After four back surgeries to repair ruptured disks, Jackie Silverman, 56, was told by her doctor to quit working for the social service agency that she oversaw. So for five years, at age 45, she was essentially bedridden and sank into a depression born of pain. “I just felt sorry for myself,” says Jackie, who lives just outside of New Orleans. “I wanted to lie in my bed and die.” But she didn’t. Jackie knew she had to do something big to overcome depression.
Her Calling Came in a Storm
Then came Hurricane Katrina. “Something in me changed when I saw all the suffering around here. I realized that my pain and suffering were nothing compared to the real sorrow in the world,” she says. She got herself out of bed and started helping administer grants to New Orleans residents through Jewish Family Services, where she once worked. She and her husband, Dan, also began collecting clothing, furniture and other items for a makeshift women’s homeless shelter in the badly hit Ninth Ward, where their adult son, Jeffrey, was volunteering.
“Once I went in there and saw that kids were sleeping on the floor, I became attached,” she says. “I went back again and again.”
Motivating Other to Help
By the summer of 2007, the informal group that was running the shelter announced that it was moving on, and asked Jackie if she wanted to take over. Jackie’s passions had been stirred. “I went from only focusing on myself to really caring passionately about a group of people who are often forgotten: the homeless.” She had gotten her synagogue—Congregation Gates of Prayer in Metairie, Louisiana—involved several months earlier, and they had received enough donations that Jackie could do more than just take over the small, rundown house. Before she knew it, she and Dan were trying to figure out how to open a new shelter to replace the old one. With the help of the synagogue, Jackie and Dan established the shelter as a nonprofit and rented a house custom-renovated for the group, raising close to $100,000 along the way.
From Depression to Inspiration
The New Orleans Women’s Shelter now serves 200 women and children each year, offering career counseling, parenting education and assistance finding child care, as well as a comfortable place to live for 20 mothers and children in transition. “I had never taken initiative in my life,” says Jackie. “I don’t have a college degree—and that probably led me to always stay in the background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine thatI would become the founder of a nonprofit.” And she overcame depression as a side benefit.
Jackie’s back issues have not been totally resolved, but now, on the days when she’s confined to bed, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. Instead, she pulls out her laptop and works.
“I’ve learned that we’re not put on this earth just to take up space,” she says. “We each have to find our little ways to make a difference.”
Everyone has the potential to achieve something great: “I always thought that extraordinary things were accomplished by extraordinary people,” Jackie says. “Now I know that they’re accomplished by ordinary people who’ve stepped up.” Keep going “When the naysayers tell you it can’t be done, just smile and work harder.”
Source: Women’s Day