You Won't Find This Hero at the Movies. . . Anymore.
As we begin a new year I would like to invite you to meet someone who has given me a completely different perspective on my life. And this is by no means a temporary effect, it is daily. I think about her daily.
When I visited the program at St. John’s in December I had never been to the facilities. I had been to the fundraisers and was incredibly touched by the individual and unforgettable stories, but something unique happened at the place where the women actually live, work and grow. It is a place unlike any other.
At St. John’s I met Kiara which was akin to meeting a bolt of lightning. A young mother of four she faced us with piercing expressive eyes and such exuberance that one could not fathom that just six months earlier she had been living in her car with her four kids... one of them only six months old. She had escaped an abusive ex, and had no one. Her mother died in a tragic car accident when Kiara was seventeen, the rest followed: her dad of cancer, her sister of an overdose, her aunt, her grandmother and then her own baby of SIDS. As she sat and candidly shared all of this with bravery and resolution, I could not keep up. I simply could not get past the fact that she was living in her car and going to drive-in-movies at night so her kids wouldn’t know they were homeless. Just six months ago.
The first safe house she found offered only a place "to sit and not get beat." She knew she needed more. Kiara found St. John's.
It seemed impossible that this woman who led our tour and could command the attention of CEO’s was homeless and helpless just a short time ago when I was probably driving by those drive-in movies mumbling and grumbling about something in my own life. Kiara beamed proudly as she showed us the immaculate laundry rooms, computer skills room, childcare centers, counseling facilities, social areas for the mothers to meet and finally her own room. It was here that she hesitated and said "I haven’t had a chance to pick up after my kids today," but one could see how proud she was to have earned this tiny room that held all five of them. Welling up with emotion, Kiara picked a painting off the wall that she painted at St. John’s: two hands in prayer, an angel watching over her and her family. And she said “Because of all that I have been given here, I just want to be able to give back to other people.”
The next step for Kiara is a job in the outside world. She has held jobs before often working two jobs to take care of her family, but when the father of her children began abusing her, she had no choice but to flee. Her tenacity and intelligence have already impressed a visiting board member to offer her a position helping others in the field of work that she loves, the work that she seems meant to do. Kiara’s experience at St. John's would seem unbelievable except for the many other women coming and going abounding with joy and laughter as we walked through the halls. My head seemed to be constantly swiveling around with amazement and questions: who are these women, where did they come from and what stories do they have to tell?
I can't wait to go back.