There’s this parable about a starfish and a young boy.
“One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir.”
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”
Last week, I had two moments that reminded me of this story and reassured me of why I do what I do.
A Mom’s Story
The first moment happened at The Wheeler House while I was watering some of the plants. One of the moms staying at the house approached me with a big smile on her face and a piece of paper in her hand. Jasmine (pseudonym) said she received some good news today. As I asked her to tell me more, Jasmine's face lit up and she ecstatically replied, “I passed my GED today!”
Jasmine had been working toward completing her GED for 15 years now. The day finally came, and I was able to celebrate this moment with her. She continued to tell me that she interviewed for a job at Wells Fargo the week before. The job was hers as long as she passed her GED. So not only did Jasmine pass her GED, but she now has a permanent job, meaning she is one step closer to reaching self-sufficiency.
She then proceeded to tell me, “I want you to know The Wheeler House has made this possible. It gave me the safety and stability I needed to focus on my education. Being here has made a big difference in my life.”
This story might sound small, but I am committed to celebrating every victory, no matter the size. Lives are being changed, and many times that starts with a safe place to get back on your feet, which is what The Wheeler House is here for. Her kids are now closer to having a home with their own kitchen table, cozy beds and a refrigerator full of delicious food.
I hugged Jasmine and told her, “We will always be here for you.” Life has been tough for Jasmine, but her persistence has been astounding.
The Boy Scout
The second moment happened a few days later as I was watching a young man, James, lead a group of Boy Scouts in building a fence for the backyard of The Wheeler House. The fence will help keep the backyard a safe place for the kids to play tag, cartwheel in the grass and shoot some hoops without fear of strangers dropping by.
James struggled at the beginning trying to lay out the posts, but with some coaching, he got his team to accomplish the task.
He was rained out the next day, but he didn’t quit. He came back the following Tuesday night and finished the fence project with some help. Not everything was plumb, level or square, but it looks good and is very functional. More importantly, I saw James grow a little bit this week. He grew from a follower to a leader. As I shook his hand at 9:30 pm Tuesday night, the moment before he got in his dad’s truck, I could see the satisfaction in his eyes. He completed this project from beginning to end. Something very few 15-year-olds would consider taking on.
Often times in social services, we talk about “moving the needle” on homelessness, hunger or some other systemic issue. While that discussion is important and necessary, the reality is the needle is moved one person at a time – The “eaches.” Whether it’s helping a mom who has been struggling for 15 years or helping a young man grow into a community leader for the future. “Each” person has value.
Blog post written by Serve Denton Board Member & Former Executive Director Pat Smith