Every person who steps in to be an advocate for “Grace”
becomes a member of the Saving Grace family,
but I have to admit, there’s something extra heartwarming about
a personal friend or family member of mine reaching out to get involved here.
About 6 months after I came on staff as the office manager at Saving Grace,
my cousin Michele did just that.
Michele in the kitchen at Saving Grace
A lifelong resident of Northwest Arkansas, Michele Fields and her husband, Jimmy, have been together since they were 15. The couple raised two daughters and recently became grandparents with the addition of a brown eyed baby boy, named Noah.
Michele and grandson, Noah
Michele grew up as an only child raised by a single mom, and says that watching her mother consistently do the right thing and work hard to provide for the family kept her from a lot of the risky behaviors that could’ve made life much more complicated for her. “I grew up living practically around the corner from my dad, but we’ve just never had a relationship,” Michele recalls, “It’s a bad feeling as a kid to think that you’ve done something wrong and that’s why someone doesn’t love you. You beat yourself up. I think as women, we beat ourselves up for enough stuff without having to deal with that too.
I have always told people, the only reason I am not a complete mess is because I had a mom who decided to keep it together and raise me in church.”
Michele’s mother, Candy with Michele and her oldest daughter Brianna, along with her grandmother, Lillian
When I asked her why she chose to volunteer with Saving Grace, she says “I didn’t know places like this existed until I saw [Cherri] posting about it on Facebook. I had a desire to get involved with the kids in shelters or in foster care but you’re so limited with what you can do there because of the nature of that situation. So Saving Grace gave me an opportunity to serve more in-depth and to my own strengths. I’ve raised two girls, so I understand the complicated dynamics there.”
In truth, Michele has had even more hands-on experience with girls, having been a hairdresser in the NWA community for over 30 years. She now writes curriculum and worship for the children’s ministry at Fellowship Church in Rogers, and once a month you’ll find her in the kitchen at Saving Grace, cooking up a delicious meal for our residents. “It’s been fun to slowly build relationships with the girls in the house.” Michele says. “Not all of them will come to dinner, and that’s okay. They don’t all wanna say hi, but that’s just girls.” she laughs. “It doesn’t hurt my feelings because I’ve raised girls. But when they see you come in time after time and they start to recognize you and expect you to be there, slowly those walls are broken down.” she says.
Getting off on the right foot seems like it’d be easy as pie when your food is scrumptious and you’re easy to approach, but Michele says that wasn’t necessarily the case when she showed up here for the first time to cook dinner for the girls.
“I realize that they saw me as this woman who was put together and always happy, and the assumption may be that my life has been all sunshine, so when I’ve shared with a few of them that it’s been far from perfect –my childhood has been far from perfect, my marriage has been far from perfect –I’ve seen them look at me in a different light. What I want them to know from watching me is that happiness is a choice. No, it’s not easy to choose happiness. These are girls who are guarded. They’ve been through something. –I lived that.” she says. “It’s very hard to trust. To this day I still have trouble letting my husband take care of me. I’d rather do it myself. It’s easier to have that wall up than to be vulnerable, so I can identify with them in that way.”
Michele with her mother, Candy, and daughters, Rene and Brianna
This past March, Michele celebrated the big 5-0 by donating her birthday to Saving Grace with a food drive. Throughout the month, her friends brought in piles of food and grocery gift cards as they celebrated her.
I asked, why donate your birthday, and why Saving Grace?
She said, “You know, it’s never been about the gifts for me. It’s always been about the celebration. I’ve seen other people donate their birthdays, so that appealed to me, and since a lot of people have come to know my role as a cooking volunteer at Saving Grace, a lot of them had already approached me asking how they could help support me in that [by providing food], so that was an easy ask.”
She adds. “Women often times have trouble celebrating themselves. That’s part of why birthdays are so big to me and why I celebrated so big with my daughters when they were little.” Michele tells me. “You know, this is the day that God chose for you to be born. He celebrates you and you should be celebrated on that day by the people that love you.”
Michele says that her big-picture dream is to start a local non-profit that throws parties to celebrate the birthdays of foster kids, similar to one program in Dallas. (read more about the birthday project, here)
Michele’s family celebrating her 50th birthday at a local restaurant
We are so grateful for the many different ways that the NWA community supports the mission of Saving Grace through the gift of time.
Michele is one of many B.R.A.V.E women who show up day after day to help write the stories of generational change in the lives of the young women we serve.
If YOU would like more information on volunteering with Saving Grace,
email our Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org