I’m a member of my local chapter of Assistance League. If you’re not aware of what Assistance League is you might be saying Isn’t that for ladies who’s husbands are bankers and have nothing better to do with their time than be members of social organizations and mail checks to starving children in Africa? I’m here to tell you that, no, that is not what Assistance League is all about. That is what Junior League was all about in The Help and both organizations have come a very long way since 1967. Assistance League is a philanthropic organization that serves its communities through various projects and outreach campaigns. It does have a reputation of its membership being made up of “seasoned” ladies but our chapter is turning that reputation on its ear. Don’t get me wrong, I love ladies older than myself, they bring wisdom and experience to the table. Our chapter is made up of young mamas, professional working women, grandmas and everything in between. It’s a patchwork of beautiful, intelligent and empowering women. Oh, and one man. Our chapter is proud to have one man in our membership and I just love that. It told you our chapter was turning reputations on its ear.
So, what’s the point. The point is that the major project of Assistance League is called Operation School Bell (OSB). Each chapter works with the counselors in the school district to recognize at-risk children. Those kids are then brought in at the beginning of the school year and given clothes, coats, shoes, books, accessories, and hygiene kits. Not just old, hand me down clothes and tired, worn out tennis shoes. Brand new clothes and shoes in the latest styles that members have gone to market to pick out. The awesome thing about OSB (besides all the brand new stuff) is that the chapter owns its own OSB store. It is set up just like a small retail shop, the kids “shop” with their own personal shopper to make sure the jeans fit just right and they get shirts and a coat that they really like, not something someone tossed at them that is just okay.
So, what’s the point of that? Well, last fall I was volunteering for OSB by helping kids pick out and try on new shoes. One of the boy’s styles was a black Sketcher tennis shoe with a bright green sole. Hard to miss in a crowd. Sometime in October on Saturday I went to Wal-Mart. On my way out I see a grade school boy hanging out with his siblings in front of the entrance. He had on a dirty tank top and baggy sweatpants. He and his siblings looked like rag-a-muffins but one thing caught my eye. Brand new shoes with bright green soles. He looked happy as a clam. I then saw his mom. She looked tired and beat down. I wanted to go over and give her a hug and offer her a word of encouragement. I didn’t hug her or say anything to the boy, I just went home, moved by what I saw. What could I possibly say to that mom? If I told her that I helped her son pick those shoes out then I would have the upper hand. I would be the rich lady who has nothing better to do than be a member of an organization that helps poor people. I don’t want to be lumped into a stereotype that I don’t believe fits our organization. I guess I could have given her a squeeze and told her that God is watching over her and her kids. That He loves her and has a plan for her life. That’s a beautiful sentiment, in theory. It’s easy for me to imagine what God’s plan for my life is because in the grand scheme of things I’m living on easy street. If I were that mom…struggling to pay my bills, feed the kids and keep them in clean clothes…I would wonder when in the heck God’s plan was going to take shape because I’m about at my wit’s end and the kids that I so desperately want to feed something other than a Big Mac are driving me batty.
I have no idea if that mom ever feels that way or what her outlook on life is. I can only imagine how I would feel were I in her shoes.
And my point is? My point is that I have been given many, many gifts in my life. One of those gifts is being able to participate in Assistance League. I like to think that the OSB kids and their parents have also been given a gift. Who knows what their circumstances are or why their kids qualify for OSB but thank God there is an OSB in our community and so many other communities that care for these children. Our local OSB clothed 1,118 last fall. I don’t think God’s plan for those 1,118 kids was to be in a desperate situation or that He wanted those Mamas and Daddies to have to worry about how they were going to buy their kids new school clothes. I do think God’s plan for each of us is a complex tapestry and maybe Assistance League is a thread being woven throughout. At the core of that thread and the core of organizations like Assistance League is love and love always wins.
The women (and our one dude) of Assistance League want to see those kids go to school with their head held high and bright green shoes on their feet.