By Judy Berman
Some people make our lives richer just by crossing our path.
For parents, they might not know what influence they’ve had until their child’s nearly grown.
As a teacher, I often wonder: Did I make a difference? I don’t mean in test scores. I’m looking for a deeper impact.
Are my students thinking more critically when given conflicting points of view? Have any of our class discussions led them to think more about what they can do to forge stronger, positive relationships? Or how to make the world a better place?
That’s when I think about a story I was assigned to report on when I worked for Florida Today.
There are certain people we’re meant to meet in life. For me, Irene Summerford was one of them.
Volunteers were out in her Melbourne neighborhood painting houses, cleaning yards, and emptying lots of debris and brush.
A deacon told me about a woman who lived around the corner. He said Irene, a widow, spent what little money she had to help those who were hungry and hurting.
When the volunteers took a lunch break, I decided to go meet her.
Irene, who had been helping the volunteers paint her home, was sitting outside on a bench. A huge cross was on her front lawn.
She said she wished people would do something to make a difference every day, that a special day should not be needed to do so.
“Life is about reaching out thru love. It doesn’t take a rich person. All it takes is a willing heart to reach out,” Irene told me.
Irene admitted that sometimes she knows she can’t help and leaves it in God’s hands. Other times, if they need something to eat, she’ll offer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Or, maybe what they need is “just a smile and a hug.”
Irene wondered if she’d always be on the outside looking in. I understood as I’ve felt like an outsider, too. But, she said, she learned a lot by being on the outside.
I was touched and humbled by her strong belief. We talked about half an hour. Her positive outlook prompted me to re-examine my own goals.
About 1 ½ years later, I left the paper and sought ways to help children through teaching. Irene’s passion to improve the lives of children in her neighborhood led her in another direction.
She “was the driving force behind the creation …for a drop-in center for kids in the community, a program that began life in a public housing apartment in 2004,” according to an article in “Florida Today.”
Irene died of cancer in 2006, at age 60, a year before a new building was completed to meet the growing demand for an after-school program at the community center.
Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Irene lived that and made life better for those around her.
Our lives intersected briefly, but Irene left a lasting impression on me.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Video: Conner and Cayden Long – SportsKids of the Year – An excellent example of brotherly love and sportsmanship – Conner’s brother, Cayden, has cerebral palsy, and they compete in triathlons together. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_Lax4zFFoA
Main Photo: Community Service – USS Frank Cable Sailors – Gunner’s Mate 1st Class, Sierra Clemons, playing a game with a child at the Child Protection and Development Center in Hua Yai, Thailand – photo taken Feb. 23, 2012 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fa/USS_Frank_Cable_Sailors_participate_in_a_community_service_event._%2813453432314%29.jpg/640px-USS_Frank_Cable_Sailors_participate_in_a_community_service_event._%2813453432314%29.jpg