Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday Message

I’m optimistic about the future.


People sometimes say I’m naive or a Pollyanna, but it’s not that at all. My optimism is firmly rooted in my life experiences and is largely shaped by the AIDS crisis in this country and abroad.


I remember the fear and anxiety that gripped this nation in the 1980s when a mysterious new disease began making headlines. It was a time of uncertainty and helplessness. There was hand-wringing and soul searching. The future seemed very bleak.


Friends confided their positive HIV status to me and then implored me not to tell anyone for the legitimate fear of the isolation and discrimination they might experience. Some lost their jobs, their health insurance, and their homes. I sat by friends in hospitals in New York as they lay dying. I attended memorial services for others in the Twin Cities. I swatted flies from the faces of comatose children in Africa who would be dead just hours after my visit.


No, my optimism does not stem from a naive view of the world. Rather, it’s grounded in the countless acts of kindness, generosity, and love that are shown in times of crisis. Time and again I’ve seen compassion triumph over bigotry, action triumph over helplessness, and hope triumph over fear. And I’ve seen those countless acts and triumphs at Open Arms.


When our founder, Bill Rowe, prepared and delivered dinner to five men with AIDS in 1986, he had no intention of creating a non-profit organization. It was to be a single act of kindness – one person taking action on an issue that was paralyzing so many others. More than two decades later, that single act of kindness has resulted in a million and a half meals coming from our kitchen. That’s a million and a half more acts of kindness in this community.


When we began to learn about the escalating rates of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, the majority thinking was that there was nothing that could be done. To some, it seemed that the statistics were just too overwhelming for a small non-profit agency in Minnesota to make a difference. We didn’t accept that. We knew we couldn’t solve the global AIDS pandemic, but we also knew that we could not stand by and do nothing. Eight years later, Open Arms continues to sponsor nutrition programs, emergency food relief, and income-generating projects for thousands of people with HIV/AIDS in the townships outside of Cape Town, South Africa.


When women, newly diagnosed with breast cancer, called and asked for our help, there were those who said that Open Arms simply could not do any more. If we assisted women with breast cancer, then what about those with multiple sclerosis, or ALS, or other chronic and progressive diseases? And to those people who questioned a broadening of our mission we said, “You’re right. What about all of those people? Who will help them if we don’t?” With limited resources, but an abundance of clarity and conviction, Open Arms grew into our name and began serving nutritious meals to even more people in the Twin Cities who are sick and need our support.


When it became obvious that Open Arms would be preparing and delivering over 250,000 meals by 2008 – a 126 percent increase in service in four years – we knew our current building could no longer sustain us. We also knew that if we moved forward with an $8 million capital campaign to construct a new facility and expand programming, we would be undertaking our greatest project ever. But move forward we did. At the end of September, in the midst of dramatic turmoil in this country and around the world, we held a ceremonial groundbreaking for Open Arms’ new building in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. With the continuing support of this community, we intend to be operating from our new home by the end of next year.


All of us at Open Arms – our volunteers, donors, board, staff, and certainly our clients – know uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. We also know kindness, generosity, and love. We know the positive outcomes that can come from a community uniting to tackle great issues and challenges together. We know it because we witness it every day at Open Arms.


Thank you, for all you do for Open Arms, day after day, year after year, to provide nutritious meals to people who are ill. With your dedicated service, compassion will continue to triumph over bigotry. With your volunteerism, action will continue to triumph over helplessness. And, with your optimism, hope will continue to triumph over fear.

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