Compassionate City

Photo of Anita Hines by Kathryn Harrington.

The Mayor’s Give A Day is changing lives long after the Week Of Service is over

By Laura Ross

Children, many just toddlers, climbed into rusted, abandoned grocery carts and played in the street. Every cart that rolled into the intersection was a tragedy waiting to happen. The dangerous form of dodgeball they played – with cars instead of balls – was a troubling symptom of a larger problem in the Lake Dreamland neighborhood.

“These children had nowhere to play except in the streets” said Anita Hines, a church secretary at Highland Park Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Dreamland. “I watched them out of my office window and my heart broke. It was dangerous.”

When representatives from the Louisville Mayor’s office came through the neighborhood in early 2018 to discuss an upcoming volunteer program, the annual Mayor’s Give A Day Week of Service, Hines spoke up. While the visitors of her church explained how they would be in the neighborhood cleaning and planting flowers, Hines suggested something different.

She encouraged Lisa Hebert with Habitat for Humanity to investigate building a playground in an abandoned lot the church once owned. They worked together, and Hebert was able to bring in several volunteers and equipment donors from local companies, including GE Appliances, who came out during the Give A Day program and transformed the lot. The teams dug up trees and bushes and installed donated play equipment, including jungle gyms, swings, picnic tables and benches.

Build A Bed volunteers kick off Give A Day 2018.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Hines. “It was the greatest gift. Now, children play there all the time, and on Wednesdays in the summer, we hold Bible study and have gospel music on the playground. It’s transformed the neighborhood.”

What Hines didn’t expect from the experience was a monumental personal gain. As she helped with the project, she learned more about Habitat for Humanity. In one fateful conversation, Hebert suggested that Hines apply for one of the Habitat homes being built nearby in Richmont Terrace.

“I said, ‘Oh, no, I’m too old to start something new like this,’” Hines said.

With further encouragement, she applied and was floored when she found out that she was one of 15 recipients chosen out of nearly 1,000 applications for 2019.

“I left it to God and His plan for me,” she said, “and I never dreamed this would happen.”

Coming full circle from her act of compassion for neighborhood children, Hines’ new home construction will be part of the 2019 Mayor’s Give A Day Week Of Service in April.

The Mayor’s Give A Day Week Of Service showcases a celebration of compassion and service throughout the community. This year, the volunteer blitz will be held April 13-20 across all areas of Louisville.

“Every year, the citizens of Louisville come out for the Give A Day Week of Service and show why our city is considered a world leader for compassion. It’s part of who we are,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “Last year’s Give A Day Week of Service produced a world-record 205,000 volunteers and acts of compassion. This year’s goal is to top that with even more volunteers, donations and other good deeds.”

Fischer began the project in 2011 when he decided to focus on compassion as one of Louisville’s core values. Several of the city’s largest companies and organizations took part, and the Kentucky Derby Festival board voted to make Give A Day an annual Kentucky Derby Festival event. More than 800 volunteers participated on that inaugural day in 2011. The event has grown and expanded to more than an entire week with volunteer numbers skyrocketing.

Steve Holm and Phil Martin. Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

In 2018, more than 58,000 JCPS students and teachers – often entire schools and classes – joined thousands of private and Catholic school students on service projects. More than 19,000 employees from local companies joined the Brightside & Passport Health Plan Spring Community Wide Cleanups, removing litter and debris from neighborhoods, parks and schools. Kroger stores collected around 30,500 pounds of food for Dare to Care’s food pantry. Presbyterian Center USA brought 483 volunteers to assemble thousands of hygiene kits, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sent nearly 500 volunteers on cleanups throughout Louisville.

That was just the beginning. Volunteer teams built beds for children and houses through Habitat for Humanity; removed litter and debris from neighborhoods, parks and schools; helped refurbish bicycles for refugees; and assisted elderly neighbors with chores.

Individuals or groups wanting to find a project for Give A Day week visit mygiveaday.com, where projects and needs submitted by local non-profit agencies and other groups are listed. A space is also available to record individual acts of compassion and service during that week.

“The people of Louisville give of their time, talent and treasure every single day, which is how we’ve earned recognition as an International Model City of Compassion year after year,” said Fischer. “The Give A Day Week of Service is our way to showcase and celebrate all those great efforts in one week.”

Hopefully, those who volunteer during the week will catch the spark to grow their volunteer efforts throughout the year. Or, in the case of Steve Holm and Phil Martin, years.

At the spry ages of 81 and 90, respectively, Holm and Martin volunteer about 50 weeks a year, five days a week, for Habitat for Humanity. Steve Holm retired from Ford Motor Company in 1999 and immediately began volunteering with Habitat. “My dear wife told me, ‘I married you for better or worse, but get out of this house,’” he laughed. “I am not a fan of golf, which is a great thing to watch during a nap on Sunday. I want to be useful and of service to people.”

Holm met Martin and together they formed the core of a team of dedicated builders. Since 1999, they’ve helped build more than 100 Habitat homes in Louisville.

“I’m right where the Lord wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do,” said Martin, “And I don’t care about being 90. I’ll do it as long as I can. When I do something, if I wouldn’t want it in my home, I don’t want it one of the homes I’m working on. I’m cranky like that.”

Martin was a quality control manager for Standard Gravure and brings that attention to detail to tasks even today. He works on the layouts, cutting and hammering and oversees quality control for the house building process.

So, why not just retire and enjoy restful days in the golden years? “There’s always one more nail to put in,” said Holm. “Building these houses for others gives you a sense of satisfaction that you helped someone along the line. There’s a saying that love is not a feeling, it’s what you do. And that’s what we’re all about.”

Both men work on a team of volunteers whose ages average in the mid-70s. They are avid advocates for volunteering, no matter what your age or talent is. “Just find something you like,” said Martin. “It can be any type of task in volunteering. Do what makes you happy and keep moving. If you just sit around all day, you won’t last long.”

One of the homes the dynamic duo of Martin and Holm will work on during Give A Day Week of Service is Anita Hines’ new house. She appreciates everyone helping her dream come true.

“When I first moved out here to the apartments, it was very different,” Hines said. “It was a high crime area with lots of shootings, but now, it’s a totally different place because of people who stepped up, volunteered and transformed this area.”

She can see her new neighborhood rising across the street from her current apartment and is eager to move in later this summer. Hines will put in around 200 hours of volunteer help in building her new home and has her children and grandchildren lined up to volunteer as well.

“When you’re blessed, you should share your blessings,” she said, encouraging others to volunteer. “You have to live in this city, so why not make it beautiful? Find your talent in volunteering and give back. It’s such meaningful work.”

As she picks out her flooring, brick and paint colors, she marvels at what the future holds for her family. She looks forward to her forever home, filled with visits from her three children and five grandsons. Though the house won’t be move-in ready for a few months, she’s ready to pack. “I’m telling you, the pictures are off the walls in my apartment, and I’m figuring out trunk space in my cars,” she said. “I’m ready.”

With a catch in her voice, Hines reflected, “We usually take a big family vacation each year, but I told my family I’m not going this summer. I have a home to build!” V

Go to mygiveaday.com (managed by Metro United Way) to choose and register from select service opportunities/projects for the Mayor’s Give A Day Week of Service 2019.