Building a better world for children
LaTonya Ames, 39, lives in the southeastern quadrant of Washington, D.C. along with her husband Dwayne and nine of their 11 children. They've lived here for the past six years. "That was a different change for us. A really different change for us. We're not accustomed," she says. For families like the Ames though, living off the small income of a single job, neighborhood options are limited to areas, which are often plagued by violent crimes.
"This is our domain," LaTonya says indicating the inside of their small home. "We don't live outside of our house. We work and we play here." The streets are not a safe place for the kids to be outside. And if they do go outside, LaTonya is always with them. In 2009, the Metro Police Department reported that Ward 8, which is located in southeastern D.C., had the highest violent crime rate in the nation's capital. Violent crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
"It's not some place I would like to stay forever," says LaTonya.
Still, she is thankful that the family has a roof over its head. Before finding this dwelling, the family was homeless, but LaTonya and Dwayne didn't pass their concerns on to the children. "They never knew it. We still ate. They still were clean. They still had a bed to lay in," she says. The children just thought it was a vacation for the family.
The Ames have two older children who aren't in the home. "My son just left here to go to college and I was praying that he would get out of here, because the streets was trying to get him," she says. He received a $50,000 scholarship. The daughter struggled to get out too, not because of the streets, but because the finances weren’t available to send her to college. But LaTonya says God provided a way so her daughter is in her second year.
"There have been small blessings," she says about the neighborhood, "like St. Thomas More." St. Thomas More, the local community Catholic church, provides outreach to people in need in this vulnerable community. LaTonya first got involved with the church when she attended Living Wages—a program sponsored by St. Thomas More that enabled her to get her high school degree.
Mary Toomer volunteers as the chairperson of the church's outreach program. St. Thomas More has worked with World Vision in the National Capital Area for nearly 10 years. Each month, their membership affords them the opportunity to visit World Vision's warehouse and pick up supplies such as clothing and hygiene supplies.
In the past World Vision has also provided backpacks filled with school supplies to the children—many of whom would go without. Last year, through the involvement of community organizations and World Vision, St. Thomas More provided Christmas gifts for more than 750 children. "If we didn't have World Vision," says Mary, "We wouldn't have been able to do for all of them and give them at least four gifts."
LaTonya tells Mary she'd like to help out with this year's Christmas event as a way of giving back. Despite the needs of her own family, LaTonya wants to find ways to give back to the community. She feels for the kids who have limited parental support and tries to offer them a good word or a hug when she sees them on the streets.
After last year's Christmas party she shared some of the presents with other neighborhood kids so they wouldn't go without. LaTonya is wired to care for children. She laughs when she says that if she hadn't been able to have her own children she's sure she would have adopted. She sees children in need and wants to help them out even by something as small as an encouraging word. "I try to be a blessing for someone every day," she says. She teaches her children to do the same.
LaTonya doesn't work outside of the home right now because she has her hands full with children living at home who range in age from toddler to teenager. It's important to LaTonya that she is the one teaching values and manners to her own children. She also has worked with each of them so that they know how to read before they reach school.
She and Dwayne shelter them from the hardships and drama of the streets. "I don't try to let them get mixed up in the ups and downs outside. And in the type of environment that we live in, there's a lot of it you know. I don't want them to be entangled with that," she says. "I just know that there's a lot more potential for them out there. There's just so much that they could be doing. I want them to be great. I'm not just having them to be having them. I want them to be great! [To] make a difference."
Sometimes LaTonya can feel overwhelmed by the job laid before her. She gets tired to the bone, but her unwavering faith in God's love carries her through. She thanks World Vision's donors for being a part of His giving. "Thank you for providing a way to help me provide for my kids and for other children that's in my circle," she says. "I'm grateful to them that they would even consider us. I know that I have such a large family and you know, no one signed on to do this but me and mine."
"For them to just even take us into consideration is breathtaking. It's amazing to me that someone would reach out to us. I know that there's a family that's probably even worse off than we are, but I thank them for even considering us."
It's important to LaTonya to send her children off with a smile and a hug. St. Thomas More's outreach ministry offers her and other parents that same gift. She says about their ministry: "[Let's me] know that somebody else out there is willing to hug me when I need that hug, when I need that helping hand." St. Thomas More can get that same helping hand themselves through the generosity of World Vision's donors.