One Person Can Make A Difference!

8 07 2008

I’ve known Wally since I was 17 years old.  Until then, I only knew of him by looking at my brother’s high school annuals.  Our church had a big youth revival the summer I was 17 years old.  Wally preached the Sunday morning sermon at the conclusion of our revival.  He didn’t attend our church but somehow–he was invited to give the Sunday morning sermon.  He was dressed in a white summer suit.  His text was from the book of James, chapter l.  This is a chapter of the Bible that tells people that the rich are not to have exultation over the poor during worship.  Wally had a heart for the poor in his early youth.  And that compassion has never left him.

Wally went on to become an astute businessman.  He founded his own real estate business.  He married and had three children.  In l990, he became the mayor of our town.  He went on to serve a second term as our mayor.  When he was still selling homes, he went to great length to help us buy our home.  He even hired us to do an extra job which helped us with our down payment on our home.  We were a struggling family in those days and we would never have been able to buy our home without Wally taking a very personal interest.

After he finished two terms of being the mayor of our town–he went back to school and earned his master’s degree in public service.  After that–he taught high school for a few years.  Wally, now a single person again, ventured out into a new dream of helping the poor.  With the backing of our YMCA  and the local development corporation–he moved into an apartment located in the inner city.  He started his adventure by riding his bike each day all around the inner city.  He would stop and greet people.  He then started inviting businessmen to join him on a bike ride throughout our city. Next, he started a Bible study in his apartment.  Later, the Bible study was moved to the home of an elderly lady in his neighborhood.  And finally, a church in town started using one of their mini vans to give tours of the inner city.  Wally would be the host of those bus tours.

In August of 2005, Wally invited Jim and I to dinner at a little country restaurant.  During our dinner, he told us about a home in the inner city that was once a beautiful brick home–now in bad disrepair.  No one had lived in it for years.  Drugs dealers had used it.  There was a minor problem is getting the deed.  After our dinner, we walked along the country roads.  Wally began telling us more about his dream of how this home could be used to help so many people.

I reminded Wally of the work that Jane Addams had done in Chicago in the late 1890’s into the 1900’s.  At that time in America, all kinds of immigrants were pouring into our nation.  There were no government assisted programs.  People lived in horrible poverty.  The streets were filled with garbage and raw sewerage.  Sweat shops abounded in the big cities.  Women would have to leave their small children to work in the sweat shops.  Likewise, many children had to work long hours to help their families.  It was a horrible time for the poor people.  Middle class living did not exist.  Either people had plenty of money or they struggled with poverty.  I was so inspired by Wally’s idea to start such a home in our town–that I read Jane Addams’s book: Twenty Years At Hull House. I found the complete book online at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/ADDAMS/title.html

It took a full year to get just the basics done on the house.  Many church groups volunteered to help clean all of the debris out of the house.  By the summer of 2006, a plan for restoration was started.  Again, many volunteers helped restore the once beautiful home.  The garage was restored to make a workshop to teach trades.  The home didn’t really open for full use until the summer of 2007.  It took two long years to fulfill Wally’s dream. 

A young girl in Viginia, who was a friend of Wally–had a dream for another home to be opened up.  She raised the money to buy another old home.  I think the price of the home was around $12,000.  Then she raised another $12,00 to $15,000 for the beginning restoration costs.  Again, volunteers went to work on this new home.  LIke the first one, many business people and churches donated money.  This home has been ready now for several months.  Recently, Wally gave us  a tour of the home.

Currently, Wally lives in the upstairs of the origianl home.  However, at night –he sleeps on a sleeping bag at the new one.  He is looking for volunteers to live at these homes and manage them.  However, the network of services has begun at both homes.  There are GED classes currently being taught.  There is also a program called Jobs For Life being taught.  Recently, a $5,000 grant was given to help those who successfully complete the job program.  The money will be used to buy gift cards for these people to buy gas for their cars and the proper clothes necessary to enter the job force.

Occasionally, Wally will stop by our home for a spontaneous visit.  Recently, he popped in while we were eating our supper.  We just set an extra plate at our table for Wally and enjoyed asking  him questions about the programs at both homes.  Our inner city is divided into six networks.  Already, (again through Wally’s leadership) there are neighborhood associations that have been started.  Wally would like to see each of the neighborhood associations have a home restored for spiritual and social needs. We already have two homes up and running thanks to the hard work and vision of just one person.

I know many people in our town thought that Wally was crazy when he moved into the inner city.  He moved in 2004.  Today, in 2008 we have two homes for social and spiritual services and six neighborhood networks in full swing.  Yes, one person can make a difference!

God bless each of you!

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