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Everyday Heroes: Shelli Howard and Arlene McClean

Shelli Howard, an entrepreneur and long-time Cobb County resident, was feeling “defeated by life” when she posted on social media looking for a walking buddy.

Arlene McClean answered, and the two met up at Mud Creek in Cobb County where they found they had much in common: motherhood, a love of hiking and a shared struggle with depression and anxiety.

As they were leaving the park, they passed a group of homeless people, and they decided to find some way to help.

Credit: Fresh Take Ge

Credit: Fresh Take Ge

“Sure, we know people live in shelters, and sure, we know people sleep on the ground, but to see the rows of tents was, like, ‘Woah!’ – kind of eye-opening,” Howard said.

Over four years later, Howard, 52, and McClean, 54, estimate they have helped over 1,000 people. They spend much of their free time driving around metro Atlanta in McClean’s sedan or Howard’s SUV filled with care packages and supplies for people without shelter or basic necessities.

The drives are generally upbeat because they both look forward to lending a hand to those in need, Howard said.

Howard and McClean greet the “unhoused” with a smile and ask, “How could I help you today? What can I do to put a smile on your face?” The two women give more than bags of needed items; they try to make a connection.

The drives home, however, can be somber: they wish they could help more, but they do their best with the resources available to them.

“We’re just naturally caring and giving people,” said McClean. “If I have two cents, somebody’s gonna have one cent of my two cents.”

In 2021, the two women helped one mother struggling during the Christmas season. She had requested help on the Nextdoor app to get her children through Christmas. Kenneth Black, owner of a Cobb County plumbing company, saw the mother’s post and reached out to Howard and McClean based on their social media presence. Howard and McClean used Black’s money and other donations from the community, as well as some of their own money, to help the mother and her children..

First, they helped pay her bills and helped get her car insurance reinstated. Then, they bought winter coats for the children and enough food for the next two weeks. Black was impressed and has continued to donate to the women’s efforts.

“I’m not comfortable with one-on-one stuff sometimes, and she’s just a person that constantly gives up herself,” Black said about Howard.

Howard and McClean say they are in the process of establishing a nonprofit organization in order to become eligible for grants and financial assistance. The two want to expand their reach, but are only able to help when they personally have spare funds or donations to support the gifts.

“We hope to expand by gaining more storage for inventory plus volunteers to help produce more blessing bags/survivor bags plus deliveries,” Howard wrote in a statement.

More recently, Howard and McClean partnered with the YMCA to give out bags of supplies at two low-income apartment complexes in Marietta.

Gayle Battersby, the YMCA’s community engagement director for the East Cobb location, said she was happy to partner with the women.

“I just really enjoyed that they wanted to be out in the community,” Battersby said. “They wanted to give back and they loved on our families just like we do.”


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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