Cortesha Cowan stands out in a crowd. She speaks with confidence and certainty. She wears one of the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen. I met Ms. Tesha last summer at a grant opportunity meeting for nonprofit organizations. Direct Energy’s Reduce Your Use for Good program makes grants to nonprofits for increasing their energy efficiency. Not surprisingly, Cortesha took it all in, applied and won a grant for the nonprofit organization she founded (one of several) for homeless teen moms.
Mothers Helping Mothers is the umbrella over the Haven of Hope Shelter. Teenage girls come to Haven of Hope House with babies and young children. They come empty handed and out of options. They come with the clothes on their backs and little hope for the future. They find shelter and security. They find people with warm hearts and determination that life can be . . . and will be . . . different. What they do works. And they do a lot. Having already helped over 250 teen moms and their children in many different circumstances, they have seen high school graduations and even a college degree and moved these young women on to independent lives.
Haven of Hope House has ten bedrooms and a full back yard where children can play in safety. Sometimes it’s the first time in their lives they can do so. The moms find refuge, support and guidance. They find expectations, too. Expectations that they will grow into self-sufficiency. They will be healthy. They will be in charge of their lives and care for their children. They find people committed to helping them with the basic necessities so that they can complete their educations; so they can develop interpersonal skills that will lead them to employment; so they can plan their families in the future. They find strong role models.
Tesha is very upfront and clear about what she needs to make this happen. When told by the City of Columbus and major nonprofit organizations that she needs “important” people on her board, she laughed right out loud. “What I need,” she said, “is people who will work.” When she said that, I thought, ok. I can work. She told me “sometimes I get tired.” “And then one of those little ones comes up and wraps arms around my leg and looks up at me and I think yes . . . I can do this one more day.”
Tesha has stayed in casual contact with me and we have talked about her goals, her dreams and the building she is rehabbing in Mansfield, Ohio to create a shelter there. I have asked her repeatedly what she needs and how I can help. We both knew the time would come.
A couple of weeks ago, with the holidays looming, Tesha and her crew were working toward providing a Christmas for the teen moms and their children. She wanted the moms to have the opportunity to give gifts to their children. To know the joy and the dignity of providing for your own. Moms who have nothing and spend their days in basic survival mode.
As kind as people generally are, we all tend to get distracted with our own lists and families and needs, and that is how it should be. But thinking of Cortesha and the girls and the babies, early last week I posted a message on Facebook. I shared a link to Cortesha’s website and suggested that if anyone had an urge to help someone during the holidays, this group could use their help. I said I would be happy to deliver anything.
Over the next few days, my entryway began to pile up with gifts. Friends called for the address so they could mail checks. Gift cards were put under the entry mat. Toys, food, warm clothes created piles. A friend who owns a bookstore called me for a pickup of an enormous box of books. Supplies for the daycare they run for the little ones mysteriously appeared. Family members put together gift bags and left them on my porch. By the time my own teenage daughter and I left for the Shelter, my car was packed to bursting with the generosity of my friends and family.
We stopped on the way to pick up bottles of sweet-smelling lotion for the moms. Cortesha had told us that last year when she had her first Christmas party, they had some things for the kids but nothing for the moms. Looking at my own teenager, warm and safe and dressed in the best the mall has to offer, it seemed a small thing to have a bottle of lotion for ones self. Even as we drove down, my brother called and said “let me help.”
Arriving as Tesha along with her staff and her mother were setting up, Han and I helped them unload the car. She showed us the rooms where the moms could “shop” for their kids and the bounty reaped in toy drives and community pleas. They had fallen just short of their goal — until our car was emptied into the mix. They never stopped working with their community dinner just hours away but the laughter, the hugs and the stories created a joyful noise. The excitement was palpable and the joy evident on their faces. Tesha stopped for a moment so I could take a picture of her and Han. We traded wishes for the holidays and hugs of joy for the generosity of those we love.
Han and I left them to the party, knowing that we had just been given a wonderful gift. A couple of miles down the road, my daughter said “I feel happy.” Me too kiddo, me too.
Thank you so much my friends and family for the kindness you shared with young women you don’t know and likely never will. But you have shown them that they are not alone in the world — and reminded me that I am not alone in the world either. I love you all.