“I need more to do” the woman said to me. She stood about as tall as I was, her hair the pretty kind of silver and her blue eyes clear as a summer sky. We stood eye to eye in the kitchen of the shelter, surrounded by the mint green walls. She had just completed her volunteer hours for the week showing residents how to knit washcloths. “This is a great thing to do, but I was hoping to spend more time volunteering.”
Linda had been one of several retired teachers who had attended a volunteer training for the shelter. They had undergone the classroom training and she was now learning “on the job” for the rest of her required hours.
“Well, I might have something for you” I replied to her. I was thinking about the jewelry. A board member had gotten the idea to make jewelry from broken china from something she had seen on the internet. The broken dishes, refashioned as jewelry resonated with the transformation of residents in the program. Once broken, they were now beautiful and independent with a new purpose. She, myself and our child advocate at the time had gone to Little Rock to learn how do do the job from a man who worked with stained glass.
Ever since, between the three of us we had struggled to fit in time to create the pieces. Natasha, the child advocate and I would sneak out to the back office and work on it during our hard-to-find free time. The board member and I worked on it during the weekends in her husbands tiny airplane hangar. The project had such potential, if only there were more hands available.
I smiled tentatively at Linda and said, “How do you feel about making the jewelry?” She thought for a second and said, “Well, I have never done it before, but I suppose I could learn.” I didn’t need any more agreement from her than that to begin officially handing it over. I’m quite certain she had no idea what she had just brought upon herself with her request for more to do.
Over the next few weeks, I showed her how the process worked. I enjoyed doing it, but the shelter needed running and the project was too much for me. Soon after, Linda came to me and asked me a question that would turn the future of the whole project. “Can I take this off-site, and can I train my own volunteers to work just on this?” I gladly handed her the reins to move the project.
Over the years, I have learned many things from Linda, one of the most important is that once you have been a school teacher for a certain amount of years, you are a school teacher for the rest of your life. She used her skills in teaching and leading to recruit a small but mighty army of her fellow retired teachers (and others too) to begin making the Broken China Jewelry.
They started meeting at a church to have the room to spread out and do the work. They took up jobs based on interest and skills. Soon, they were not only making the jewelry, but finding places to go and sell it. They manned booths, worked events, and roped their spouses and children into helping as well. In the world of non-profit, it was a dream setup.
Going to workshop to see the magic was a sight to behold. They welcomed me into the midst, loving to hear about the work the jewelry supported. Linda told me, “You see, this isn’t just something for us to do. This is our ministry. This is how we give back.” No one required them to be there, they wanted to do it of their own free will. When it came to “giving back” they gave an immeasurable amount. They worked at the project (and still do, remotely during covid) countless hours. Since the inception of the project, way back when, they’ve raised over half a million dollars for the shelter.
It was a worthy project, one that could continue for a long time under the right leadership. There is no doubt in my mind, though, that it developed the way it did because of the dedication and work that Linda put into it, and still does to this day.
We spent so much time together, that she quickly become one of the adored mother-figures in my own life. Like an errant daughter, I don’t always do my best to keep in touch with her the way I should now that I no longer work at the shelter. There is no question though, that I could go to her at any time with any problem and she would drop everything to listen and be supportive. It’s simply who she is.
There are undoubtedly many lives that have been and will be affected by Linda in her lifetime. The success of the jewelry project is simply a further manifestation of her dedication to what she believes in. She boldly declares her faith in the actions she chooses every single day.
I hope I get to be like Linda when I grow up.