PAYING IT FORWARD
Story by Kelly Harley | Photos by Shelia Scott
Life – sometimes it doesn’t go as we plan. Many of us are faced with setbacks, and while some find it hard to rebound, others make a strong comeback. For one Effingham County woman, she knows that life can be tough. She also knows that having a strong will, belief in God and the generosity of others can turn a rough patch into a beautiful blessing.
Velvet Callender left her hometown at 56 years old.
She was born and raised in Minnesota, and while the South was quite a change, it was one she was ready for. Having never been to the Savannah area before, she landed in Rincon.
“I moved here by myself. When I was leaving, my mom asked me if I knew what I was doing. I laughed and said, ‘I’m going to the gas station and getting on the highway.’” It was the leading of the Lord that drew her here, however; her original plans didn’t pan out as she had hoped they would.
When she first moved to Rincon, she was without a job and her knowledge of resources was very limited. She reached out to Ready2CONNECT, Inc. (R2C), currently Ready2CONNECT powered by action pact, and met Destiny Bradshaw, the program’s director. R2C provided her clothing for her interview and gas cards so she could fuel up her car to drive there. Through the help of the organization and thanks to Velvet’s experience in the health care industry, she was able to get a job as a personal care assistant.
Then a serious setback came. Velvet found herself homeless. While she wasn’t sleeping on a park bench, her vision of a house she could call home was blurry. “To me, homelessness means not having a home to live in; it’s living from place to place,” says Velvet. “You’re unstable, you’re uncertain, you’re uncomfortable. You have a fear and you never know where you’re going to be next. You always know it’s not permanent.” R2C helped her find short-term housing, and Velvet also found herself relying on the help of kind people. She shuffled from place to place,
spending time at her pastor’s house and
transitional housing in Savannah. For
about five months, she lived with her son and his family when they moved here from
Atlanta. She also lived with a dear friend for some time.
The string of struggles continued for Velvet. In between her moves, she had to return her car because her lease was up. She had no personal transportation and therefore she went from full-time hours to part-time hours. She could have given up, but she didn’t. She learned how to use the Chatham Area Transit system and looked for careers outside of the health care industry. She was blessed with a job as a store clerk at a local pharmacy. R2C and United Way 211 gave her vouchers to get to work until her first paycheck. A gracious donor gifted her a car and covered the cost of insurance, tag, and title. “People have been there and blessed me and the need has been met. God has made a way from every perspective. He’s blessed me with amazing people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way,” says Velvet. R2C went a step further by covering the cost for Velvet to get her pharmacy technician license, a position she held until she was offered an opportunity for career growth in the human service field with action pact, Inc. (formerly Concerted Services, Inc.).
A journey she is happy to share with others.
It’s almost as though Velvet’s story has come full circle; she now serves as the Effingham County coordinator for action pact, a community action agency that improves lives and communities. One of the biggest things action pact does in the local community is to provide weatherization support for low income families. Last winter the organization served more than 200 families and helped pay their heating bills. Velvet admits the people she serves are very close to her heart. “People who just lost their jobs or who had a bad accident come in and need help. We don’t look at them any less,” says Velvet. “We don’t judge them; we pray for them and we make sure their needs are met.” Just as so many people helped Velvet, she is paying it forward. She is known to go to people’s houses who can’t drive and fill out applications for them. She shares a story of how she went and picked up a lady and took her to get food.
That’s no surprise considering how grateful Velvet is for the help she received. Couple that with her lifelong dedication to helping others and you have someone who understands what it means to be a lifeline to other have a college degree in human services. I’ve been a foster parent. I’m a mom to three sons, a grandmother,
and a great grandmother. I love giving
back.” Velvet has volunteered at various events throughout the county and was the Back2School Blowout volunteer coordinator, an outreach event put on by R2C. She supports the community in unique ways, too. On her birthdays, instead
of unwrapping gifts, she gives them. One year, she bought 10 gift cards from McDonald’s and handed them out to the homeless. Another year she bought birthday bags, stuffed them with a bible, food and water, and handed them out to homeless people. A part of her can relate.
Velvet credits much of her comeback to the love and support she received from the R2C’s director, Mrs. Bradshaw, and her family back home in Minnesota. “If you reach out to get help, there will always be somebody. Pride gets in the way for a lot of people. I went from being needy, to not needing. The relationships that I have developed have been a blessing. I’ve met a lot of people here and it’s been a wonderful journey.”
As Velvet shares her story, she sits on a cozy couch in her apartment. It’s her own, her permanent home for now. She’s surrounded by lovely furniture and decorations. Some were a gift from her close friend who left them to Velvet after she passed. Others are from Velvet’s
collection that she built over time. Outside in a parking spot sits a sharp-
looking car. She purchased it from a local car dealership and is making payments. She smiles as she talks about her life insurance policy and how she is saving for retirement. “If Michele Shuman of Thrivent Financial had not helped me get my finances together, I wouldn’t be at this point in my life. It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to do these things, it was that I didn’t exercise what I knew.”
Velvet says it was also her honesty that propelled her comeback. “Pride is the fear of being ashamed openly. People don’t want people to know what they are going through. I would not be here if I had not told somebody. There are a lot of people who won’t help, but there are a lot of people who will.”