I am proud to be one of those rare “Florida natives.” I was born and raised in Tampa. After graduating from the University of Florida, where I met my husband David, we settled in south Florida. David and I found Palm Beach County to be the perfect place to raise our children.
As you can imagine life can be crazy for the mother of four boys. I was blessed (or cursed depending on the day) to spend many years as a stay at home mom. I loved it, truly. However, I found that I needed a break from all that testosterone! I decided to seek places where being a mom wasn’t my only defining quality.
Being a volunteer has allowed me to indulge my passion for justice issues, especially issues facing women and children. I am proud to have contributed significantly to improving our community with my time, knowledge and hard work for over 20 years. All that I have accomplished has been with a great deal of teamwork and assistance of other incredible volunteers, a strong support system from my family, and a career that encourages community outreach. I’ve even been honored to receive awards for my work in the community . . . and I say this to help you realize how important volunteerism is in my life and how strongly I believe in community service. However, this past year has made me realize that some of the most significant acts of giving are the organic acts of service that can happen in our daily interactions.
Today I’m going to share a very personal story with you. It is not just my story, so I am going to be mindful of trying to just share my part of this journey. I hope you understand.
Right before Hurricane Irma hit Florida last year, one of my children had a mental health crisis and was placed in supervised care in an emergency room across the country. As you can imagine, it was devastating. Meanwhile, we weren’t sure where the hurricane would land so we prepared for the worst. As we realized that our area was safer than the west coast of Florida my parents, my sister and her family and all their animals came to our house. Those five days were the longest of my life. I was helpless and stuck. There was no way for me to help my child. I cried and prayed and worried and cried some more. However, I was grateful for my family who surrounded me with comfort. Most especially, my sister, whose knowledge as a Doctor of Psychology, was invaluable.
At this point, I am sure you are wondering how this has anything to do with giving, but it does.
From the moment I stepped off the plane in Oregon, the people in my path truly helped me on this journey. Although, I am sure everyone I spoke to in those first few days wished I had kept my mouth shut! The cab driver who asked if I was visiting for business or pleasure was surely dismayed when I burst into tears and told her my story. She was so compassionate and kind to me, asked questions about my child, listened to my concerns and then opened up about her own life. Her story gave me hope and laughter, a much-needed gift at that moment.
I am not going to go into details about the state of my child when I arrived at the hospital. However, I do want to mention that they would not let me visit until they had a private consultation with me to prepare me. I can’t tell you the woman’s name or title who first spoke with me. I don’t even think I would recognize her if I bumped into her again, but I do remember her holding my hand—another gift in the moment.
We were able to secure my child a spot in a facility, which was a blessing. The uber driver who picked me up to take me back to my motel was an older retired gentleman who took up driving to keep himself entertained. I am sure I entertained him that day! There was no way to hold in all my emotions at the end of day one and he heard them all. He, too, had a family member who had suffered and had shared my pain. As he dropped me off at the hotel, he asked if he could pray for us. He then gave me his card and continued to drive me back and forth to the hospital several days for free—a gift he wanted to give me.
Once my child was settled, I was able to find a place to stay that was willing to let me stay without a departure date. This was great, as I wasn’t sure how long it would be. It ended up being about a month. Each day I was able to visit for my child for one hour. Those were the rules.
In my spare time, I chose to do something meaningful each day to keep myself busy. I visited beautiful gardens, interesting museums and even found a neat paint-your-own ceramics studio. The owner of the studio let me stay there as long as I wanted, took time to teach me techniques and suggested other places for me to see and things to do. All she knew is that my child was in the hospital and that I was struggling. She was young, had no children of her own, but took the time to do a little research for me so I would have new things to do and places to visit. Every time I stopped by and it was rather frequent, she handed me a new list. Frankly, I made too many treasures to bring home. Her gift kept my mind nourished while my heart was broken.
The sights in the hospital were heart-wrenching. The agony, suffering and loneliness of the patients were almost too much to bear. There was a sweet receptionist who greeted me most days. She was a young mother going to school to become a nurse. She made a point of checking in on my child, giving me updates, and helpin me to learn a system that was totally foreign to me and laughed at all my crazy adventures of the day. Her gift to me was friendship in a time of need.
There was a small waiting area in the facility where all visitors had to check in before the visiting hour. I met a Korean family who would come to visit their daughter, sister, wife. Each day the patient had members come to visit her. Sometimes it was the same group of people, sometimes different relatives. However, her mother came everyday. Now the patient was in her forties and her mother was probably close to 80. She didn’t speak fluent English and had a heavy accent. She had one of her other daughters ask me who I was visiting and why I was there. So, I shared. She immediately came, sat down next to me and put her hand on my lap. No words were exchanged. She sat next to me every evening for 17 straight days with her hand on my leg. Her gift of comfort, from one mother to another, is something I will treasure always.
Coming from a religious background, I wanted to find a place to worship while I was away. I did some research on the internet about Methodist churches to see where I should go. One of the churches was holding a class on Biblical storytelling. It looked cool and I thought a week-long continuing education course would make good use of my time. So, I went to check out their message one Sunday morning before signing up for the course. It just so happened that it was the time of year where churches promote their giving campaign. Now this church did something I had never seen before. Instead of asking for money, they were giving it away. They gave each family an envelope with a $20 bill and told them to use it for good. Their only request was that they come back the following Sunday to share how they used the money. It was a small church and I stood out as a visitor. The pastor introduced himself to me, and yes I started crying and my whole story spilled out. Fortunately, pastors are used to that type of thing. He told me to use the $20 for my child. I smiled because I wasn’t in need in that way, fortunately. I told him what I was going to do with the money. I shared what I had seen earlier that week with a patient at the hospital. This patient was trying to leave the facility, obviously was homeless and had nothing in which to put his belongings. He was asking the attendants if they had any plastic bags. All he had was a paper bag. He was worried his things would get wet if it rained. Well, being an environmentally conscious facility, they indeed only had paper bags. Therefore, I went to my car where I had packed up my child’s belongings earlier into plastic zippered bags by Ziploc. I emptied a bag and gave it to the man. After sharing this story with the pastor, I told him I was going to buy bags and take it to the hospital for them to distribute as needed. Two weeks after I arrived home with my child, I received a text from Pastor Brian. In my honor his church visited the hospital and donated 100 zippered bags for those in need. They intend to continue to partner with that hospital—a gift that keeps on giving.
I did end up taking his course on Biblical storytelling. It was delightful, educational and fulfilling. The other attendees cared for me and prayed with me, a spiritual gift.
My child is doing well and is healthy. I am so very grateful, but it does continue to amaze me that we can find beauty in pain and joy in heartache. I have learned so much about myself on this journey and what it truly means to serve and to give. My days of grand gestures and charitable acts certainly aren’t behind me. I will continue to serve in those ways and encourage others to do so as well because I think it is empowering and inspiring.
However, I now recognize the importance of the small acts of servitude and giving that we perform on a daily basis, simple acts that impact lives. What we do each moment matters. How we treat others matters. You can make a difference in someone’s life every day. In the simple acts there is such glory because the impact it has on another human being is immediate and lasting. So many people worry about the big splash when it’s the small ripple that continues to flow.
Shelly has also shared her story as part of a Podcast for EmpowHer of the Palm Beaches: Podcast: The Glory of Giving
Shelly Albright is the Coordinator of Children’s Ministries at St. Peter’s UMC. In her current position she is responsible for all programming at the church for children from infancy through grade 5. Shelly has volunteered with various organizations throughout Palm Beach County for over 20 years. She is a wife and mother of four. Bethesda Hospital Foundation honored Shelly with the “Women of Grace” award in 2015 due to her work in the community.
Currently she is serving as the Co-Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for the JLPB. Since joining the League in 2005, she has held various leadership roles including President. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Foundation of Florida, on the Executive Board of EmpowHER of the Palm Beaches and as Chair of the Interfaith Committee of the Village of Wellington. Shelly serves on two local governmental boards. Appointed to The Education Committee for the Village of Wellington by Councilwoman Siskand in 2016, she currently serves as the Vice Chair. Shelly loves working with the principals and teachers in her community to improve our children’s education. Mayor McKinlay appointed Shelly to the newly formed Commission on the Status of Women for Palm Beach County in May 2018.
In 2017 Shelly launched The Sophisticated Octopus which creates opportunities for women to connect with one another and themselves through inspirational retreats and impactful workshops.