A wise man once said that there two things we should give our children: one is roots, and the other wings. I have always wanted to help others. Working as a nurse for over thirty years has only forged my commitment to caring for those around me. Through Many Lights I have finally found a way to help people across the community, while still focusing on its most vulnerable members: children.
Over the years, many of my patients have grappled with alcoholism, drug addiction and domestic abuse, and I have witnessed the heavy toll it takes on their lives. Parents struggle to care for children though they can barely look after themselves. Or worse, they remain ignorant of the negative impact their behavior is having on those closest to them.
Children instinctively look to adults for protection, guidance and support. But what if they are unable to give it?
My awareness was increasing yet what I did not realize was that the shadow of abuse fell much closer to home. Mom said she and her siblings grew up dreading the abusive behavior which went hand in hand with her father’s drinking. Learning my own mother had been mistreated made me even more determined to help those like her.
As I started to research child abuse and neglect it struck me how cyclical the problem can be. The abuser was likely abused or neglected themselves and did not know how to become a nurturing parent. It became clear that abusers were not born, but made. I knew it was necessary to do what I can to break the cycle and spent the next decade thinking of the best way to achieve this.
After learning of Hope Meadows intergenerational community I was inspired by their success and started to explore their model. I learned that more and more grandparents are raising their grandchildren and extended relations are increasingly taking on parental responsibilities.
Multigenerational communities assist families adopting children from foster care and help seniors to maintain a sense of purpose and fulfillment. In a community such as this, elders have the opportunity to become honorary grandparents and help care for children; adoptive families support seniors in leading active, engaged lives. These kinship families would flourish in a multigenerational community tailored to their needs.
I felt I had discovered the best way for me to make a difference. I certainly was not an expert but believed this was the right path to pursue. Lacking ideas that seemed comprehensive enough, I worried I might never accomplish anything on a large scale.
This changed in 2005 when a medical scare made me realize it was most important for me to follow through. This was not about me, but about the children I could help. I promised myself I would get started as soon as I recovered, and that is exactly what I did. In 2006, I took action and Many Lights was begun.
Many Lights is a means of bringing people together for the common good, for lighting up the lives of those struggling to escape the darkness of abuse and neglect. My mother, also my namesake, inspired the name: Helen is derived from the Greek for torch or light. It seemed a fitting tribute.
My hope is that in the years to come we will do our part in breaking the cycle of abuse and help nurture generations of happy, healthy children. I hope we will give our children roots and ultimately, wings.
Helen Lakeru is the founder of Many Lights.
Many Lights Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to healing the pain of abuse and neglect in children living in kinship and foster care by providing them with permanent homes in a multigenerational neighborhood called Hope Lights Community. To volunteer, donate, or learn more, visit us at www.manylights.org.