By Larry Lee
Sometimes you come across courage in the darnest places. I certainly did not expect to find it on a recent June afternoon in a sparse and ancient mobile home down a dirt road in southwest Alabama.
It’s my great pleasure to chair the state advisory board for HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Pre-School Youngsters). This is a pre-K program where parent-educators visit homes once a week for 30 weeks to review that week’s lesson, usually with the mother, who then teaches it to their child for that week. It works wonders for both kids and mothers.
Earlier this year I attended the Clarke County HIPPY graduation. During the event, director Jane Sellers introduced a 33-year old mother of two HIPPY kids who made a short, impassioned speech about what the program has meant to her and her son and daughter.
So this hot afternoon I met Jane at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Jackson and off we went to visit this mother.
We’ve all heard the expression, “you can’t get there from here.” This afternoon was about as close to that as I’ve ever come.
We drove east for 13 miles, then turned onto a dirt road where the sign said Nub’s Haircuts. About two miles later we took another dirt road. Thank goodness I had a guide.
In a bit we came to a “settlement” of mostly old mobile homes scattered helter skelter amongst the pine trees and kudzu vines. About the kindest thing you can say about the mobile home our mother lives in is that hopefully it is dry when it rains. Since it is not air-conditioned, the doors and windows were wide open. The “living room” was mainly bare. An old couch, two old chairs. No TV. No dining table. No stove or refrigerator. The only things on the walls were thumbtacked HIPPY certificates.
If poverty comes in shades (and no doubt it does) then I was in the middle of something very deep and dark. This was not the first such mobile home I’ve visited. Still, it was a jolt.
The mother was born very premature and has been troubled with health issues all her life. Illness forced her out of high school midway through the 10th grade. She gets a disability check each month of less than $600. She does not have a car.
Why is she involved in HIPPY? Because she is praying that her son and daughter will someday have a better life than she has and she wants them to get all the education they can.
How dedicated is she to this goal? Last October Clarke County HIPPY held a health fair at Grove Hill Elementary. They had hearing and vision screenings. The mother wanted to take her children. But she could not find a ride. So with two pre-schoolers in tow, she set off walking toward Grove Hill 18 miles away. Even more incredible is the fact that she is crippled and walking is very, very difficult. Fortunately, after about a mile someone stopped and gave them a ride.
It is an amazing story about one mother’s love and dedication in the face of difficult circumstances that few of us will ever know.
Equally inspiring to me is the dedication of Jane Sellers and her group of parent-educators who are willing to work in such situations and to greet everyone with a smile and a kind word. She was not a stranger in this rag-tag community. She greeted person after person by their first name and asked about their children. A group of four young boys flagged her down to speak to her as we drove away.
I will never forget that June afternoon in the pine thickets of Clarke County when I came face-to-face with the courage of one mother, the total desperation that engulfs some of our fellow citizens and the willingness of some to lend a helping hand.
(Author’s note: this article is adapted from an email sent earlier to friends throughout Alabama. In response, Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast has arranged for the mother to receive a refrigerator, as well as a temporary wheelchair ramp after she has surgery in August.)