Inez and I met for our interview on a temperate Palo Alto day. We took a seat in the shade, but appreciated the warmth of the mid-day sun. Yes, as might be expected of two people who spent some amount of time in England (both in Warwickshire!), we talked about the weather.
As much as Inez likes the warmth, she has been to her fair share of cold places. As a nurse who went on medical missions, she’s been to countless countries — Scotland and Switzerland among them (as well as Canada, Honduras, Vietnam, Philippines, Bangladesh, Israel and more). Despite experience working in all these places, it was finally in the San Francisco Bay Area that she chose to settle. Inez cites the beautiful summer days, the flowers, and the fruit trees that remind her of home in Jamaica. She initially applied to work at Stanford for only a year, but was persuaded to put down three years in her application. “I stayed for 31 years,” said Inez.
Inez lived in East Palo Alto when she was raising her kids. She spoke of her struggles in trying to get her kids good schooling when many businesses and even high schools left East Palo Alto in the 1970s. Her two kids weren’t getting the academic support that they needed, and Inez was relentless. She spoke to the kids’ teachers, and some of them were as helpful as they could be given the circumstances. She spoke to the headmaster: “I said that if this continues, I will have to put my kids in private school even though I don’t want to. The headmaster suggested that I do so.” It was this experience with her kids in East Palo Alto that primed Inez to see the need for academic help through organizations like Hope Horizon.
She recalls how Hope Horizon was founded at the time (1980’s) by five college students who wanted to hold Bible studies; but they began to recognize many other needs. They discovered that the children were behind academically, so they started to offer after-school tutoring. Later on, they discovered that the children who were restless and not paying attention during class were hungry, so they provided a meal or snacks. “Seeing the need” is a common motif in my conversation with Inez. She found out about the ministry through her church and decided to help because she saw the need, “they weren’t here when my kids were growing up, but if I can help other kids…”
Inez’s instinct to see a need and help can be traced back to her family growing up. “My father was a farmer, and my parents always knew someone who needed help. My family was always reaching out. If someone had a baby and didn’t have a milking cow, my parents would send me with some milk. Or they would say, take this soup to so and so. I had to walk a lot to school and back, so when I get home and was sent out again, I wished that my father would give me time to study instead! Growing up, I was puzzled. I thought to myself, I never saw anyone giving them anything. They weren’t well off, but they were always reaching out.”
Because of that, Inez has always valued Hope Horizon for truly reaching out — extending themselves into students' lives in a way that addresses their needs but also gives them the encouragement to pursue their ambitions and value their education in a way that they might not get at home. “Reaching out” can also mean the other sense of the word: she sees Hope Horizon’s work and her own volunteering as having “reach” beyond the first circle of students that they come into contact with. The work that Hope Horizon does could touch many lives because the one student that is helped now could go on to help other students, and so on. “We never know the number of people that benefited from that one moment,” marvels Inez.
This sensitivity to community needs, this heart to “reach” and “touch” the lives of students, and this ripple effect — they all give hope to Inez that Hope Horizon can stay on and do the long-term foundation-setting work that many of the students in East Palo Alto need. “I think this organization will be here for many years to come. I cannot envision it being closed down.”
And yet, Inez has this confidence in Hope Horizon continuing because of her confidence in God. “God is always putting us in situations and with people we can serve.” She speaks of the times that God has worked through her in a way that only becomes clear in hindsight. Inez tells me of multiple experiences where she discovers that she “wasn’t just having a conversation with herself.” It was God working through her, speaking to her, encouraging her to do things she would otherwise rather not do for the sake of others. (I highly encourage you to say hi to Inez and ask her about those stories!)
Inez sees the same motivation and the same propulsive force in the people serving with Hope Horizon; always seeing a need, always reaching out, achieving results that are beyond their individual capabilities. At the end of her ruminations and many wonderful stories, Inez could only conclude: “God, you’re so amazing.”