Part 2: The Angels Amongst Us
This week we are highlighting Abby Anderson, a humble entrepreneur. She works a full time job as a home health provider, a part time job as an alcohol compliance supervisor, and started her social change work with her own nonprofit called Salvation of Sorrows, Inc. She is not a hairstylist or barber, but is someone who saw the need, and took action.
We never know what will lead us to our work in the world. For Abby, it was the passing of her father that marked the beginning of her calling. An alcoholic, homeless and abandoned by his family, her father was never the kind of father she longed for. But as she said, “I thank God everyday for him leading me here to this work.” She always wanted to help her dad overcome his addiction, but not until he wanted it.
Before Abby started her nonprofit, she was helping people all the time. She even invited a homeless person that she had been helping to stay with her while he got on his feet. She knew his addiction to pain medication drove his life, but she lived by her faith, and he soon went into treatment. Soon after that she helped him get a job, and he’s living a better life now. She still stays in touch with him.
Abby knew she wanted to help her dad too, but she knew he would need to be ready to reach out to her.
That day came. In the early hours of the morning she got the call, and she dropped everything to go to him. She drove thirty hours to South Carolina to pick him up. She will never forget the hotel where she found him: “No one should ever have to live like that.” He lay there in his own bodily fluids, stench permeating the room. His liver disease took his body prisoner. She disrobed, bathed and clothed him. He pr
otested out of pride, but she burst out, “Dad, I have three kids and have seen everything, nothing you have is new to me.” There, in that very intimate moment, they found laughter together.
On the fifth day, Abby promised she would come to the hospital and give him a haircut, which never happened. He passed away, knowing and feeling his daughter’s love. She wouldn’t trade those five days for anything. He asked her to forgive him, and she did. Two years later, in April 2016, she founded her nonprofit, and in May gave her first haircut event in honor of her father. Every haircut since is a tribute to his life.
[tweetthis]”A good leader is like a candle. It consumes itself so it can light the way for others.” Abby Anderson[/tweetthis]
At Abby’s first event, a barber scheduled to volunteer became unreachable. She became flustered, angry, and defeated. He wouldn’t answer her calls, after 15 attempts, she gave up, crying. “I can’t let these people down.” The fact that this was her first event, gave it extra meaning and weight. She wanted it to be successful. Her husband offered to come out and help be a part of the event. He cut his kids’ hair at home, but he didn’t have any formal barber school experience. Abby felt conflicted about her husband’s offer. On one hand, she loved the spirit of his wanting to help her, and on the other hand, she didn’t want him to ruin anyone’s hair. These people were already down on their luck. She didn’t want them to be traumatized and hate their hair. However, she decided to let go of her concerns and let him help.
When they returned home that night, 21 haircuts later, Abby’s husband decided to get a barber license. He found the whole experience fulfilling. They find other barbers for their events at the Philadelphia Barber School.
Salvation – Lifeline, preservation, a means of being saved from ruin or loss.
Sorrows – Distress caused by loss, disappointment, or misfortune suffered by oneself.
Abby drives her van around the city, in partnership with 13 homeless shelters in the Philadelphia area. She knows a lot of people around town who can connect homeless people with jobs. She feels strongly that the more we can get them working again, the less likely they are to return to homelessness. She wants to help get more people back to work. She wants to be able to help them with their goals, and to help them not to be invisible. “A fresh haircut is a fresh start. I thank God everyday that I can give haircuts or help find a job for someone who is homeless.”
She sets out in her van three times a week, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights. Sometimes she brings a couple of boxes of pizza, and they set up and start cutting hair. She does have a heating source now that it is getting cold. On average they give about 20 haircuts per visit. She asks them questions and loves to hear their stories. They know her heart. As she finishes up, they call out, “We love you Abby.”
“We each have a story to tell. We have the opportunity to connect with one another. At any moment, any of us could be homeless. We live paycheck to paycheck, and through the loss of a job or an accident, it could happen to us. Listen to them.”
Abby tries to stay humble and not to judge the human beings she meets. Her dream is to purchase a bigger van that people can come into out of the elements and be warm.
“At the end of the day, we need to be the change we want to see. We need to love each other. We need to help each other rise.”
Reach out if you have questions about what to do or how to get started. Stay tuned for last story in this series which will contain a checklist for when you do your own event, as well as, a pdf of all the posts in this series. Be sure to check out Part One of this series.
Watch this video on Refelctions on Generosity, Philanthropy and Social Change.