Making a better world, one person at a time
A homeless man sits along Wall Street during the beginning of the Christmas holiday week on Dec. 23, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
This season reminds us of all that is possible, of the importance of concern and compassion for others.
But even a message so sound, so succinct and so universal can benefit from real life examples.
A California sheriff’s deputy with Iowa roots will help us with that today. So will a couple of behind-the-scenes angels from the Des Moines public schools.
Their actions demonstrate that anyone is capable of living this message of caring in ways small and large and making our communities better.
That description certainly applies to Ida Poage, David Bennett and Jacob Swalwell.
Ida and David spent their careers working for the Des Moines public schools. Actually, they spent their careers working on behalf of the students.
Ida was the secretary at Jackson Elementary School. David was a physical education teacher and coach at Weeks Middle School. The Evans family knew them both.
Both had exceptional vision. Ida noticed when students walked through Jackson’s front doors with coats that were inadequate for the winter cold or without mittens and stocking caps. David noticed when students’ gym shoes were ragged, or too small, and needed replacing.
Both knew whose families would have difficulty finding the money for such purchases. Both knew how to make that coat or shoes appear without fanfare and without embarrassing the recipient. Both knew how to pay for these purchases, whether out of Ida’s or David’s own pockets or by enlisting another angel to help with the cost.
Ida had grandchildren to lavish her attention on. David had no kids of his own, so his Weeks kids got his undiluted attention.
Every community has an Ida or a David who carry out these important little miracles. They take on these tasks with no expectation for reward, other than warm feelings that come from lending a hand when someone is in need.
Jacob Swalwell’s lesson in compassion is nothing short of phenomenal. His shows what a huge difference in someone’s life a little caring and a lot of perseverance can make.
Swalwell is a sheriff’s deputy in Alameda County, Calif., located across the bay from San Francisco. He’s a second-generation law enforcement officer. His father was an officer in Sac City and police chief in Algona in the 1980s. Swalwell’s brother, Eric, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Three years ago, Deputy Swalwell stopped at a busy intersection in Hayward, Calif., intending to issue a ticket to a man who had been warned repeatedly about panhandling there, the East Bay Times reported.
The ticket got sidetracked when Swalwell learned the man did not have an identification card or driver license. The deputy wondered why, and when he found out the reason, his urge to help pushed aside plans for a ticket, the East Bay Times reported.
Michael “Mick” Myers, then 67, told the deputy he had been homeless for 30 years, sleeping wherever he could find a place to put his head at night. Each day, he stationed himself at an intersection to ask motorists for money so he could walk to a nearby fast-food restaurant and eat his meals there.
Myers said he had worked as a truck driver until the 1970s, when a car accident left him disabled and without a job. Since then, he told Swalwell, he has been as “alone as a person could be,” the newspaper reported.
Without an ID card or driver license, he could not obtain a job. He did not have a way of receiving his Social Security benefits. And he never made enough money begging to afford a place to live.
The more Swalwell heard, the more he knew he could not get in his squad car and drive off.
“I got to know him pretty quickly and realized that a citation’s not what this man needs,” Swalwell told KGO-TV. “He’s not panhandling for alcohol or drugs. He’s panhandling to stay alive.”
Swalwell drove Myers to get a state ID card. Because Myers had been without a driver license for so long, the state of California had no record of him, and he would need to provide his birth certificate.
Swalwell set out to track down Myers’ birth certificate. From the deputy’s work, Myers learned that first name really is Gordon and that Michael actually is his middle name.
But there is more.
Myers knew he had been adopted as a toddler. His adoptive parents were deceased years before he crossed paths with Swalwell, and Myers knew nothing of his birth parents.
Swalwell tracked down that Myers’ name at birth was Gordon Michael Oakley. A private investigator took that detail and began digging through boxes of records, all in an attempt to locate members of Myers’ birth family.
He found Polly Oakley, 85, living 250 miles away in Eureka, Calif. She had been a young mother of three who was struggling to raise her kids after leaving her husband. She put “Mick,” the youngest, up for adoption when he was 2 years old.
For the next 65 years, mom and son did not see each other and knew nothing about the other. That changed — all because a sheriff’s deputy went above and beyond the call of duty.
First there was a long telephone call between mother and son. Then, with Swalwell tagging along, there was an improbable in-person reunion of son and mother.
“He didn’t just get a mom,” Polly Oakley told reporters. “He got a whole family.”
Thank you, Jacob Swalwell, for changing a life and teaching us a lesson for the ages by deciding not to write Myers off as some deadbeat burden on society.
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