The closer to Thanksgiving, the more Amy Hudson’s phone rings.
She takes phone call after phone call at Macedonia Family Resource Center, answering it all the same way in a sing-song voice: “It’s a great day at Macedonia. This is Amy. How can I help you?’’
More often than not, people call about getting a food voucher. When they get it, they’ll stand in line for hours at High Point’s Williams Memorial Church to get a ham and a box of food for Thanksgiving.
Amy knows. Amy – an HPU grad, Class of 2014 – did that last year for Miss Watson. Amy picked up Miss Watson’s food box because she knew Miss Watson couldn’t do it, bad hip and all. Amy delivered it to Miss Watson’s house.
When she got it, Miss Watson cried.
“I didn’t think anyone would remember me at Thanksgiving,’’ she told Amy. “I thought I was going to be forgotten about.’’
This week, Amy thinks about that conversation often when her phone rings. She has given away 110 vouchers and tells people about the center’s food pantry with silos of cans nearly reaching the 10-foot ceiling.
Meanwhile, she’ll hear stories about people’s white-knuckle woes.
Before working at Macedonia as its program director, she didn’t think about why people struggled. She was too busy going back to school, raising her family and reinventing her life after being laid off in 2008 from a sales job.
She understands now. She chalks it up to the Service Learning Program at High Point University.
HPU placed her at the Macedonia Family Resource Center, and during her nine–month stint of volunteering, she saw struggle up-close in her own hometown. It had names and faces. So, she stayed.
“My blinders are off,’’ says Amy, a 46-year-old single mother. “Does that make sense?’’
Planting Seeds of Greatness
In North Carolina, nearly 160,000 people receive emergency food assistance in any given week.
That is nothing new. For the past four years, North Carolina has ranked among the top 10 states with the highest percentage of residents having food shortages, and High Point has some of the highest levels of food insecurity in the nation.
That all means hundreds in High Point don’t know where they or their family will find their next meal.
So, in turn, HPU gives, volunteers and helps wherever it can.
Its students contribute more than 100,000 hours of volunteer service each year somewhere in High Point. They volunteer at schools, community centers, the local homeless shelter and the local jail.
Those hours plant what President Nido R. Qubein likes to call “seeds of greatness.’’
Last week, Dr. Qubein gave 1,500 teddy bears to HPU freshmen and told them to give it to their mother, father, teacher, coach or someone who made an impact on them in some way. And Dr. Qubein wanted them to do it before Christmas.
“Gratitude is the deepest and most important quality a human being has,’’ he told them during his Presidential Life-Skills Seminar.
Every semester, more than 300 students take part in HPU’s Service Learning Program, including nearly 20 students who drive 10 minutes south to volunteer next door at Macedonia Family Resource Center.
Earlier this month, HPU sophomore Dalton Sheppard came with a few members of his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, as part of its Helping High Point philanthropy project.
The fraternity already had helped the Guilford County Animal Shelter find owners for abandoned dogs. At the center, they came one afternoon to tutor children in everything from reading to math.
Dalton met Jecolein, a little girl with hoop earrings, and helped her with compound words. At first, Dalton was nervous. Dalton had never tutored anyone before, and he didn’t know how a little girl like Jecolein would react.
At first, Jecolein was quiet. But by the end of the 75-minute session, Jecolein had shed her silence and started to sing as Dalton helped her put words together.
She began to understand. Dalton did, too.
“I feel that when you have the ability, you need to share the love,’’ says Dalton, a 19-year-old from Waynesville, North Carolina. “Do unto others as you do unto yourself, that is the main thing.’’
Dr. Joe Blosser is the Robert G. Culp Jr. director of service learning. He has a name for what Dalton sees and Amy has experienced: the “new normal.’’
Blosser leads the program at HPU, and he sees the volunteer work give students no matter their age a broader and more layered view of the world.
“I want them to appreciate the struggle of others, move past paternalism, think of partnerships, and when they do that, students will learn more than what they have given,” Blosser says.
“Out of that true feeling of gratitude flows empathy, and it makes them realize that old Methodist idea – we are all fearfully and wonderfully made.’’
Finding Gratitude, Giving Thanks
For Amy, that old Methodist idea has a name: Alonzo.
She met him last year when she was volunteering at Macedonia. She helped him draft a resume on a computer and look for countless jobs. Amy helped him get a job, and in a sheer twist of circumstance brought on by a college class, the two from High Point’s different sides became friends.
One day last fall, Alonzo called Amy in a panic. He told her his wife, Juanita, needed help because she didn’t have her diabetes medicine, and Alonzo couldn’t leave his job.
Amy agreed to help. She swung by their house, talked to Juanita and told her she’d get her medicine. When Amy came back 45 minutes later, no one answered the door. Amy knocked, banged and called 911. She found Juanita passed out on the bed.
As paramedics worked, Amy worked as well. She held Juanita’s hand, telling her repeatedly, “Hang in there! Hold on! I’ve got your medicine!’’
Juanita died. She was in her 60s.
After her death, Alonzo moved away. But Amy stayed. She now works in a part of town that once made her uneasy.
It doesn’t anymore. She can thank Alonzo and Juanita for that — as well as HPU’s service-learning program.
Amy graduated with an undergrad degree in communication with a focus on interactive media and game design. She uses her expertise in game design to teach two courses at Guilford Technical Community College.
At Macedonia, she gets creative in a different way. Across from her office, she painted the room that acts as the satellite branch of the High Point Library.
Along one entire wall, she painted three windows opening up to a carnival and two other colorful scenes. Above her three windows, Amy painted the phrase, “Every book is a gateway to a new adventure.’’
She talks to Alonzo several times a month to see how he’s doing, and she helps supervise programs that teach children music, get them involved with baseball and provide local families food.
She sees the cans stacked in the food pantry rise and fall every week. Macedonia helps feed at least 50 people. Meanwhile, she’ll befriend residents like Miss Watson and run into moments that make her heartsick.
Last week, Amy ran by to see Miss Watson and found the front door open and Miss Watson sitting in a chair. She told Amy she had been like that for five days.
“My hips quit working, and I fell,’’ she told Amy.
On Monday, Miss Watson was still in the hospital, and Amy knew she’d go by and see her. But first, she had to deal with the questions about Thanksgiving. Her answers were always the same.
“Do you still have any vouchers?’’ someone will ask.
“Yes,’’ Amy responds. “How many do you need?’’