A SAFE HAVEN FOR KIDS (and Remarkable Lena Robinson and Loretta Wallace)

What makes for a lasting friendship? And how does such a friendship inevitably spill over in a positive way to other people?

In the case of Lena Robinson and Loretta Wallace–close friends for years–it’s hearts shaped by compassion and love, plus a “can do” attitude and the ability to understand the needs of others.

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The Needs of Others

Both women have experienced first hand what shape these needs can take. Loretta Wallace formerly worked at Richmond, Virginia’s 311 Call Center while Lena Robinson is a private duty nurse who also operates a home for women transitioning back into society after suffering hardships.

A Shared Approach to Life

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The most recent living example of their shared approach to life and passion for neighborhood volunteerism is the summer camp for local children they organized in their back yard.

This was no ordinary camp, however.

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Its inspiration, Loretta Wallace says, was a seven year old walking down their street early one morning eating a bag of chips and drinking a soda. When he stopped in front of their house and started tossing books on the ground from their book box library, Loretta walked outside to talk with him.

“What are you doing this summer?” she asked after encouraging him to replace the books.

“Nothin’,” he said.

No Summer Programs Close By

Loretta and Lena Robinson knew that the local public school did not offer summer programs for their students and that the closest Community Center was too far for neighborhood children to walk.

They also know that the nearby elementary school had what they called “The Backpack Kids,” students who were fed two meals at the school and sent home with dinner.

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“We decided to do the same thing here so the children wouldn’t play in the streets or maybe get hurt or get into trouble,” said both women; “we wanted to provide a safe haven during the summer when they didn’t seem to have anything to do

And if chips and a soda were any indication, nourishing meals were not going to be typical this summer for too many children.

We Can Do It

“We can do it,” Lena said after they discussed the idea of a camp.

The word spread quickly around the neighboring area. Sixteen children aged 6 to 10 came to their house five days a week for board games, group projects, basketball, reading, three nourishing meals and activities to learn how to relate to each other.

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A parent had to sign an agreement for a child to attend the camp plus agree to do something for the camp as a volunteer, from reading with a group to providing cookies or another treat. There was no charge.

Lena and Loretta not only organized the camp but also assumed all the expenses. “…even though we didn’t know how much money we were talking about,” Loretta said, “or where it would come from.”

Help from Hands Up Ministries

But Hands Up Ministries, a not-for-profit organization which provides affordable housing for working and low income families, learned about the camp because Lena and Loretta are Community Liaisons for the group.

The organization donated many of the books and games to the camp.

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Volunteers with Hands Up Ministries who had built a fence around the back yard of Lena and Loretta’s house learned about the camp. Many of the same volunteers then donated books for the Little Free Library and helped build raised gardens for the children to maintain in the two women’s back yard.

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Spreading the Word

Hands Up Ministries also spread the word of the camp to some of its partners in the city, one of whom–Second Presbyterian Church–donated $3,000 to pay for the home cooked meals the children’s camp served and which Lena Robinson prepared daily.

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Cassie Matthew, the group’s CEO, praised Ms. Robinson and Ms. Wallace for selflessly serving the community. “They saw a need and ran after it,” she said. No wonder they are Community Liaisons for the organization.

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Small Miracles Possible

While others might hesitate to create a camp at their own home for any number of reasons, including cost, what these two Richmond, Virginia women accomplished shows what happens when loving hearts reach out for others instead of doubting that such small miracles are possible.