ALBANY, Ga. -- When it comes to the concept of affecting real change -- in a community, in a situation, in thought processes -- the key to success is the amount of influence an individual or group can have on that which it hopes to change.
Todd and LaDonna Urick, David Blackwell, Walt Petruska and the other true believers in the Albany-based Mission:Change organization have enough influence to bring dozens of area citizens out of their warm and comfortable beds for a night of sleeping in a cardboard box on the hard ground as a way of making the plight of the homeless more real.
"I can't tell you all the conversations I've had with people who said, 'I didn't realize what homeless people actually go through,' since we started the Hope for the Hungry and Homeless Sleep Out," said LaDonna Urick, who with husband Todd founded Mission:Change as a means of giving back to their community. "Most generally say, 'I can't imagine what that's like to be in that situation every day, knowing when you wake up the next day it starts all over again'."
Mission:Change is making final preparations for its third sleep out, which is scheduled Nov. 12 at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds at Westover Boulevard and Oakridge Drive. The new locale, after two years in a lot adjacent to the Albany Mall, reflects the growth of the Hope for the Hungry and Homeless Sleep Out.
"It's been amazing, seeing this project grow from eight to 12 into the hundreds," Mission:Change Board of Directors President and Mission Project Coordinator Blackwell said. "Everything we've heard in the past two years has been positive.
"This has become a night when the community comes together to raise awareness of issues that are vital with a secondary goal of raising funds for deserving organizations."
LaDonna Urick said she and Todd Urick got the idea for the first sleep out when she read about a group of college students doing something similar to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless.
The concept is a simple one: Citizens are invited to give up their warm, comfortable beds for one night to sleep in a cardboard box, on the ground and in the elements. Mission:Change turned the concept into a fundraiser when it asked participants to raise a minimum of $100 in pledges that will be used to benefit nonprofits The Salvation Army, Second Harvest of South Georgia, Flint River Habitat for Humanity and Mission:Change.
All groups are engaged in providing food and/or shelter for the homeless.
In addition to individual sleepers, Mission:Change is inviting groups to participate in the sleep out as well. Each member is asked to collect at least $100 in pledges.
During the event, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 and continues until 7 o'clock the following morning, participants will be entertained by Christian musicians Gabriel and the New Priest, the TJ Mauldin Band and Dove Award winner Charlie Hall.
Also, author Vaden Earle, whose literary works include "One: A Face Behind the Numbers," will serve as keynote speaker during the sleep out. Earle is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Absolute Leadership Development.
Nonsleepers who want to contribute may come by for the entertainment and make a donation at the fairgrounds. Others interesting in helping in Mission:Change's efforts may mail donations to P.O. Box 834, Albany 31702 or donate through PayPal on the organizations website, www.missionchange.com.
Hope for the Hungry and Homeless Sleep Out participation and waiver of liability forms are also available for download at the site.
"God put (Mission:Change) on mine and Todd's hearts, and it has changed us forever," LaDonna Urick, who only recently returned with her husband from a yearlong mission trip to Eleuthera in the Bahamas, said. "We've grown not just in our faith but in our service.
"We believe God wants us not just to serve others but to help others experience what we have through our service."
For additional information about the sleep out or Mission:Change, contact Blackwell at (229) 886-1257.