Vegetable soup simmers on the stove. The tomatoes are from Ms. L’s own garden. This year, she put up three packs of tomatoes. Some are in the soup, and the rest were a gift to her neighbors. Caring for others comes naturally to Ms. L, but her love for others isn’t dependent on convenience or emotion. It’s something over 500 children in our community came to depend on.
Yes, we said 500.
From 1985-2005, Ms. L’s home was a haven for foster children in our community. Ms. L was one of nine siblings growing up. When it was time to build a family of her own, she wanted to do it her way. Ms. L welcomed infants, siblings, and teenagers of all backgrounds into her home, some for years, others for weeks. Over time, she adopted four of her foster children and had one biological daughter. Their pictures hang proudly all over the living room walls.
But are there more photos than plants? It’s hard to say.
Ms. L’s favorite saying is, “Give me flowers while I’m living.” She grew up gardening with her parents in this same home. She remembers her father simply digging a plot of ground, throwing seeds in, and watching them grow. Ms. L says it doesn’t come as naturally to her, but she loves the hard work of making her garden grow. She’s proud of every single plant in her home, including succulents, hanging vines, snake plant, gardenias, trumpet flowers, roses, dahlias, and mosquito plants.
Ms. L called Rebuild Upstate back in 2018 when she and her daughter needed repairs to continue to live safely in the home. She’ll be the first to tell you that hosting so many children put wear and tear on the home. Volunteers from the Handyman replaced broken (or permanently closed) windows. They also replaced the shower and tub, which were molding.
Fast forward to 2021. Ms. L qualified for services again and was served by some of the very same Handymen that came out to her home just three years before. This time, Ms. L needed some minor plumbing repair, grab bars to help her age in place, and a new handrail step for a frequently-used and seriously steep stairwell.
“Those steps going downstairs was real loose. They fixed that and it’s better. They put me in a grab bar upstairs and downstairs. They keep me from falling. As you get older you lose your balance in a heartbeat. It’s been a lot of help for the things they have done for me… There was a lot a lot of nice people. I thank them so much for everything they did for me.”
These days, 70-year-old Ms. L is enjoying retirement from her decades-long career as a nurse. When COVID hit, she knew it was time to hang up her hat. Now, she continues to contribute to her community by attending church and encouraging younger members to give back to the community, too. She remains close to family and loves to call them on the phone. She talks to her neighbors, but many of them are new. She keeps the memories of her community alive by telling stories of those who lived near her as a teenager. Like the mother across the street who took her fishing. Or the math teacher down the road who tutored Ms. L after church every Sunday for free.
Take Ms. L’s advice:
“I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me in my life, and that’s why I try to always do something nice to help somebody else. Because your reward is when you help others. When somebody else gives to you, reach on out and pass that blessing onto someone else. It’s not just about what you can get.”