything—I was still influencing other people’s lives. I realized that I could make a difference,” he says. “You don’t need to have too much or be in a high position to make a difference in somebody’s life.” 

Speaking Out

Rosibel Cano holds a degree in business administration from her native country of Nicaragua. But when her family moved to the United States, she was afraid to even say “good morning” to passersby because her English was so limited. 

While attending an event at her daughter’s school, she heard something about free English lessons offered by the Literacy Council of Frederick County. She took the leap and soon found herself pleasantly surprised when she would speak to people in English and they understood her.

It wasn’t long before the Literacy Council staff recognized Cano’s potential. “They told me we have some work for you if you want to help,” she recalls. Realizing that she could continue to hone her English by using it in conversation, she now volunteers three days a week, conducting intake interviews with new clients, especially those who speak Spanish and who want to improve their employment chances by being able to read and speak English. 

Yet, unlike Cano, many of the clients she sees have no formal education at all and are scared to ask for help. “I tell them it’s normal to feel that way,” she says. 

The Literacy Council was recently awarded a United Way Community Impact Grant that will help support its efforts to do outreach to families of children in three of Frederick’s Title I elementary schools. This will give Cano an opportunity to speak to families at back-to-school nights, PTA events and other school functions. “I want to convince them that this is a good opportunity. It is free and you can even pick your time,” she says.

But she knows that although the Literacy Council is trying to make it as easy as it can, many of these families say they can’t take advantage of the tutoring. “They tell me they are busy taking care of children or working three jobs.” 

But Cano is persistent. She follows up with phone calls, just to check in and see if their situation has changed so that they could take advantage of the tutoring. “People need help and I want to help them and encourage them to take this opportunity. The goal is to make a difference.”

She shares her own experience with others, reminding them, “If you don’t try, you don’t know if you can.” She now takes pride in knowing she can speak two languages, a pride that is matched by her husband and children, who remain her biggest cheerleaders. “My son encouraged me to learn English and now he says, ‘Mom, I am so proud of you. Good job, Ro!’”

Lightening the Load

Rachel Ham experienced the mix of emotions that come with seeing hospice care up close. She provided much of the daily care for her grandmother, but when it became clear that her grandmother’s condition was declining, Hospice of Frederick County helped Rachel cope with the physical, emotional and spiritual effect of watching the death of someone she loved dearly.

“They were just so helpful to me, answering all my questions so that I could be as informed as I could be about the situation,” Ham recalls. “I will forever have a place for hospice in my heart for not only providing such wonderful care to my grandmother, but for helping me to allow her to die how she wanted to, at home and surrounded by family.”

So it wasn’t long after her grandmother’s passing that Ham decided she could help others who were living through the same situation she had experienced. She is now a home hospice volunteer for Hospice of Frederick County, offering family caregivers a much-needed respite care so they can go to the grocery store or to church. “I tell them, ‘I know first-hand what it is like to be you,’” Ham says. “It’s scary and it’s hard. But I also tell them that I wish I had accepted more help when I was caring for my grandmother.”

She admits that for some people, the notion of hospice remains a bit of a mystery. But when given the chance to explain that the organization’s goal is to help patients and their families improve their quality of life when facing life-limiting illness, people usually accept the help. “My goal is to stress the peace and comfort of the patient, and limit feelings of guilt and fear in the caregivers that I also had at that time,” she says.

Ultimately, however, Ham knows she will have to say goodbye to the patient and the family. “As a hospice volunteer, I obviously know the end result, but my goal is simply to provide respite and comfort to the family while I can,” she says. 

Given her own family’s experience with hospice, it comes as no surprise that Ham often makes very strong connections with the families she works with. “When the time comes for me to move on, I often don’t want to leave. I love talking to these families. That’s why I will give them my phone number and tell them to call me if they need me,” she says. “I remind them that everything they are feeling is normal. I know it is hard, but you can get through it.”