Lavonia felt like America’s Next Top Model with all the fuss around her. She’s not used to so much attention. A photographer was at her apartment to take her photo, as one of 20 CICOA clients to receive a $25 gift card as a special service project of Girl Scout Cadette Troop 447.
She wasn’t expecting the gift, and she’s grateful. She can’t remember the last time when she laughed so much as she posed for photos. It was probably when one of her great-grandchildren was over, she said.
“Little people make you laugh even when you don’t feel like it,” said Lavonia, 73, who’s lived in her southwest side apartment nearly 25 years.
She’d like to meet the four girls who used profits from selling Girl Scout cookies to provide the gift cards, which went to CICOA clients who could use a little boost, who don’t have family around, or who lack the resources to pay for something they need, whether it’s a sweater or a few groceries.
The four Girl Scout Cadettes wanted to do something meaningful as they work toward getting a Marian Medal, one of the highest honors for Catholic Girl Scouts.The award is given to cadettes (girls in sixth through eighth grades) after an extensive study of Mary and the completion of a self-organized community service project.
“They thought about gift baskets, and my daughter thought about wheelchairs,” said Gretchen Stahl, a CICOA case manager, whose daughter, Taylor, is in the troop. “But they wanted make their money stretch and help more people, so they decided on gift cards.”
CICOA care managers delivered the gift cards the week of Thanksgiving as part of CICOA’s annual Very Merry Days outreach, which extends from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. One client receiving a gift card hardly had any food in his house, Gretchen said. He doesn’t have family support and had planned to spend the holiday alone, so an aid purchased groceries for him with his gift card.
Lavonia isn’t sure how she’ll spend her gift card. Her thoughts were more on how to thank the girls.
“I want them to know it’s going to a good thing,” she said.
You wouldn’t know from her pristine apartment–adorned with knickknacks and her collections of owls and penguins–that Lavonia’s life hasn’t been an easy one.
Lavonia grew up in Indianapolis, the oldest of six children. She went to Tech High School, but she dropped out before graduation. She went back in the 1970s to get her GED. Never married, Lavonia raised three children, a granddaughter and two nieces as a single mom. She made ends meet working various jobs as a house cleaner, in restaurants, at a poultry house and at Methodist Hospital. She’s buried her grandparents, parents and all five siblings.
Lavonia believes in putting kids first. And she believes in prayer. She’s proud her children all graduated from Tech also.
“I was determined these children were going to do something,” she said.
“It’s been rough…. I do the best I can and keep moving and pray to make it to the next day,” she said. “I pray for strength.”
Despite having fibromyalgia and troubles with her heart and lungs, she’s the kind of person who never acts sick, said Lara Hoaglin, Lavonia’s care manager at CICOA.
Lavonia receives Meals & More and 20 hours a week of help from an aid. She moves slower than she’d like and gets around with the help of a walker. She’s fallen in the past and never again wants to experience that feeling of helplessness–unable to get up and uncertain whether someone will find her. CICOA was able to provide her a personal emergency response system, for which she’s grateful.
“I appreciate everything CICOA does for me,” she said.
She cherishes her independence, and she feels fortunate to have CICOA by her side, giving her the help she needs to continue living safely at home. She’s also glad for the kindness of strangers–in this case, four young girls–who wanted to make a difference for others.