“There are 10 of us moving across the country. We have a choice to either make an impact positively or negatively in our new community—or make no impact at all.”
This is what I told my eight kids as we moved from Pennsylvania to Indiana in ‘73. I knew coming to this new community for my husband’s new job would be quite the change for our family, and I wanted to remind my children that tennew faces in a community wouldn’t go unrecognized.
I guess over the years I continued to instill those values in my children. Now that they’re grown and living as nearby as just a few miles away to as far away as the deserts of Dubai, I know those statements made nearly 40 years ago, and lived out over a lifetime, have carried forward to their own children. I see it each day in their actions, their emails, their calls.
Our neighborhood was fairly middle class. No children exhibited poverty. As I raised my children and was involved in their lives and the lives of their friends, I never noticed poverty. I knew that poverty existed, but it always felt so far away. I wasn’t aware of the poverty that existed in Muncie.
One by one, as my kids left the house to plant their own seeds in life, I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I had been in college once before, years ago, but I gave that up to raise my family. In my 40s I got an undergraduate and master’s in education, and I decided I wanted to work with emotionally disturbed kids. It triggered me, emotionally – more than I’ve ever experienced. I went to three schools a day – where ever the need was. I did a lot of home visits in those days, oh yes. This opened my eyes to the poverty in Muncie.
Right from the very beginning, I marveled at how the kids could survive despite their environments. I’m hoping some of my influence. . .other teachers. . .others who wanted them to do well. . .kept them going. It wasn’t always financial poverty. That’s the one big misconception that we make about poverty. It was poverty in guidance and, I suppose, sometimes that poverty can be more severe. It impacts your essential person.
I look at the whole picture.
What was the greatest need? That they knew someone cared for them? Maybe. Mostly to know that they had someone to turn toward.
One student. . .I wasn’t sure he’d make it. . .sure I’d see him one day in the paper as a victim or a perpetrator. But one Christmas, several years later, encased in a hood and layers of clothing, through the clanging of each ding and a blissful “Merry Christmas! Thank you! Merry Christmas!!,” my eyes focused toward just a glimpse of something I’d thought I’d remembered from the past. And there he was—ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. He looked at me through those layers and said my name. After all of those years, he was there giving back to his community. We chatted for but a moment. He explained to me how the Salvation Army had helped him in a time of need, so he chose to give back. He’s now married and has a kid. Maybe the good Lord had a hand.
After I retired I decided I had more time to give back. In our church bulletin there was a memo about the Harvest Soup Kitchen, and I thought, “Yes, I can do this.” It raised my spirits and I wish I had more than one day a week to spend down there.
Your heart may not be into something unless you know the impact you can make through your actions.
In 2009, two days before Christmas, I had a house fire and lost everything I ever owned. I was put in the position to accept things; I’d always given. I had no idea what I was going to do. It was 14
I never question those things that come along. They’re meant to be. We’re meant to share our gifts.
My hobby is people. I enjoy spending time with people from all walks of life. Some are widows; some are not. We all have different gifts to share. For me to share with them; for them to share with me.
I want to. I love to. And it feels good to.
As told to J.R. Jamison by Pat Astemborski.