On an unseasonably cool day in June, Emma entered a local rodeo arena with her sons Anthony and Gabriel, unsure of what she’d find. They weren’t there to see broncos or bull riders; Emma had heard about an event that could help her overcome the struggles she and her family were facing.
Month after month, the bills would come due. Sometimes she and her husband could make it, but other times they found themselves at a local food bank. Their lives had changed dramatically when they had Anthony. Anthony, who has special needs and is in a wheelchair, has to regularly visit a special doctor whose office is two hours away. Every drive costs the family what few resources they have.
“We can’t do anything else,” says Emma. “For instance, I need to build the access ramp for him [Anthony]. But I can’t do it.”
For those like Emma living in vulnerable communities, life can spiral out of control quickly through no fault of their own. The cushion to absorb unexpected costs is thin at best. Because of that, even small wins can become life-changing experiences.
For the past 25 years, Convoy of Hope and an army of volunteers has been serving across the United States, and now around the world, through Community Events. These events provide critical services that are often unreachable when money is tight.
“We bring together churches, service providers, and people from all over the community,” says Convoy of Hope’s Jason Bachman, who led the event that Emma and her family attended. “It creates a platform for existing organizations, who sometimes aren’t even aware of each other, to come together and serve. These events create opportunities for the novice and the expert to come together to serve their cities.”
When Emma and her kids entered the grounds, volunteer greeters welcomed them to each tent. Gabriel bumped along in his stroller as Anthony hurried to grab a new pair of shoes at the Children’s Shoes tent. A volunteer helped him get fitted, and he proudly held up his new sneakers after pulling out the crumpled paper stuffed in the toes. These were new shoes. His shoes.
Anthony impatiently zipped toward the Kids Zone. He drove his wheelchair to the sloped entrance of a bouncy castle where he was met by a volunteer who obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with. Not to be slowed down, Anthony thrust his body forward. He landed on his hands and knees and stormed the castle. His face exuded pure joy as he jumped around that inflatable castle just like the other kids. With his body in midair, Anthony smiled and shouted for his mom. Emma smiled like any parent, thrilled to see her child so happy.
“Poverty is stressful,” says Bachman. “And I think that our Community Events give people a break from that. On that day, people can let go of their problems, even if it’s just for a couple of hours.”
As Emma and her family walked the grounds, the Health Services tent caught her eye. She noticed representatives from Anthony’s children’s hospital, so she stopped to talk with them. Taking as much time as her kids would allow, she began to craft a plan with the hospital.
Weeks after the event, we caught up with Emma to see how she and her family were doing. As she shared her progress over the phone, pots and pans rattled in the background as she prepared lunch for the kids. “Since the event we’ve been doing good,” she says. “Visiting the [children’s] hospital really helped.” The arrangements she made with the hospital at the Community Event had already saved them hours of driving and extra travel expenses. That connection likely wouldn’t have been made without the Community Event and the volunteers who made it happen … together.
*This story originally appeared in issue 15 of the Hope Quarterly which can be read here.