That time I adopted a town
By Sheila Jones
Six years ago I adopted a town.
Some people adopt kids. Some people adopt highways and some adopt pets.
Once upon a time I adopted a town
- an entire small town in Alabama of only a few thousand people.
I didn’t know hardly a soul there (well OK… maybe one… sorta… but not really)
Call it a social experiment. Call it a “calling” maybe.
One day I went to this town about 45 minutes from where I live. They have a lot of families there who have had cancer… kids, parents, some times entire families have had it.
It’s a cancer hot-spot. Many have been lost.
I showed up in town and at first no one would really talk to me. They all knew each other, but they didn’t know me.
Someone asked who I was related to. But I’m not related to any of them.
I ate lunch by myself there more than a few times.
I went to their annual cancer fundraising walk that they have every year. It’s more like a carnival. It’s one of the biggest events the town has all year.
I started to make a couple of friends that night. The towns people were curious about me.
I got a couple of folks who were volunteers doing cancer fundraising in the town to talk to me via email.
Conversations started. They invited me to one of their meetings to help organize a cancer fundraising event.
Finally someone wanted to do lunch with “the stranger”.
We started to plan fundraising events together to help those with cancer.
I started to get to know their stories. They told me about their families.
They started inviting my family over for Christmas dinner.
I spoke at their church.
They started to tell me about the young children or grandparents they had lost to cancer.
(Mamie was only 7 years old when she was lost to cancer)
(Young Auston survived and is thriving today)
Months passed and seasons changed and I stuck with them.
I met the one’s who’d already survived cancer and were leading the charge.
They introduced me to the one’s who were sick and didn’t have long.
I started attending funerals with them… funerals for their children and their brothers or sisters… lost to cancer.
I volunteered to help them plan fundraising events and re-focus and re-direct their sadness towards fighting back against cancer and helping others survive.
They started inviting me to their celebrations. And I could always count on hugs and smiles whenever I was in town.
But seasons change and other things happened in my life that called me away.
But we were together for 3 years and in that time we raised about $300,000 to help cancer research. And I made countless friends and memories that I’ll never forget.
And it’s not unlike anything I’ve ever done with Team Martina. It’s not unlike showing up at a homeless shelter for teens in New Jersey to make friends and bring gifts. It’s not unlike building a playground in Atlanta.
Because we’re all the same.
All our hurts and all our joys. We’re all the same.