I remember the first time I walked in. She was wearing red lipstick, khaki shorts and a mickey mouse t-shirt. “Hop in,” she said. And I did.
Somewhat lost and yet somehow at home, I spent 3 hours that first day playing alongside God’s greatest gifts. We laughed, I guessed, we played and made new friends. “How can I help?” I said at the end of the club…. “Lead music next month” she said. And I did.
A year of volunteering eased the frequent Atlanta doctors appointments, struggling nerves and nights of pain. The year turned to warm summer camp months and she asked for me to join the team. And I did.
That summer I fell in love with a world in celebration of people’s abilities. No longer asking the question “how will they navigate the world?” Instead the conviction became that the world needs them to navigate. Camp had a strict attendance commitment. In between bowling, swimming and the smiles she allowed me to slip away for my appointments and return. She understood. We bonded through it. She was slipping away for them too. She told me it would be okay. And for me, it was.
Mid-summer she handed me a paper. Said, “do not read it until you get home”. I wish I could say I did. But I did not. I read it in the car. “You’re a great leader” it read, “A natural.” An opportunity in black and white to lead for the rest of the weeks. She believed in me. She gave me a chance. And I did.
At summer’s end, amidst tears from the broken hearts leaving their favorite place, camp, she sat us down and told us that she was sick. And she was.
October 9th, 2004. Only a few months later, she gave her last breath, her heavy legacy lingering. And then the months that followed. We stepped up. Many more than others. But it was a team. We needed it to carry on, for her, for them, for us. And it did.
And then it was the call that December day when I was 19, “will you take the reins” to lead an organization, her memoir. Not knowing how to and also not know how not to. And so I did.
The years have passed as if they were months. Hardly believing it has been 14 years. I still see her in the decisions I make and hear her voice in the ups and downs. Everyday working to carefully carry her treasure. October 9th is a reminder every year that one day it will be me, with her and then there will be another to carry it on. I hope that she is proud. I hope to leave this place as beautiful as it is now. I hope to inspire and invest in others as she did in me. I hope to see it one day much better than I left it. And I will.