Reflection by Makayla Palazzo

If you had asked me three years ago what I thought I would be doing in college, I can’t say I would have told you I’d be spending hours writing grants. I definitely would not have told you that these grants wouldn’t even be for me but despite that, I would be incredibly fulfilled. So how did I get here?

As part of the internship at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, we are required to take a class called “Front Lines of Social Change” where we discuss how we can work to change negative attitudes and harmful norms to move forward together as a society. One day, we had two guests come to class – Nancy and Jessica. We were told they had come to talk about Hope House, an organization in Charlottesville dedicated to aiding families on the brink of homelessness. Nancy began as any typical presenter would, by introducing the organization, handing out brochures, and talking about her role as the Program Director. Then she introduced Jessica.

Jessica, she said, was a participant in Hope House and had been part of the program for about six months. We all looked at Jessica, who sat fidgeting in her chair, obviously uncomfortable in front of a group of 30 college students. “Jessica has come today to tell her story,” Nancy said, with a look of encouragement. “Now, what I’d like everyone to keep in mind is that Jessica is very strong for coming here today. Imagine if you had to tell the story of the worst day of your life to a group of strangers. That’s what Jessica is here to do, but the story spans over much more than just a single day.”

What followed was a heartbreaking story of neglect, abuse, and struggle that I cannot do justice to summarize here. Jessica faced so much adversity in her life that finally she packed up everything she could fit into two trash bags and fled with her children to the Salvation Army before she ultimately ended up with Hope House. We were captivated by the story and tears were flowing freely throughout the room. Someone passed around a pack of tissues.

Suddenly though, her story took a sharp turn. In the last six months with Hope House, Jessica had procured a car and a home where she and her children were safe. She was working a regular job and attending school at night. She was learning skills like budgeting and time management while working hard to make sure the cycle of abuse that had once dominated her life came to a halt for her children. By this point in the story, everyone was crying for a different reason.

Deeply moved by this story, I sought out Nancy to see if I could work with her and Hope House as part of my Women, Girls and Global Justice internship. She enthusiastically agreed because of Hope House’s limited staffing and resources. Fast forward, and I here I am writing grant after grant to procure funding in order to make life a little better for Hope House participants. While most of the grants are still under review, we have had success by becoming the philanthropic recipient of the proceeds from Lighting of the Lawn, with the possibility of becoming its regular annual recipient. This money will go towards buying furniture for a new duplex, as well as towards fun things for the families like sports registration fees and prizes for reaching milestones. Other interns and members of the Women’s Center’s staff have helped to bring in support for House House, too.

So, I can’t say I would have told you back in the day that I’d be using my time in college writing grants, but I can tell you now that this has been a truly touching and rewarding experience. After hearing Jessica’s story and seeing the smile on her face as she talked about how far she’s come, I could not trade it for anything.

If you are interested in becoming involved with Hope House, you can browse ways to help here or contact Nancy Kidd at n_kidd@macaa.org.