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Everyday Heroes: Heather Malone

The Compassion Projects

Heather Malone was having dinner with a friend who taught at a public elementary school in Atlanta when her companion casually mentioned that several of her students were homeless.

Malone was shocked.

“Every child deserves a chance in life,” Malone said, recalling that dinner four years ago. “Children don’t have control over their circumstances.”

That conversation inspired Malone, now 48 and a graphic designer by profession, to start The Compassion Projects. The small-scale volunteer initiative collects toiletries, clothes, school supplies and other items for homeless school children in metro Atlanta.

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Heather Malone

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Heather Malone

“The goal is to help homeless school children, even if it’s just with basic needed items,” she said.

Within the first year, The Compassion Projects handed out 35 backpacks filled with items such as underwear, socks, toiletries and a few school supplies. In the second year, the number of backpacks increased to 200.

“It warms my heart to see the number of backpacks grow each year because that’s also a reflection of how much awareness has grown too,” Malone said.

Malone’s efforts caught the attention of her colleague, Dawn Gahan, 62, who pitched in as well.

“Now that I am closer to retirement, I felt that I needed something new,” Gahan said. Working alongside Malone and social workers from the schools has given Gahan a new perspective of giving, she said, and how a small gesture can create a huge impact on someone else’s life.

Danielle Boyce, 32, joined The Compassion Projects a year ago after she came across Malone’s Nextdoor post regarding donations needed. In fact, Boyce was taken back by the post and surprised to learn that homeless school children were a real issue.

“I had a great upbringing, so after seeing that post, I felt very compelled to give back,” Boyce said. “It’s heartbreaking to learn and realize that home isn’t home for everyone.

Today, The Compassion Projects is a three-woman operation including Malone, Gahan and Boyce. They are planning to distribute 250 backpacks to 11 schools in Fulton, Gwinnett, and Cobb County this December.

According to Anne Hampson Boatwright, a Media Relations Manager at Fulton County Schools, The Compassion Projects works directly with several of their elementary schools providing school supplies .

“We have seen a significant rise in homeless Fulton County Schools students in the last year, from approximately 500 to 1,036,” Boatwright said.

Malone, Gahan and Boyce don’t get to meet the children in-person due to safety and privacy reasons however, the social workers assure that the children in need now have a resource to rely on.

Virginia Hernandez, a school social worker for Fulton County Board of Education emphasized how Malone goes above and beyond to help.

“The schools that I am assigned to are on the south end of Fulton County and The Compassion Projects works at the north end of the county, and Heather drives all the way down to help,” Hernandez said. “She never hesitates to ask if I need any extra backpacks, loose leaf paper, pencil pouches, crayons.”

In addition, Charity Trowbridge, a Coordinator of School Social Work for Fulton County Schools appreciates the hard work of both Virginia and The Compassion Projects.

“Virginia’s work with The Compassion Projects is truly outstanding,” Trowbridge said. “It allows students to have access to clothing, school supplies, backpacks, so that they can come to school and feel that they fit in with their peers. They can feel confident in walking in with their new clothing on and go outside when it’s cold and play at recess and have a warm coat to wear. We appreciate everything that they do.”

According to Hernandez, individuals who are not homeless can learn so much from those who are.

“We can educate ourselves in so many things if we just stop, look and learn,” said Hernandez. “Maybe just as much as we can offer them, they can offer us more.”

According to Boyce, the three ladies gather together once a month for brunch at a local restaurant to talk about the different items needed and what other kind gestures they add to make these children feel heard.

“We try our best to incorporate a plush toy from ‘Santa’ each year,” Malone said. “Dawn even creates tags that says ‘you matter’ since we know Santa might not have had enough time to make it this year.”

The three ladies hope to continue to expand The Compassion Projects and spread awareness over homeless school children.

“The true joy comes from hearing back from the social workers,” Gahan said. “When we hear that what we have done made a difference, is what keeps the cycle going.”

HOW TO HELP

For more information, please visit The Compassion Projects’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/The-Compassion-Projects-111747440675981.


WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER: A SPECIAL PROJECT

This place we call home is filled with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. Their selfless acts make this region so special – and they bring out the best in all of us. With the holidays upon us, we wanted to share their inspiring stories, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer ways that you can help.

Just as the 55 people we’re profiling can’t do it alone, nor can we. That’s why we worked closely with our partners to bring you this collection of uplifting stories.

We hope they leave you feeling inspired and ready to tackle the busy new year that lies ahead.

We hope they make you feel more connected to your community or to your neighbors.

And maybe, just maybe, they will motivate you to come up with your own small way to make a big difference in the lives of others.

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