One thing you might not know about me is that I spent 7 years working in residential property management. A season in my early adult life that I regard with great fondness. It was hard work. But I was young and ambitious and a single mom with a mouth to feed. I climbed the ladder in a few short years and acquired the management position to lead a new development project – 130 units in the suburbs of Minneapolis. While the property was high-end luxury, a certain percentage of the units were reserved for low income families. The model was a relatively new [at the time] tax incentive for development investors. In reality it was a co-mingling of social and economic classes. A test, of sorts. And my property would be a guinea pig.
The year was 2000. I scrambled all year long to market, promote and lease up those apartment units. I even picked one for myself [and my daughter] and moved in. By the end of August we neared 100% occupancy. The low-income units, mostly three bedrooms to accommodate larger families, were the first to get gobbled up. Somehow, in the rapid lease-up process, a large community of Somalian refugees learned of our availability, applied for housing, and settled for a beautiful, brand new apartment in the burbs. I was pleased with the success of that work and was ready to get into the groove of more normal managerial duties.
As the first of September rolled around, I received a slightly panicked phone call. It was the elementary school’s principle. In two short weeks over 100 children, new to the district, registered for class. Most of the students were of Somalian decent, and the school was not prepared to offer ESL to this many students mere days before the start of a new school year.
This launched a completely new and unexpected campaign, for me. I called it the The Foundation. [Because one night I was awoken from my sleep, deeply moved with a thought or dream or vision that had me huddled on the bathroom floor with my Bible. There was a terrible impression that I was being asked to “build a foundation for the children.” This, of course, was well before I really understood the way in which God can and does speak through dreams. All I knew was that I needed to put a plan into action.] So, the very next day, I began. To my surprise all these civic and religious groups came out of the woodwork with resources and programs and money. The school district, the city, the police department and two local churches. We collaborated and united for the children. Before long a full running after school program was in place. The children, many of whom had stolen my heart, were happy.
Little did I know, at the time, the ripple effect this little lease up project would have on an entire city.
The atmosphere changed in a blink. So much fear. So much uncertainty. So much grief. So much anger. Suddenly, our quaint community filled with a rainbow of nations, colors, and classes seemed to echo the same question-cry through untold, glossy eyed stares: Are we safe here?
In the weeks that followed, putting on a confident smile was like worming into a pair of jeans with wet legs. Not easy. Everyone who lived in the apartments felt like an extended family member, to me. I cared deeply for all of them. And I wanted to reassure all of them that we were going to be ok.
The week of Thanksgiving, 2001 was special, for so many reasons. America was grieving. And yet there was more unity than ever before. On the eve of Thanksgiving I remember preparing several pies to bring to my family gathering a few hours away. As I mixed the ingredients and poured batter into formed shells, one family, a single woman with five children kept coming to mind. She lived down the hall from me. She was a Somalian refuge, and someone I’d felt a special tug to nurture during her cultural transition. My heart had come to adore each of her bright smiling children. As I placed each pie into the oven I thought about the recent events in my nation and wondered too about the events she’d witnessed in her own.
In a blink I felt so much connection. So much love. I knew just what to do.
“Thankfulness is not some magic formula; it is the language of Love, which enables you to communicate intimately…” -Sarah Young
I rose early the next morning and delivered one Pumpkin pie with a note that read, “Happy Thanksgiving!” And something about America and you are welcome and blessed to be here.
When I returned to my office the following week I found one empty pie plate, traced with a few crumbs, sitting on my desk. Perfectly empty. I smiled.
Empty never felt so full.~
[Note: I’ve always wondered what ever happened to The Foundation. Do they still offer programs for the children? Two years ago, while traveling through these old stomping grounds, curiosity got the best of me and I stopped in at the rental office. I introduced myself to the manager and asked about the program. “Oh yes,” she said “the program is very much still running.” ]