Volunteer Spotlight: Melba Jackson

April 15, 2016
Julia Weegar

melba teachingDespite retiring from Fidelity National Financial over three years ago, Melba Jackson is still a busy woman. With eight children, thirty-two grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, that is enough to keep anyone on their toes. But as much time as Melba dedicates to her family, she is also dedicated to being of service in her community.

As an ordained minister with the Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn, Melba spends a great deal of time volunteering to help those in need. She and her husband, also a minister, do outreach at a number of community organizations, including serving weekly meals at a men’s shelter and working with inmates at a correctional facility. These experiences give Melba a keen awareness of the hardships faced by those around her and, it seems, she’s always looking to do more. “I cook for a men’s shelter every fourth Thursday of each month,” Melba says. “When I saw a group of men standing outside of the [Franciscan Outreach] shelter, I stopped to see if it was possible for me to cook a hot meal once a month for them.”

After speaking with the shelter Program Director, Cyndy Northington, however, Melba realized there was another opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the guests. With her background in ministry, and her experience working with people from all different walks of life, Melba was inspired to design a curriculum for a weekly class aimed at motivating guests to make positive life changes. “It is never too late to reach for a better life,” she says.

This is something Melba knows from experience. A survivor of domestic violence, she recalls not even realizing the obstacles she faced in that relationship until she was ready to move beyond them. “It’s hard to see when you’re right in the middle of it,” she says. “I was raised in a time where, if you were a woman and in a bad marriage, that was the bed you’d made and your only choice was to sleep in it.” Thankfully, Melba found the strength to seek an education. Taking business classes at Northwestern University, she found herself surrounded by strong women who encouraged her to seek a better life and leave her abusive marriage.

It is through the lens of her own experiences that Melba works with the guests at Franciscan Outreach. While teaching her weekly motivational class for men and women and the shelter, she began to notice many of the women holding back. “Some of them would stand outside the door and I’d overhear them talking and interacting with each other”, she recalls. Concerned about their conversations and the lack of direction some of the woman seemed to express when they spoke with each other, she wanted to do something to help them move forward. Therefore, Melba spoke with the staff again about adding another class for the shelter guests, but this one would be specifically for women.

With that goal in mind, she developed the curriculum for Steps to Empowering Women (STEW). “I thought about my childhood and about sitting with my mother and her friends around the kitchen table. Everyone would be cooking and talking and by the end of the afternoon, there’d be a big pot of stew! I wanted this group to be like that for the women…a place everyone could share.” Like the afternoons from her childhood, STEW is a class that gives Franciscan Outreach’s female guests the opportunity to practice self-love, reflection and community. The women share their own experiences and stories and find affirmation in the encouragement of their peers.

When asked what she gets out of working with the guests at Franciscan Outreach, Melba says, “Joy! The feeling of giving back by being a blessing to others.”

To learn more about National Volunteer Month, click here. 

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