We’re hearing amazing stories of nonprofits problem solving in the face of this pandemic. HOPE Farm, Inc.‘s volunteer coordinator, Arabia Whitfield-Christopher, is a great example of finding new ways to #beaneighbor
When I moved to Fort Worth from Houston, the last thing I wanted to do was get involved in another program for single moms. People can be quick to judge you by your age, circumstances and the color of your skin. I became a single parent at the age of 22. My son Christopher was only 17 months old when his dad was shot and killed. I’d go to parent-teacher conferences at school and immediately be pushed towards resources and programs without anyone listening to me. What they didn’t see was that I was a very engaged parent, active in my church, and had worked hard to finish my college degree. So when a friend told me about Hope Farm, I was hesitant. We’d tried something like that before, but when Christopher invited his assigned mentor to father/son day at school, the man failed to show up. It crushed my son’s heart and mine too. But I knew that Christopher needed male role models in his life, and decided to give Hope Farm a try.
I’m so glad we did because Hope Farm has been a great experience. There are several people who invest in the boys and provide guidance and teach them to be leaders. Each boy has a mentor who makes sure they are thriving in the program. Christopher’s mentor, whose name is Manasseh, encourages him and is always available. They walk the dog, play lots of sports, and even do laundry together. Last year they were able to go on a camping trip with a bunch of other guys, and every Wednesday Manessah takes the boys with him to church. I see a brotherhood forming. Christopher and I have both learned to trust again.
I joined the Mother’s Resource Program, meeting other single moms and scheduling play dates together. I also started volunteering at Hope Farm. One day I was asked if I might be interested in an internship working with Dr. Tonya Lincoln and coordinating volunteers. It also came with a scholarship. Hope Farm did not have an official volunteer coordinator position but had just started using a new engagement platform called VOMO that could help expand the opportunities for volunteers. I’d always been interested in public service and was trying to pay my own way through grad school. Learning the new platform was a little intimidating at first, but T.J. from VOMO patiently walked me through it. I had a ton of ideas! He helped me organize them, and we brainstormed creative ways to engage volunteers.
Everyone wants to contribute. We just have to see and hear them and help find the place where they can thrive. This is what I try to keep in mind when running the volunteer programs. I think it’s going well. In just five months we’ve completed 126 serving dates, over 700 volunteer hours and now have 120 active volunteers.
When news started stirring about the coronavirus pandemic, I realized we’d have to make some changes and that a lot of our programs would need to move online. I’ve always tried to see challenges as opportunities to discover new solutions. So we put the word out that we would need computers and iPads. The donations began pouring in. Then T-Mobile came along and donated hot spots so that every single boy in our program would have access to the internet.
Mentors have been able to continue interacting with the boys and we can keep delivering the educational programs. We still need volunteers to deliver food to our families. We decided to add a weekly family activity to the deliveries. The theme of the activities is ‘‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’ This last week we added DIY facemask kits that can be made using readily available items like cotton fabric, coffee filters, paper towels, and a stapler. The idea is for them to make one for themselves, promoting self-care, but then also make one to give to a neighbor, which teaches them the responsibility to their community. I hope that projects like this will help the boys see that they also have the power to create solutions.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks, but I am trying to get prepared so we can keep giving our boys and families what they need. I want to learn from what we’re going through and we have even started a manual that can be used if we face another challenging time like this. What I do know is this crisis already has brought us together in new ways and in the end, we are going to come out stronger.