Community Connections - Collegiate Challenge 2022

by Michelle Ross

During one moment of our shared lunch with Boston College students, I brought up super-powers. Because greed, although slight, runs through my veins, I said I wanted two: to be fully present in multiple locations at the same time and to understand and speak every—yep—every language that exists around the globe. Now why, you may ask, would such a topic be brought to the table. Because our lunch table was graced with a group of amazing young people and I wished it possible to observe their remarkable futures. These were young people whose arms are wide open to the world and they are embracing it fully.

 

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Only owing to Kate McElveen Price’s invitation to be involved with Sumter Habitat for Humanity, did I have an opportunity to provide an on-site lunch one afternoon. My daughter Christina Hangen joined me. We were both in awe, as we made the initial turn into the Habitat-designated neighborhood Fuller Gardens. We arrived in time to meet not only students but to also meet Randy Wells, Joe Wilson and most of all, Ms. Rose Brown whose glowing eyes, as she described her home, easily made visible to me every square inch—even as it stood in its still early stage of construction. Sumter Habitat for Humanity’s Fuller Gardens’ neighborhood is no less than a hidden Sumter gem. Kate’s labor of love and commitment to this project placed Sumter on a mantle as a beacon of light that every person on site reflected and then was to be carried to Boston by each student volunteer.

 

Following initial introductions, Christina and I were invited by Amy Thompson to join her and students Hannah Scott, Brendan Julian, Ben Escoto and Matthew Carnes at the lunch table. On the table was not only lunch, but also aluminum water bottles provided by my son-in-law Patrick Enzor, owner of Uptown Reality. My goodness, conversation never waned, renewing my heart and mind’s hope for the future. We heard stories from every student. We listened to bits of their present lives and their plans of purpose and impact. Although their majors varied, each of them were taking a holistic approach to his or her future and that approach included continued service to their communities, nation and world, social justice, environmental sustainability, health care access and the desire to improve the management of healthcare within its system, only to name a few. This paragraph does not give justice to the energy of conversation and shared passion for life in those moments. I wish you could have been there to witness the explosive passion within each narrative and to have witnessed how each of those students realized the giftedness of life. Ben’s story brought emphasis after sharing his journey with a deadly cancer and now its remission. It only took two minutes to bring tears of shared compassion to our eyes, but it wasn’t because of the journey itself, it was the lesson of this journey on Ben’s young life—the lesson of thanksgiving and love for the beauty of this magnificent thing called Life. And we all agreed.

 

Those few hours revealed to me how wide, too, are Sumter’s arms to its community and to individuals outside its margins. The mission of Sumter Habitat for Humanity demonstrates this well. Most importantly for me, those few hours renewed my faith and hope in humanity, of which both had been diminishing over the past few years. I am grateful to every person that day, especially for Kate’s invitation to bask in true Sunlight.