Yes, we are here in Jacksonville to help Jay & Karen (Linda's sister) move. But why? They could have made it all happen on their own.
Well, setting aside the selfish reason that it could be an opportunity for us to have a great place to park our rig when flying off to do RV shows in the winter, we had the time, the timing was good, and most importantly, they deserve it for all they do for others.
You see, Karen had raised four kids and after eventually ending a tumultuous marriage, went back to school to get her college degree and teaching credentials. She is a fifth grade teacher at a local elementary school, and now she is also attending classes at night to get her masters degree.
Jay & Karen met at a Celebrate Recovery meeting at a local church just about the time we started our full-time RVing adventure. Celebrate Recovery is a forward-looking, biblical program that addresses "all types of hurts, habits, and hang-ups". And for the last several years, Jay & Karen have been running a Celebrate Recovery program on Friday nights to help others in the community.
In addition, Jay makes an hour long drive every Wednesday night to minister at the Lawtey Correctional Institution which, in 2004, became the country's first faith-based prison. Prisoners of all faiths (or none at all) can volunteer to be transferred if they are close to release and meet other criteria. Now there are several other faith-based prisons across the country (they look just like any other prison from the outside) and, though the reasons are constantly being debated, the recidivism rates are much lower than for those not going through faith-based prison programs.
If that isn't enough, Karen recently used her experience with at-risk youth in the public schools and what she has learned in her continuing education, to put a program in place at her school called "Mentors Making A Difference". Teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents nominate students for the program, and Karen reaches out to the community for volunteers to become mentors. Background checks are done, and the mentors are matched to each student after training and a pledge of confidentiality. Each mentor spends an hour each week (during school time) just being with each kid, listening, providing encouragement, and being a living example of what hard work and aspiration can do, because the children often don't have great examples in their lives to emulate.
Currently, there are about 60 children in the program at this one school in its first year. And the program has minimal costs due to Karen's efforts (while attending classes at night). While we are here, I want to learn more about this program and see what we might be able to do to help Karen expand it throughout the county and, perhaps, beyond.
So, that's why we are here. It's the right thing to do for these people. We had planned to take a leisurely trip through the Florida panhandle and up through Alabama for the next month or so until the Spring Rally the first week of May, but when everything fell into place with the purchase of this house and the sale of their other one, it was an easy decision to change our plans. If we can alleviate any pressure and allow them to continue to focus on the important things they have going on, then every minute is worthwhile.
Today, Caroline swept, cleaned, and polished the wood floors in most of the house while Linda continued painting. I supervised a plumber for an hour, and then helped Linda hang a cabinet in the bathroom and put up a light in one of the bedrooms.
At the end of the day, we put our loungers on the newly screened back porch and looked out over the lake. Linda saw a Bald Eagle, and there are several other water birds, and a large alligator. A Barred Owl has been hooting at us every day as it passes between the large, beautiful Live Oaks. And today the owl landed on an open branch where we got a great look.
This house and lot are a pretty darn good sanctuary for a couple that deserves a great place to rest at the end of each week that is filled with earning a living AND making a difference in the lives of others. We are very happy for them and glad we have a lifestyle that allows us to be here to be a part of the next chapter in their lives. :)