I want to tell you the story of one brave woman who has given her life to live in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Arloa Sutter is one of my new heroes. Let me tell you why.
I met Arloa through the Redbud Writers Guild, to which we both belong. Last month I had the honor of meeting her at our guild retreat. I had no idea what a culture rebel she was.
Arloa didn't begin her days of serving the inner-city poor as the grandmother she is today, but as a young woman. It all began with her church staff not knowing what to do with the many people who came into the building during the week needing assistance. Instead of pushing them out the door, she created a storefront room that provided food,l friendly conversation and a hot cup of coffee to those wishing to escape the cold. This eventually evolved into her gathering a board of directors to form Breakthrough Ministries in 1992.
She didn’t know what she was doing, but she did it anyways. I love gutsy people like that.
I want to press pause for a moment and talk to the church. Many times, we don’t know what to do when the homeless walk through our doors to ask for help. We can give them pocket change and shoo them away, or we can respond like Arloa did — with a cup of jo and a listening ear. Unfortunately, too many of us choose not to walk the (inconvenient) road less traveled-by.
Arloa and her team began to hire homeless men to clean up the streets of Chicago. The Chamber of Commerce got wind of their endeavors and supported the employment of these homeless men. Soon the church storefront turned into an shelter. Not too much later, the shelter expanded to be include services for women as well as men. Arloa took time to listen to her homeless brothers and sisters, and she also began knocking on the doors of neighbors in her community to discuss her vision for the shelter and listen to their concerns.
The amount of time and care Arloa was willing to invest shows the kind of heart she possesses. She is truly someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Let me press pause again. Did you catch that? Not only did she provide a safe place with food, coffee and conversation for the homeless, she also actively sought out tangible solutions to their problems. And the city noticed!
Are we willing to go the distance to find the natural resources in our communities to solve the problems of poverty? They are there. God knows what they are and God is willing to share the information with anyone who is willing to look for it.
Just as her ministry was flourishing, Arloa’s husband of 20 years decided to leave her and their two girls. This life-tragedy would have derailed even the strongest of persons. And yet, despite the pain of her personal grief, she still found the strength and determination to say, “I will not back down from my calling from God to minister in the city."
It is evident the resilience I see in her today that Arloa's strength was built on broken moments such as this. You can sense the depth of heart and character oozing out of her spirit. Even through those difficult years, Breakthrough grew stronger and more fruitful.
Oh, the things that can happen when we don’t give up.
Thirty-eight percent of the residents of East Garfield Park, many of them African Americans, live in poverty. Arloa lives among them, cares for their needs and continues to seek out ways to combat poverty. She has broken ground, planting seeds of hope in one of the hardest communities in the United States.
Do you know why? Because she dared to step out in faith. Arloa believed in what seemed crazy to most other people, and she didn’t let up. (I’ll tell you something, I wouldn’t mess with her. She's a tough cookie.)
As Arloa sat across from me, she fueled my passion as a young mom who wants to do something to make a difference. To me she is a way-maker, an inspiration when I need to someone's example — someone who once walked in my shoes — to draw from. She is someone who said a brave “YES!” to what could be. Now a grandmother, she’s still saying "YES!"
Arloa, as you serve, I will serve and follow in your footsteps.
Women everywhere, it’s time to say a brave “YES” to what you were made for.
Connie Jakab is the author of the blog, Culture Rebel