It is hard to believe that we are actually celebrating our 5th year with Live Thankfully. What started with just a few Thanksgiving turkeys has grown into a movement across our city. I am constantly asked how Live Thankfully came to be and what our vision is when it comes to LT in the future. Honestly, when I reflect over the past 5 years, I don’t know how we got here or how in the world LT continues to keep growing with such momentum. I just know that God continues to bless our efforts, cover our many mistakes, and graciously bring us folks to guide us and serve alongside us.
John often refers to Live Thankfully as our "accidental nonprofit" (or my very expensive hobby). Never in a million years did I think we would have started and been running a charitable organization. Don’t let this blog or social media posts fool you. The nonprofit world falls way short of glamorous. Startup nonprofits require a ton of work, cause a significant amount of stress, cost a lot of money, and are never ending. Yet our reasons for continuing to press on are anything but accidental – they are completely intentional.
You see, Live Thankfully is not just about serving meals, we are about preparing young hearts for service. (Turkeys and cans are simply the conduits!)
What began as a way of marketing Kelley Orthodontics has turned into a four-part service project involving the entire community. In the past, before LT, Kelley Orthodontics gave turkeys to John’s referring dentists around the holidays. In 2012, we decided to redirect our efforts and reach out to families in our neighboring schools who were struggling to put a Thanksgiving meal on the table. That year, with the support of our dental community, we gave 60 meals to families in need. Five years later, we are giving approximately 600 meals to families adopted through 20+ Fort Worth schools, Gill Children Services (an organization John faithfully serves with professionally), and 2 local churches.
Leadership training takes place in all of our Live Thankfully schools throughout the academic year. The process begins with education and changing the way kids think about service and giving. LT volunteers spend numerous hours in our partnering schools, mentoring student leaders, and teaching them how to conduct successful food drives. We teach kids that they have the power to create positive change in their communities.
Not every child can be a superstar academically, but every child can serve. The evidence of a good leader is service.
Food drives are conducted the month of November in our partnering schools and business offices. LT volunteers pick up these heavy boxes of food weekly, transfer them to our storage unit where students of that campus organize them for our packaging party. Our food drives collect enough food to fill 2500 bags of groceries and donate another 5000 plus food items to local area food banks.
Packaging Party: Live Thankfully hosts a party in which volunteers from the community come together to package the groceries collected from our LT local food drives. This party takes place on the Sunday evening prior to Thanksgiving.
I am constantly blown away by who shows up to sort and bag the food. There is no discrimination of age, religion, socioeconomics, physical abilities, or race. This, to me, is the most beautiful part of Live Thankfully. A person simply volunteering their time may be serving next to another who is actually receiving a meal. Since those receiving meals serve alongside those who give, students recognize the needs around them, compassion increases, relationships strengthen, and our community solidifies.
Thanksgiving Dinner Distribution: Thanksgiving dinners, purchased through Live Thankfully, are given to families selected by our partnering schools’ counselors. Each family receives a full meal along with 2 bags of groceries from our packaging party. These families are chosen based on financial, emotional, and physical needs. Our counselors are diligent to follow up with these families throughout the school year. We offer resources and collaborate with other nonprofits to help these families get back on their feet.
Every participating school has teachers and administrators present to give the meals to their adopted families. We desire to tears down walls of distrust and builds bridges of trust between those in need and those who are able to help. This starts in the micro-communities of the schools with the teachers, administrators, and fellow students meeting the needs of their own school families.
So what do I envision for the future? I truly am open to anything. We simply pray that the Lord will organically grow Live Thankfully as He desires: that He would bring the financial support, the manpower, the resources we need to continue being the hands and feet of service in our local schools and community.
We are considering saying “yes” to more schools next year. And saying, “yes” to having more than one site for our packaging party and meal pick-up. This would allow others in the community to realistically join us in service, thus maintaining dignity and pride in those we bless with meals.
I have a vision of providing some type of paid stipend or job for the single moms who receive our meals (a sort of income generating activity).
We provide a smaller scale leadership opportunity on our school campuses during the spring called Created for Compassion. But I would love to see LT offer another large community involved service project in late May or early summer.
I envision a Live Thankfully summer day camp. Young leaders, both kids “of plenty” and kids at risk for failing or dropping out of school, would come together for a week or two. We would pour into them and challenge them in areas of service. They would problem solve and work together for the betterment of their schools and community.
So, I am a visionary. (It’s amazing what you learn about yourself when you take on something new.) I have been so blessed to find and hire an incredible Executive Director who comes alongside me, keeps me on track, makes sure we are staying within our mission, and doing what we were called to do WELL, before moving forward.
I have no idea where Live Thankfully will be tomorrow. I just know that I have fallen completely in love with the teachers, administrators, and kids of our public schools. I see the chains they wear because of governmental red tape and ridiculous testing requirements. I see children who have so much potential, so much character, so much to offer our society, being crushed in spirit because they don't fit into a box. Live Thankfully gives our schools a diffent kind of box - one that is moldable and pliable. The schools can change and manipulate it based on the needs of their students and the conditions of their individual schools.
I have been told numerous times by our teachers that they have witnessed transformation in the students that are actively involved with LT. For some, Live Thankfully is the only place they feel successful in school. Through Live Thankfully, they experience the joy of hands on learning and the excitement of discovery. They come to believe that they are so much more than a test score, and that academics don't always get in the way of a good education. These kids are coming alive and so are their campuses during Live Thankfully season!
So this is what keeps me going. This is why we can’t stop, why we can’t throw in the towel when I desperately (at times) want to go back to simply giving turkeys to dentists. Running a fulltime nonprofit is HARD. It is HARD HARD HARD. But nothing worth fighting for doesn’t come with difficulties, with trials, with sweat and tears. Right? These kids are worth fighting for, our schools are worth fighting for, and our community is indeed worth fighting for. Spend just a few hours in our Fort Worth schools, look past the system and see the faces. You too will be hooked!
In one sentence: Live Thankfully is a life style. Won’t you live thankfully too? livethankfully.org
(click image below for 5 year annivesary video)
Guest blogger: Alison Kelley (aka: Dr. Kelley's bride) pictured below with Executive Director, Sarah Nader