This post is a recurring series celebrating the heroes in our own community. As we count down to the 2016 Hometown Heroes Celebration, we would like to take a moment to recognize that while not all heroes are alike, all heroes impact our lives. Each year, the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, April 21 from 6:00PM-9:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information, please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.
It occurs to me that the word “hero” may mean different things to different people. I hadn’t really considered the word other than in a lighthearted “you’re my hero” to my husband until I went to a fundraising lunch for a local nonprofit adult skills-training center.
The lunch speaker, a recent graduate, shared her life story and achievements as a single mother in her late thirties who lived in the inner city of Grand Rapids with her two boys. Life wasn’t easy; in fact, it was incredibly hard. Upon hearing about the school-to-work program, she decided she wanted more for her two boys and took a huge risk. While maintaining her low-paying day job, she signed up for the pharmacy technician program and worked hard each day to lift her family single-handedly out of poverty, graduating at the top of her class, and securing a well-paying pharmacy job in town.
As she told the story of her journey, she shared how she noticed the difference in her two boys. As they saw how hard she was working at school, they too became better students. She became a role model to her next generation and those around her as she changed her family’s economic trajectory.
As a mother myself, I listened to her story with tears in my eyes. Her hard work and perseverance became my inspiration. This woman, whose story lives in my heart even when her name has been forgotten, became my hero that day.
These are the heroes of our community, every community—these men and women who overcome almost insurmountable odds to provide their family a better quality of life. They may not get the public recognition they deserve, but these men and women make our community the great place it is today.
Ellie Frey Zagel is the Director of the Family Business Alliance and 3rd Generation Trustee of the Frey Foundation. She along with her husband and 2 year old son live in East Grand Rapids with their dog, Via. Ellie can be reached at Ellie@FBAGr.org.