Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Power of Social Networking

I have been putting off writing about this because I know it will make me cry. But I think it is important and that people should know about it.

Facebook has changed my life.


Myspace, too, really. It all started in 2006, my first year of graduate school. But we'll get back to that.

Most recently, I came across a family who had a lot of needs. Eugene is a janitor who cleans state buildings. My mother (a single mom of four, who had a lot of help from her co-workers when she was raising us) developed a relationship with him and found out that his wife was expecting twin boys. Eugene and Judith are immigrants from Africa. One day, while my mom was playing with Tyler, she asked if I had any clothes "or anything" I could pass along to this growing family. Our own family was expecting twins, and I'd donated much of our extras to them, but I was able to come up with a few things. I told her I would post a message on Facebook and see if any of my friends had any extra baby items.

So I did.

And they did.

Everyone wanted to help.

This is where it gets emotional, so hang in here with me. I cried. Every. Single. Time someone had a donation. One stay-at-home-mom I know made two beautiful minky blankets for the family. Another mom of four donated a gift card. A mom in my mom's group brought clothing, toys, and extras. Another mom met me for lunch with a baby bathtub, changing pads, and clothing. I found a consignment store in town and purchased some baby gear, and when I shared the story, they donated two strollers, two car seats, and miscellaneous toys and clothing. Another girlfriend collected donations from her network of friends and family. I didn't call any of these friends asking for anything.

I only changed my status on Facebook.

So back to grad school. I was getting my Master of Social Work and the program required two full years of internship hours. Because I was working through school (and at the time school started, working 50 hours a week), I chose to delay my internship hours and complete them in a double block over the summer. Some of the professors worked hard to tailor the class experience to meet the needs of those interning. I didn't have an internship, so I would often piggy-back on with other students and discuss their experiences in their internships.

In my Diversity class, there was a service learning component. Each student was to spend classroom hours working on a project that would benefit the agencies hosting their internships. I was paired with a classmate, Mollie Nobile, to help with her agency. Mollie worked for a partial-hospitalization program -- a day program for those with mental illness, many of whom lived in group homes. Nearly all were indigent, as their disabilities rendered them unable to work.

They needed clothing. Patients would come to the day program in clothes that were soiled, needed changing and hadn't been washed in days. Many of the patients experienced weight gain (a side effect to anti-psychotic drugs, and other mental health medications) and could not affect a new wardrobe as their needs changed.

The agency requested a clothing closet and I thought and thought of how to provide them with one. Naturally, they did not expect me to BUY everything. I knew people would donate for the cause, but couldn't think of the logistics involved in organizing such a clothing drive. So what did I do? MYSPACE.

It was brilliant. And easy. So easy, it felt like cheating. I posted an event on Myspace and invited all of my friends in town. The messages started pouring in. I drove to meet friends across town that I hadn't seen in months, and each person stuffed the trunk of my Honda Accord full of clothing. I had the opportunity to thank each person for their donation and tell them just what their bags of clothes meant to the patients of the hospital. Every couple of weeks, I dropped by the agency with a delivery, until their storage room was filled. One Friday, I took off of work and organized the clothing, hung everything by size, and took a few photos.

It was the easiest (and most rewarding) school project I'd ever completed. I had an impressive clothing closet to provide the agency, and the most important part? The people who needed CLOTHES had CLOTHES. What a simple but beautiful thing.

So back to this family. Eugene and Judith had the boys last week. Only one twin survived, and the other has a heart defect. Eugene missed work for over a week -- and because Judith was on bed rest during the last months of her pregnancy, they did not have money for July's rent and other bills were piling up. I shared their story on my Facebook and Twitter feed and asked for monetary donations. Because really, we can't take away the pain of the loss of their son. We can't make adjusting to life with a newborn easy for this family. We can't immediately breach the language barrier that makes getting public assistance so difficult. But we can alleviate some of the financial stress, albeit temporarily, while we are working to get them on their feet.

This is the part where I really cry.

In fewer than 48 hours, I have received donations and pledges totaling over $300. Friends from all over the country have sent paypal donations and mailed checks to help this family. Some are women I have never met -- they're moms in my online birth club. Nearly all of the donors are people who are not in my everyday life -- friends I don't see often. The employees at the state building where Eugene works have taken up a collection, too. Their immediate financial needs are being met and we are working to provide them with resources such as Family Road to help with their ongoing needs as they adjust to life with this new baby, mourn the loss of their son, and get back into the swing of things with work.

Word of mouth, emails, and technology have brought people together for this family. But mostly? Facebook. Social Networking.


If you are interested and able to help with a monetary donation for Eugene and Judith, please leave a comment and I will get the information for you.


Anonymous said...

So amazing. This is really putting social networking to great use, Laura!!

Lesley said...

social networking can be amazing when used for the right purpose! you have brought me to tears <3

HT's Mom said...

Hey Laura! Honest Toddler's mom and writer here! I tried to find a post where I wouldn't disturb your blog. I'm not mom bashing, just poking fun at myself. I actually have about a glass of wine a week. I'm a full time WAHM to more than just a toddler...pretty busy! No wino :) Just tongue in cheek mom humor. Sorry to offend! Feel free to DM me anytime. :) xox HT's mama