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CARLTON FLETCHER: Albany citizens take care of their own

OPINION: Grassroots 'adoption' program community at its best

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

All of the dreams we built up from the ground, They never believed them, they just tore them down. We will rebuild them from the start; We will rebuild them from the heart.

Hoobastank

When businesswomen Linda Davis, Sarah Edmonds and B.J. Fletcher were discussing what would morph into an amazing grassroots community Christmas “adoption” campaign, they all agreed on one thing: “We didn’t want anything to do with the ‘soup kitchen’ mentality.”

Fletcher explained: “We wanted this to be about people who had real needs, not people who were moving from one free meal to the next without ever doing anything for themselves.”

With Christmas only a few days away, it’s pretty safe to say the program that grew from the business leaders’ casual conversation has been an overwhelming success. The outpouring of genuine compassion by the community has been enough to serve as plots for a dozen Lifetime movies and warm the hearts of even the meanest Grinches.

There were:

— The homeless families facing eviction who were given three months’ rent-free accommodations by local Realtors;

— The family with the broken stove treated to a Thanksgiving meal by a local restaurant owner and given a new stove by employees at the restaurant;

— The family whose damaged kitchen flooring made it difficult for a wheelchair-bound child to navigate who had new flooring donated and installed by a business and individual in the community;

— An attorney in Lee County who gave a significant amount of money to “help out,” money that was eventually used to pay utility bills for struggling families and purchase specific items indicated by needy families;

— A toy drive that resulted in hundreds of donated items that were earmarked for struggling families that would not otherwise have been able to afford gifts for their children;

— Food provided by local restaurateurs for holiday meals that fed the hungry.

“What’s been amazing about this whole thing is that it’s been like a dot-to-dot-to-dot thing where someone would call with a need, and there would be someone else call a short while later who could fill that need,” Fletcher said. “It was just this great hometown effort where people here wanted to help people in a way that they were confident would not be wasted effort.

“This was local people who pulled this off.”

What typified the spirit of the grassroots community adoption program was the story of the local family headed by a single mother who had six children, some with special needs. Overwhelmed by recent personal developments, the family was adopted by a local financial institution, significantly impacting its hopes for a Merry Christmas.

“When we had the toy drive (at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn), it was just this amazing experience to see that family bring by toys for the needy,” Fletcher said. “They said, ‘Others helped us, and we want to be a part of helping someone else.’ This is the kind of spirit that can change a community, and so many people involved said they don’t intend for it to stop when Christmas is over.”

Fletcher, the Albany City Commissioner-elect for Ward III, said she hopes the rekindled community spirit becomes a key chapter in the book written about how Albany turned itself around.

“We’ve kind of become the underdogs, and we need a few ‘Little Engines That Could’ to keep our momentum going,” she said. “We have to take little steps, but our city can go from the Squawkbox to the Bright Side. We just have to listen to what folks are saying in the Squawkbox.

“The big thing around here and all over the country the last little bit has been the big ($600 mullion-plus) lottery jackpot. But when you’ve got people in your community who are willing to come out of retirement to fix a needy family’s kitchen floor, and you’ve got a doctor offering to do whatever he can to help those in need, and you’ve got all kinds of average people who’ve had to work for everything they have giving back to help some people who are just having a tough time of it, well you realize you don’t have to strike it big to be wealthy.

“Albany, Georgia has a wealth of truly amazing people.”