A guest post from my sister Theresa O’Dea on Giving Tuesday.
My childhood was equal parts hardship and humor. As a writer, I usually focus on funny stories like the time my brother didn’t have school shoes so he wore our sister’s softball cleats. Everywhere he went, he looked like he was walking on ice.
Truth be told, I write about the humor because the hardship was too real: watching other kids complain about their bologna sandwiches while I was starving…living out of the trunk of a car…working at age six to earn money for dinner while my friends got to play. So, you can imagine my hesitation when close friend and co-founder of the Footpath Foundation, Mary Macias, asked me to share my story and to introduce their gifting program for the holidays. It’s the least I can do for this life-changing organization, so here’s my backstory…
When I was four years old, my dad had a debilitating heart attack and subsequent mental health problems that prevented him from working. Although my mom worked around the clock, there were too many mouths to feed and too few resources. The downward spiral was both swift and enduring. We lived through years of hunger, shutoff notices, freezing winters, evictions, broken down cars and long walks home.
You might not have pegged my family as poor, actually. My parents taught all thirteen of us siblings to believe we were better than our circumstances and we acted the part. Some might have mistaken it for arrogance, but that unwavering mindset is what saved us.
Although my family didn’t have things, at least we had each other. We pressured one another to be smart, athletic and we developed a sharp sense of humor and emotional toughness living this way. My older siblings helped in countless ways to make sure we had food every day. They also gave me experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise, like going to an amusement park or picking out a brand-new outfit for the first day of school (seen in the photo above).
There were many other nameless, faceless helpers along the way too. Those people should know their help was worth it. The meals, anonymous Christmas gifts, hand-me-downs, gas money, rides home…it all worked. It was a long fought war but we eventually bounced back.
Maybe I’m an optimist or maybe I’m naïve, but I think we were the lucky ones. Most kids living in poverty or crisis are missing the two critical ingredients we were being fed on a daily basis: self worth and hope. With these tools, I found that I could pretty much do anything.
It’s difficult for many kids in crisis to imagine a life outside of their current circumstances. So, the Footpath Foundation was formed to give kids a break from poverty to discover, often for the first time in their lives, that there is potential living inside each of them. As it turns out, the best place for this kind of discovery is nature. Research shows that nature calms brain activity, decreases depression and anxiety and allows kids to relax.
Donations to Footpath provide experiences such as overnight camp, farm outings and outdoor adventures to broaden the kids’ horizons and understanding of the world around them. It’s hard to believe that a simple walk in nature can change a child’s perspective, but it absolutely can. And I am living proof that one small gesture can change a child’s trajectory.
Amazingly, in their first year of operation, Footpath was able to take 40 kids to overnight camp. And they are looking to double that number in 2017. So, this is where your part of the story begins: You can buy a Footpath experience and give it as a meaningful gift to friends, family or co-workers this holiday season. Best of all, you will be giving a positive life experience to a child who desperately needs it.
Click here to get started: https://footpathfoundation.org/how-you-can-help/