“I think I was born at 6 feet [tall]” Asha joked as she shifted uncomfortably in the twin bed just a bit too short and narrow for her tired body. This seemed to be an interesting beginning for a life story but “interesting” doesn’t justly describe the narrative to follow.
Asha was born in West Harlem, NYC to a mother that worked two full time jobs and a into a community knit as tight as family. As she described her home life, Asha mentioned very little about her father. He was in and out of their home until she was in her mid-teens, when he left for good. Her mother never kept her or her younger sister from enjoying a relationship with their father. Asha recounts that her mother constantly filled their home with the smell of food cooked from scratch and that, “The house was always full of her singing.” In the years between her childhood and meeting the team from the Dream Center NYC, Asha’s life was full of adventure.
At 17, Asha began to work for the New York State Attorney General’s office which led to an education and a career in justice. Her pursuit of education uprooted her from the comforts of her West Harlem family and drew her to California.
In her second year of law school Asha was forced to take on one of the largest battles of her life - Cancer. She continued to pursue her education during the 4 months she lived in the hospital. “If I ever wanted to die, that was when I wanted to die,” Asha admitted as she recounted the pains of her battle. 24 surgeries later Asha was cancer free and determined to finish law school.
Shortly after walking the stage to receive her diploma, Asha moved to Atlanta in search of more education. She spent the following years adventuring throughout Africa and Europe, but always called the United States home. Asha later moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where she worked as a hospital chaplain. This position was not long lived.
In 2000, Asha received the phone call from her mother that brought her back to New York for good. For the next 5 years, Asha worked to provide and care for her mother. This time was marked by her mother's slow decline in health. Asha recalled, “I came into her room and she was [breathing heavily] and I finally looked at her and said ‘Ma I know you have waited for this a long time and you can let go’ but when it happened I wanted to take it back… and I was right there when she took her final breath.” For the next 9 years Asha lived alone.
In 2014, Asha became connected with the Dream Center NYC through a referral for our Residential Assistance program. Residential Assistance connects volunteers to clients throughout the city and facilitates weekly visits to the client’s home. This allows us to serve a predominantly elderly community, at no cost to them, in whatever way they need. Asha began receiving visits from volunteers weekly.
“They came every Saturday… We would laugh and cook and eat, you know… it’s just like family,” she beamed. Asha’s countenance shifted as she began to list the different states she received volunteers from and how Residential Assistance visits were always a highlight of her week.
One particular volunteer named Shavon, who was in the Dream Center Leadership Program at the time, connected with Asha in a unique way. “... And we were just talking like I knew her a thousand years,” Asha said as she remembered her first visit from Shavon. For months Shavon visited Asha during Residential Assistance and eventually even started seeing her on her days off. “The time would just fly,” Asha said with a level of surprise in her voice. After living independently for so long, she was finally able to enjoy the fullness of family through the Dream Center.
In the summer of 2015 Shavon moved home to Arizona, but constantly kept in touch with Asha. We continued to send volunteers to visit Asha weekly, until she had a sharp downturn in health and moved from her home to a rehab facility. “I’ve always had arthritis, I’ve always had bad spine, I’ve always had stenosis, I’ve always had blah blah blah... But one day I noticed that I had trouble moving my feet.” Asha, who would walk all around her neighborhood with the help of a walker, now could no longer move about her home. She could no longer live alone.
“I went in [to physical therapy] the first part of June and I just got out January 18th,” Asha said as she again shifted uncomfortably in her bed. “I didn’t get out any better. It was the worst experience of my life. It’s horrible. For 2 months I was from the bed to the chair.” Asha had made some progress in the beginning of her stay in the rehab facility, but she fell ill and lost her momentum.
Shortly after, her insurance would no longer cover her stay in the rehab facility, and she was forced to move back into her home, alone. “I don't want to live like this,” Asha stated as she recounted the fear she experienced in her transition back home. It wasn’t until Asha returned home that Shavon was able to reach her again. Shavon explained, “That’s when she shared with me her months of pain and struggle, and I don’t know. It was really heartbreaking to me… Not only because I was hearing someone else’s story and realizing that it [was awful], but as a friend, it broke my heart and as she was talking to me I felt compelled to come.” Shavon immediately put her work on hold and within two weeks she was fully moved into Asha’s apartment.
Shavon plans to live with Asha for at least two months, and she has committed to care for Asha’s health during her entire stay. Asha no longer has to worry about living alone in a home that she cannot navigate because of the friendship that began with Residential Assistance.
Each week we visit with and serve people all over the city, and we have had the chance to watch so many strangers become family. The best part about it is that there is a place for you on our team. Come join us and volunteer to befriend those who can offer nothing, but will give you more than you can imagine. When you choose to serve and give, you are investing in an opportunity to change a life. Partner with us to change our city one story and one friendship at a time.