Jon and Damien* are teenage brothers living in the St. Paul’s neighborhood of Norfolk. They live with their stepdad and one younger sibling – their mom has been in jail for the past three years. Trying to provide for three boys, their stepdad works two jobs but still struggles to make ends meet.
The brothers spend a lot of time together, walking around the neighborhood, playing basketball and avoiding the stress of home. The Hunton YMCA, one of our partners through United for Children, has served as their refuge – a place they find safety, comfort and support. There they are kids, free from the family responsibilities unfairly placed on boys their age. Every Wednesday, they leave the Hunton YMCA with a bag full of food for the week – sometimes its extra supplies providing some cushion, sometimes it’s the only groceries they’ll get.
One Wednesday in the middle of January, the boys showed up at the Y in t-shirts – just some light cotton between them and the frigid winter air which on this day reached a low of 30°. When asked why they weren’t wearing coats, Damien nervously dodged. But Jon said in a hushed tone, “our stepdad can’t pay for them, so we didn’t want to bother him, he has enough to worry about.” Brenda Gibbs, the center’s CEO held her composure and shooed the boys along, lifting her phone as they left the room. Her call was to United Way of South Hampton Roads, a plea for some way to provide for these kids.
Using money from our Student Needs Fund, which was created for just this purpose, we were able to approve the expense within the hour so Brenda could make a trip to Target for a very special purchase. With bags in hand, she texted the boys to meet her at a neighborhood spot and surprised them with their brand-new winter coats. Overcome with gratitude, the boys repeatedly thanked Brenda and United Way, then walked home warm, safe and with the knowledge that someone cared enough to put them first.
*Names changed to protect privacy