We are learning about the power of one as we continue to celebrate Black History Month. 45 years ago, years ago, Mother Clara Hale opened her Harlem, N.Y., home to a drug-addicted mother and child. Before she knew it, she would caring for more than 500 families.
It was a simple act of love that began what is now known as Hale House, a temporary haven for children whose families cannot care for them.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan recognized Mother Hale during his State of the Union Address, calling her an American hero, and an example of what can be done with a combination of will, faith and heart. To this day her determination is making a mark on one of our own ZaDonna Slay - a Woman of Influence.
When most young people were counting down to the day they could buy their first drink, ZaDonna Slay was graduating with her master's degree in social work. The 21 year old hit the ground running and never looked back… other than to help as many children as she could along the way. "I always wanted to help our disenfranchised populations mainly youth and children. I don't have any children of my own, but they always pull at my heartstrings," explained ZaDonna Slay, executive director of CASA.
By the age of 25, she landed her dream job as Executive Director of the Savannah Chatham County Court Appointed Special Advocates. She has gotten used to being the youngest in the room and says age often forces her to have to prove herself more than others with the same qualifications. "After I was hired by CASA, I was interviewed by stakeholders of CASA again because they felt … do you have what we need? I did a meeting and told them who I was and where I come from and they were like … oh. A lot of people say I have an old soul because following behind my mom I was able to experience and really soak up things," added ZaDonna.
Soaking up things helped her during the last three years lead CASA and help it to become more of a household name. Her greatest joy comes from working on behalf of abused and neglected children. "To see the smile on those children's faces and knowing that they're going to be in that forever family that they're safe and they are protected… so if I know that at least one of our families ended on that note, then I can pick it up and do it more because there are more children that need to be saved," said ZaDonna.
That must have been how Mother Clara Hale felt as she struggled to provide a home for hundreds of abandoned and orphaned children of drug addicts and AIDS patients… children society did not appear to want. ZaDonna sees lessons in Mother Hale's journey for generations to come. "Her perseverance and strength because I'm quite sure she was told no. I am told no day after day. So how do I go around that to make sure that our children's needs are met? How do I go about it to make sure that our children remain safe and they are in a permanent home? Don't look for that instant gratification. Keep pushing. Keep going and know that your reward, your blessing will come in due time."
ZaDonna's has come many times over through academic and community service awards- among them being named to Savannah's Top 40 under 40 … and yes, she was the youngest on that list too.
To learn more about Mother Clara Hale and ZaDonna Slay, click on the following links: