(hahrt) 1. a hollow muscular organ that pumps the blood through the circulatory system by rhythmic contraction and dilation. 2. the central or innermost part of something.
Some experts argue the heart is the single most important organ in the body. It pumps blood and oxygen to the entire body. For that to happen, the blood must run freely throughout the entire circulatory system, gain new oxygen from the lungs and be pushed by the heart again.
A heart gives life to an entire person, but it must be willing to receive freshly oxygenated blood. If it will not accept refreshed blood, it cannot continue to give.
Denise Macon learned how the heart works when she ran out of options.
Macon kept giving of herself until she had nothing left. She grew up with an alcoholic mother. Sometimes her mother would become so intoxicated the police put her in an institution to run tests to determine her addiction. Every time her mother called, Macon was there to pick her up. Every time.
Macon raised her siblings while she was still a child herself. Occasionally, they were left alone for days.
She helped her friends and family as often as she could, providing practical help and sometimes money.
Later, she became a single mother. As such, she gave every day. Like any good mother, she wanted the best she could provide for her children and strove to provide that daily – no matter the long hours or drain on her energy. She loves her son and daughter deeply.
Ultimately, she could only give so much to provide for her family. After 15 years as a single mom, she was facing eviction and her first night with her children on the streets. She didn’t want to ask for help, but she had to. “I knew about [the health and human services hotline] 211, so I called 211,” she said. “They gave me a list of places, so I started calling around. It was really difficult for me because I’ve been a single parent for 19 years. Asking for help, that’s just not what you do.”
Buckner Family Pathways in Amarillo, Texas was last on the list. Two days after calling, the Macons had a new home. And plenty of help.
Family Pathways, a program designed to help single parents earn an education and gain valuable life skills while providing them and their children a safe living environment, is fueled by a community of women who support and help each other. That started with Family Pathways in Amarillo Director Susana Guevara, who encouraged Macon while holding her accountable for improving her life. It continued with Elizabeth Schiller, the first resident Macon met.
“I used to pray to God ‘I just want one good friend,’” Macon said. “Not anyone to use me. I was enabler. I would give to make them happy. But I honestly never could call anyone my friend. That’s all I want.”
Schiller isn’t just a friend. She’s Macon’s best friend. They’re so close they’re like sisters. Macon’s optimistic and gregarious personality balances out Schiller’s more serious, sarcastic tone. They care about each other and can be honest with one another. Sometimes painfully honest.
“Susana and Liz were probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” Macon said.
As part of the Family Pathways program, residents are required to participate in counseling sessions, which Macon quickly points out she hates. Like Guevara and Schiller, the counselor sees through the humor Macon uses to deflect hard topics and helps address issues. As a result, Macon is growing as a person.
“I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve learned so much about other people. I’ve learned you don’t always have to do it by yourself,” she said. “Counseling taught me it’s OK to ask for help when you truly need help. There’s a difference between helping and enabling. I’m better than I was a year ago, but I’m still working on things.”
Part of that work includes accelerated nursing classes at Amarillo College, where she attends with her son, Christopher. He’s set to graduate in spring 2017. She’ll graduate that fall. They study together often, helping each other prepare for exams. Her daughter, Gabrielle, sometimes gets in the act as well, drilling mom with flash cards.
Macon is excited about what she’s studying and the possibilities of her future. She’s like an over-caffeinated barista when she starts talking about how the body works. Her mind races with questions and excitement. Some answers she already knows. Soon, she’ll know many more.
“Denise has come a long way,” Guevara said. “There were a lot of ups and downs. When she first came here, she felt like she had to put up a front. She felt she had to do everything right. She sought a lot of approval from other people. After counseling, she realized she’s not perfect and that’s OK. Buckner can help you. We’re here to pick you up.”
For the first time in her life, Macon feels like she’s part of community. Her heart is full. Many nights, children of the residents are running and playing on the playground in the middle of the campus. Moms watch each other’s children and help get them to school.
“She sees good in everybody,” Guevara said. “Living here, she’s made friendships with residents. Sometimes she’s been hurt by some of the residents who haven’t done so well. But she always sees the good in people.”
The group refreshes Macon. Being with them gives her energy. She’s a better mom and a better person because of it. Her family is safe, secure and prospering. The future is bright ahead.
“We are family,” Macon said. “We are ladies who when we first moved here, we didn’t know anyone else. We are trying to figure out who we are. All of us are out here for a reason. Susana is the mom. She brings everything together. At our meetings, she talks about community. That’s who we are. That’s what we’re supposed to be.”