2015 was a big year for me in so many non-climbing related ways. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to grow up, take on more responsibility, and learn to adapt (instead of complain) about things I couldn’t control. It’s amazing how you see things differently, through slightly more mature eyes :-). One huge example was my experience over the past few weeks…….
Ever since I was 8, my family “made” me return home each year to participate in an annual Christmas Toy and Clothing giveaway, “Patty’s Wish”. During the event thousands of donated toys and clothing items are given away to underprivileged kids in my hometown, Cleveland, OH- a city with incredibly high unemployment rates and disadvantaged populations that struggle to meet basic needs. From this standpoint, I have always understood the importance of the event; however, this year for some reason I decided to ask a lot more questions and the answers that I received helped me understand my family and my grandmother’s incredible legacy.
In 1987 my grandmother, Patricia Lightner, started an annual Christmas toy and clothing giveaway, "God's Storehouse", through her church. In 2002 my grandma lost her battle with cancer, and a few years later my family decided to continue the annual event in her honor, and renamed it “Patty’s Wish”. In recent years, due to budget cuts in the local economy in Cleveland, many similar Christmas giveaway events have stopped, due to lack of financial support. Our event has continued, with my family donating any gap in the funds that was needed. During a discussion with my family while preparing a document for the event weeks ago, I began asking a lot of questions, trying to understand why they were so committed to continuing this charity event. My mom finally explained.
“When I was a kid, we had everything we needed. I never knew we were poor. As a teen, my mom made me help organize and participate in the toy giveaway at church. One year one of the volunteers spoke in a demeaning way to a lady that was there to collect items for her family. My mom got really upset, spoke to the volunteer, and then brought the lady to the front of the line to help her get everything that she needed. She later explained that she stood in every food, clothing, and toy giveaway line throughout Greater Cleveland for over 10 years, in order to make sure that we had everything that we needed.”
That short conversation put a lot of things into perspective for me. The morning of the giveaway, as I watched hundreds of people wait outside for 2-3 hours in blizzard conditions (some with very thin clothing), I reflected a lot about my family and my own upbringing.
I have the incredible privilege of flying around the world to pursue my dreams, with the support of my family and a few amazing sponsors. I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to grow up like my mom, or the other kids in my hometown that we serve each year during the holiday season. However, I do better understand how lucky I am and the fact that I am only 1 generation removed from a similar lifestyle.
I am motivated and inspired by people like my grandmother and John Ellison, founder of Climbers against Cancer (CAC), who despite fighting personal battles of their own decided to dedicate themselves to making the world a better place. As I look forward, I’m actually excited to take a more active role in Patty’s Wish 2016 and find other ways to give back and honor the many gifts that I have been given.