In May of 2010 I found myself in an intensive care unit–with an oxygen mask, IVs, and bruising from failed attempts to “find a vein”–reflecting on the possibility that I might not survive the night. I was struck with the fact that I wasn’t frightened at the thought. I was sad, but not afraid.
Even with multiple blood clots in both lungs–some quite large–I was alive; “lucky” I had heard several times that day. Why was I still alive? Why hadn’t one of those clots gone to my brain or heart? How likely is it that if one does break loose, that my nurse will be able to do anything about it? Not likely, I concluded. And so, I was reflecting.
I was at peace knowing my loved ones would ultimately be ok, but sad thinking of the weddings, grandkids, and other family events I would miss.
And yet, even while contemplating my own mortality, my inner voice was telling me that there was something more for me to do. At work? With my kids and family? Something else? I was able to go to sleep that night in peace; not knowing what this “something more” was, but committed to being open to discovering the purpose for the next stage of my life.
My teenage daughter had set the stage prior to my hospitalization by asking that I pull over at intersections to give those asking for help her own money. I had been resistant, yet touched. That influence, combined with a heart looking for direction, led me to a nearby suburb on Christmas Day 2010, handing care packages out of my car window asking if they could be used. “Yes, yes, we’re homeless, we need those!” was the response to the outstretched bags of fruit, and some used, but functional scarves and gloves. After a couple more weeks distributing items to the same people, I asked one of the gentlemen–Harold—what he needed most. “A hat.” “You got it. I’ll get you a hat.”
I went home and Ashley was learning how to knit. “Ash, can you knit Harold a hat?” “Sure”. As we drove around handing things out, I said, “Please don’t give that hat to anyone else…we’re hanging on to that one for Harold. I promised him a hat.” “You need to start something and call it A Hat for Harold, Mom”. Hmmm.
We found Harold a couple weeks later, and he “rocked” the hat, as he said. I subsequently asked what he needed most in order to get “into the system”; to get on lists for housing and employment. “A bus pass.” “A bus pass?” “Yeah. With a bus pass I can get to the day worker place and I can go to the county to talk to someone about work and a place to live.” With a $30 bus pass, Harold would have mobility for a month…and hope.
Continuing to follow leads that presented themselves, I ended up volunteering at a day center serving the homeless community in Howard County, Maryland. I initially felt overwhelmed with the stories I was hearing and the complexity of homelessness, and wondered why I was even at the center. I started crying in the hall and Joe–-a lead volunteer–-told me, “You aren’t going to be able to solve this. You just need to figure out what it is you can do, and do that.” That became my goal: to figure out what I could do, and then actually do it.
While helping with “The Homeless Gazette” and talking with clients during the time I was volunteering, I heard many stories where just a small amount of money was needed in order to move someone forward and again, provide hope. I approached a few existing nonprofit agencies and asked if they could provide the funds for these specific needs. Legally, we aren’t set up for that, was the gist of the answers I received. As I kept asking questions, it became clear that there was a gap in available services, and a need for an organization to be structured for these types of individualized requests.
I recruited two friends who had been part of my journey to the day center, and between us we formed the Board of Directors and incorporated A Hat for Harold in May 2012. We all have full-time jobs but feel strongly that we have a unique opportunity and are committed to supporting our friends in the homeless community as they form peer councils to process grant requests and move a step closer to stable housing and employment.
The directors of the day resource center have provided invaluable counsel, guidance, and encouragement as A Hat for Harold has been developed. Thank you, Anne and Joe, for the environment you have provided at the Rt. 1 Day Resource Center that has allowed a fledging nonprofit to form and benefit from your experience and wisdom.
Sherri Ingram-Hudgins, Founder