“Words of Hope and Hands of Help”
by Kerri Creel
Joy, Hope, Love, Care, and Help. Five words written on a mother’s handprint comprise the logo and represent the mission and foundation of the Giving Words organization: “Words of Hope and Hands of Help.” Giving Words, a non-profit ministry founded by Eddie and Ginny Brown in 2017, is a place where struggling, single mothers receive the necessary resources to provide for their children. In Louisa County in 2016, 39 percent of babies were born to single moms, and 37.3-57.1 percent of these moms are living in poverty. So the need is there, and the Browns have been given an idea of how to help.
Imagine for a moment that you are a single mother. You have a job, but it has limited hours and doesn’t pay very well. In addition, you have to pay for childcare. Your salary is just above the poverty level, which makes you ineligible to draw on certain financial programs. You are making it, but just barely.
Then a financial event comes out of the blue (such as your car breaks down, you need new tires, your child needs an expensive dental procedure or a pricey prescription), and just like that, the very precarious and delicate juggling act you have been doing to pay your bills comes crashing down. You have no one to turn to for financial assistance, and you fall behind. Now you are in a position to have to choose: rent, groceries, or dental/medical care. You can’t afford to get your car fixed, so how do you get to work? The debt begins to pile up and is now spiraling out of control because of one event.
Eddie explained that this is called an “activating event,” which is when an unexpected financial crisis hits (usually averaging in the $500 range). This event creates a problem and ultimately has the power to take food and shelter away from these moms and their kids. “An expense knocks them down, throws their budget out of kilter, and they can’t get back on track,” Eddie further explained. That is when Giving Words steps into action.
Ginny and Eddie Brown share the same passion: kids and babies. Ginny, a high school English teacher, and Eddie, a self-employed design consultant, feel that they have been being prepared for Giving Words for decades.
“I didn’t know until probably two to three months into this that I was being prepped for this ministry as far back as childhood,” Eddie shared. At 18, Eddie’s good friend’s mom kept foster kids, and in hindsight, he realized that having relationships with those kids was the initial prompting to want to help children. He was also exposed to the love of his nurturing grandmother, who had a large impact on his life.
Ginny comes from generations of moms who were single, and she also was a single mom for ten years. Although she (and her mother and grandmother) had a strong family, church community, and a good financial support system, she is very compassionate towards those who don’t.
The idea for Giving Words first took shape when the Browns attended a church missions trip to Honduras in 2008. Immediately upon their arrival, they were faced with the dire situation of the children there. “I see this little Honduran child getting his necessities out of dumpster…finding toilet paper and a leftover McDonald’s bag,” Eddie recalled. “It was a life-altering experience for me.”
The Browns soon discovered that if a Honduran is taught English, he or she can move out of poverty and into the middle class because it makes him or her more employable. Since teaching English is Ginny’s career here, the couple thought teaching “words” to the Hondurans could be the best way they could help, and the name of Giving Words was born.
However, life took a turn for the Browns, and their idea for the new organization had to be placed on hold while Eddie took care of his elderly grandmother and sought custody of his granddaughter. Now raising their granddaughter, the couple knew that their commitment to the baby would prevent their trips to Honduras.
Throughout these difficulties, their experiences were still prepping them for what was to come. When a friend of the family asked the Browns to be honorary grandparents to her daughter, Eddie and Ginny gladly shared and helped in the life of the little girl and her mom. Realizing again that single mothers need a good support system, encouragement, and a helping hand, Giving Words morphed from giving [English] words to the Hondurans into giving “words of hope and hands of help” in Louisa County.
In the wee hours of a restless night in December 2017, Eddie opened the non-profit organization. “I was lying awake at 12:30 a.m. and wrestling with the idea that had come nearly 10 years before,” Eddie reflected. He thought about the two deep valley experiences that had occurred during that decade, and he meditated on scripture. “Let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” and “As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God” were running through his mind. “God has been molding and making me for this purpose, and this is not something that I get to walk away from,” he laughed.
In 2018, fourteen moms were very grateful that Eddie and Ginny did not walk away from this plan. In their first year, Giving Words has helped over a dozen moms by responding to activating events that threaten (or could ruin) a family’s well-being.
How does Giving Words help? Giving Words creates and maintains partnerships with local businesses and organizations in the community who have agreed to provide services for free or at a reduced cost. Also drawing upon personal donations and volunteers, they seek solutions to various problems by matching the mothers’ needs to the necessary resources. Primarily, this means helping with car repair and housing, but they have provided other types of help depending on the situation.
Based on a mothers’ needs, Eddie and Ginny get to work and seek assistance through their varied partners. This is where the organization shines, because Eddie is a relationship-builder. He has built partnerships for automotive assistance (Tires Unlimited, Trinity, Autozone, and Louisa High School’s CTE automotive class), housing partners (Fluvanna-Louisa Housing), clothing partners (Hey Gorgeous Boutique), and church partners (The Point, Mechanicsville Baptist Church). He adds partners as new situations arise.
One mom who was helped by Giving Words was Kate Fletcher. “Eddie is good at forming genuine, helpful kinds of relationships,” she emphasized. “He presents the idea of Giving Words in a way that makes people want to help. One of his connections then leads to five more. You see one good deed going on, but there are actually layers of goodness underneath it. I had help with an appliance, yard, and vehicles, and behind that was a trail of people all connected through Giving Words.”
“They barter, trade, and make arrangements to cut down costs to make them more sustainable,” Kate went on to explain. “Problems are solved more creatively and personally. They do not just send money. They are right there with the moms helping them.”
When a mother first contacts Giving Words, the Browns treat her to nice, relaxing dinner so they can assess what the mother needs, find a direction to pursue, and build a relationship. Since many of the mothers’ situations center on car repair, car maintenance, and other lack of transportation issues, Eddie also checks on the mom’s vehicle during this informal “intake.” (Recently they were able to fend off an eminent flat tire with this cursory inspection, and they found that one resourceful mom, who couldn’t afford car repair, used a zip tie on her broken car door handles.)
Sometimes Eddie can just take care of the car repair on the spot. One mother’s car would not start, and she had been without a car for over a month. Eddie discovered that it was just a simple fix due to the battery being low on water, the car being low on fuel, and it being parked on a downhill slope in the winter. For $1.18, the woman’s car was back on the road! Of course there are other times when the cars need a larger repair. For instance, one mom needed to replace the brakes to pass vehicle inspection. If she had borrowed money from someone and taken it to a shop on her own, it would have cost $600. However, through Giving Words, it cost only $84.99! The organization paid for the parts, the automotive partners performed the labor at no charge, and a mom’s transportation was restored.
On occasion, however, a mother needs an entirely “new” car. Giving Words and their partners gave away four cars in 2018. Five more cars have since been donated and are waiting to be prepped, but it takes approximately $500-$800 to get a car ready to be given away. In this case, when a car is donated to Giving Words, it is given to the high school automotive program to check and find out what parts it needs.
Giving Words then orders the parts, the high school installs them, and it is run through Tires Unlimited or Trinity to get a final stamp of approval. This entire process is a win-win-win: a car that would have wound up in junkyard becomes a life-changer for a mom; the donating person gets a tax write off and can follow the story of how/who it helped; and high school kids are impacted by feeling that they have invested in something (and someone) bigger than themselves.
However, Giving Words helps beyond automotive problems with other important things including securing housing or clothing vouchers, grocery gift cards, car maintenance advice, and educational classes. They have provided holiday gift cards and fixed a house repair that was necessary to re-instate a home owner’s cancelled insurance.
“There are a lot of resources for single moms, but not a lot of places to channel these moms to get the help and be matched up with those resources,” Eddie explained. Even if the moms know of the programs, they may not know how to receive the assistance, initiate the process, or navigate the system. So, sometimes, it’s just putting them in contact with the right people and organizations (like the Monticello Area Community Action Agency), filling out forms, building resumes, applying for SNAP, or finding a class that would advance their careers.
For example, the organization Rural Love can help with paying overdue rent or providing gently-used furnishings. Another partner, “Hey Gorgeous Boutique,” offers their consignment contributors an opportunity to earmark their donations to be collected toward Giving Words. When the clothes are sold, the money goes into the Giving Words account so Eddie and Ginny can give away clothing vouchers to the mothers for a free shopping trip.
At this time, 100 percent of all donations go directly to helping the moms because there is no paid staff at Giving Words. As the organization grows, they will need paid staff at some point, and they are hoping that they can employ some of the mothers. Even their office space is free due to the generosity of a particular partner. Since they have a roomy office, the Browns plan to take full advantage of the space by offering a place for classes and fellowship: Zumba, support groups, budget classes, and volunteer guest speakers. They also hope to offer car maintenance training to educate the moms on the basic skills of checking oil, changing a tire, etc.
Kate Fletcher, a high school teacher and single mother, experienced a series of unfortunate events that was shaping up to be a financial crisis. Kate does not have a family or support system in the U.S., so with a full-time job and a daughter in college, Kate was taking care of major issues but had little left for minor ones. Unfortunately, when a lot of “minors” hit at the same time, it had a snowball effect.
“The moms in this position already know that so many times it’s just that one additional pressure or extra load that can throw a wrench into an already difficult situation,” Kate shared. “You’re managing from day to day, but it’s easy for that one simple problem (that is not an enormous tragedy) to rock the boat and tip it over.” In Kate’s case, both her car and her daughter’s car needed new brakes ($1,000), her daughter needed wisdom teeth extracted, a large tree fell down on her property, her daughter had a kidney stone, her oven broke, her second-hand “new” oven broke, another large tree fell during a winter storm, and she needed new tires. Whew!
Giving Words got the car repairs down to a very manageable $108.99 (for both), purchased tires for her from donation money, gave her a new stove, and cut/removed the fallen trees from her yard… twice. They righted the “rocking boat” for Kate. “Some moms may think ‘maybe my problems aren’t big enough,’ but Giving Words wants to help before it snowballs, before the boats tips over, to avoid total collapse and get back to when everything was working,” she explained.
The program is in its infancy, but the need is great. Giving Words has the heart, inspiration, desire, and drive for reaching out with “words of hope and hands that help” to make a difference in the lives of single mothers and their children. Donations are always needed. Their current financial drive is called the Power of 10, and they are seeking 10 church partners to commit $100 month and/or 100 people to commit $10/month.
If you would like to help or find out more information, please check the Giving Words’ Facebook page or their website at www.givingwords.org. You can donate online through the website, mail a check, or contribute at one of the local donation boxes at Nourish Louisa, Hey Gorgeous, and Tires Unlimited.
After sharing a daily devotion with me from a book that he gives to the moms, Eddie reflected on the present and the future of Giving Words. “God lays things out for us step by step, and I’m doing what he wants me to do today,” Eddie said. “But it’s not about Ginny and me. We couldn’t do any of this without our partners. We are just the hands and feet with the vision.”
Eddie is reminded that the greatest commandment is to love, and Ginny states they want to show that love in tangible ways. They want the moms to feel important because they are important. “These are women who are making the best of a difficult situation in some way, shape, or form,” said Ginny. “They are trying to carry the brunt of the load, and we want to ease their burden.”