When you don't know how to ask for help....
These posts are usually about tables and youth. This post is about me. My name is Amber Donovan and I am the Executive Director of Community of Hope. I like to fly under the radar most of the time, but ever since the Plain Dealer's President, Chris Quinn came into my life, that has been hard to do. I am so grateful for the press and the attention focused on the wonderful work we are doing, but I think I probably need to come clean--I am not great at asking for help.
I am a recovering perfectionist, with first-born tendencies and strong opinions about action over talk. I have a strong faith born from the fire of a troubled childhood, a fight with cancer and a belief that my life is not my own. I am not really the story. I am just the storyteller. I am just one person who decided after she heard a simple idea, that everything I knew about life and social work and faith could be poured into one model to help young people. I suspected that not just young people would be changed, but the older, wiser volunteers would also come away changed. That's how service works, the more you give, the more you receive. And, I sat on the first table so that I would see if or how it works, and now my table is going on 4 years of love. I have learned so much from this group. I have learned about overcoming dark and hard times. I have learned about disappointment. I have learned about reconciliation. I have really learned about unconditional love. I have learned that love that is given freely, leads to freedom for us all.
I'm not going to lie--what I do and what every table member does is HARD. There aren't many days when I am not fretting over this table or that table. Humans are messy. Every (and I mean EVERY) young person I meet, I fall in love with. I see them as uniquely gifted and filled with potential. I BELIEVE in them--regardless of where they are--and even if they are locked up I think-- how we can love them even more? I just love them. They are our future and our hope. We want them to be greater than we are. We want them to be loved so they can go out and love. We want them to overcome the trauma of their childhood, so they can create their best life and in doing so, create a better world.
I'm not naive (well maybe a little). I do know that sometimes I have to be tough and say hard things--to both youth and table members. I do not shy away from hard truth, but I have learned the importance of giving dignity and love when I deliver the hard stuff. It isn't always what you say but how you say it, after all. I have also learned to let go of outcomes. People decide for themselves what kind of life they want to have, and their decision doesn't reflect on me and my love for them.
For four years I have been putting tables together. Tonight we launch our 20th table. For a very long time, I have not asked people or organizations for money ON PURPOSE. I have just asked for their time, for their involvement. Help me love young people. I wanted to show that we could get pretty far by giving of our time. I wanted people to see that relationships change people, not checks. Only, now I need some funding so I can support all our new work.
When I look at the money we spend to "help the poor" or in the "war on poverty", I see program after program that fails to help the people they serve. I mean really help them. There is a philosophy of funding programs that says, "Here is just enough for you to maintain life in poverty, but if you take one step forward towards self sufficiency--we cut you off or cut your benefits."
My belief when I started doing all this was that money alone doesn't get people out of poverty. Of course, you do need money, but most programs don't get people out of poverty. Better opportunity, better pay, better networks and connections---these are what I saw as the potential for my friends under the poverty line. To advance in life, in any setting, we have to have people - with skills and connections that we don't have - who can step in and help us. That is what happens around tables. People helping people with people.
The Plain Dealer gave me a great gift of exposing this work and bringing to my email box so many new networks and people and opportunities. I am gradually figuring out what to do with 140 new volunteers who want to sit on tables. My sweet partners Beverly Johnson and Zelma Brown are SO WONDERFUL. I couldn't do this without them and my YWCA and NCJW and church partners, but I really am now at a point where I need to ask for money so that I can have staff to help support these youth and table members that I love with my whole heart.
Now I need money, not for me, but for the movement to be supported. All this delicate human capital needs support and nurturing. People are stepping out of comfort zones and risking rejection ON BOTH SIDES OF THE TABLE and we want them to feel supported and cared for and appreciated. It's beyond me now. It's time to create something sustainable and systematic so we can keep expanding and keep spreading the hope of community---genuine relationships all around our city.
How can you help? You can donate money, time or talent. Or, if you are extra awesome, all three. My board and I have applied for 501c3 status. Hopefully, that will come through soon, but until then, the Cleveland Foundation has created a fund for Community of Hope.
Click here for more: Cleveland Foundation's Community of Hope fund
Honestly, what I need is a small drop in the bucket compared to the millions spent on programs that only last a few months. I want to build something in people's lives that will last for a lifetime. I want to build something in Cleveland that will outlive even our children. I want us to change to entire trajectory of our city with love. (I know that last statement is about as tree-hugging, social-worky as I can get, but I love love.)
We can't program our way out of poverty. We can't stay divided by bridges, suburbs, neighborhoods, race, religion, or nationality. The only way to a better community is one person at a time. The only way to change the world is by leaning into the hard places and being a light that keeps shining.
For reading, for helping, for donating, THANK YOU.