Friday, August 12, 2011

An Unsung Hero

Unlike with many people I know who died, I did not pray for Eleanor’s soul this morning, but I did pray that God would gift us with oh so many more like it. I don’t think she needed my prayers, for I suspect the choirs of angels were singly loudly welcoming her arrival, home at last. She was an unsung hero here on earth, but not there, I’m sure. Not there.

A local newspaper has been awarding the Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award annually for the last five years. She died on Monday. I wonder how many other people are so honored during their lives. She has been called Detroit’s Mother Teresa. While quietly working for the poor, Eleanor sought no awards but was no stranger to them, both local and national, including 13 honorary degrees. All because she loved people, all people, and acted on that love.

Eleanor was a woman with 5 young children when she viewed the aftermath of the Detroit race riots in 1967. With Fr. William Cunningham, she said something must be done, and then went out and did it. She moved her husband and family of five young children into Detroit, and with Fr. Cunningham started Focus Hope in 1968. Her family was confused and totally against her commitment, and her mother hired an attorney to take away her children. But Eleanor persevered.

Focus Hope provides food distribution, child care, and job training, including a Center for Advanced Technologies, a Machinist Training Institute, and an Information Technologies Center. I don’t know if they pioneered the phrase “A hand up, not a hand out,” but they could have. I recall when my Paint The Town project selected their neighborhood to paint and repair the homes of elderly there. I visited Focus Hope to ask if our volunteers could do anything for them. They insisted I take a tour.

The tour was an eye-opener. I had no idea so much modern equipment and modern training was going on there, in what many considered ‘an area of town you don’t want to go into’. The technology center had modern robotics, donated by the auto companies. People trained there learned to operate the machines, but also how they worked and how to repair them. Graduates were hired by the auto companies. I remember the former drill sergeant who taught computer skills. As he described his work, a group of students began filing in the room. Suddenly he said: “Excuse me,” and walked over and stood in the path of a young man. He slapped the cap off of his head, and as the stunned man bent to pick it up he said loudly: “Leave it!” Then in a loud voice he said: “People, you are here to learn computer skills for the office place. If you want to BE in an office you must look like you BELONG in an office. Caps, dirty clothes, and sloppy dress do not belong in an office place.”

As I recall, Focus Hope didn’t need much help from our Paint The Town project that year; their people did a good job of keeping their facilities clean and neat.

When social security was founded many people in this country were against it, including the churches. Church leaders said: “Our family and neighbor and church and community are there to help and care for the elderly in need.” “It is our duty,” they said. Eleanor still believed that.

That belief, that first and foremost we must help one another, is so missed in this country. It is not only monetarily that we have been down-graded.

Eleanor rallied others to help the poor, but first and foremost, SHE helped them. She didn’t look for others to love her neighbors; she did. Like saints of the past, she didn’t ask people to follow her, they saw her and her work, and followed. Like Christians of old, she stood out. See how much they love one another.

Eleanor was buried today. I am sure there were very many singing her praises at her funeral. I suspect that in heaven she won’t be listening in; she’ll be looking for something to do.

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