Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”
Faith manifests itself every day in ways big and small. Starting up a new nonprofit organization when a person has a passionate belief in a cause is an enormous act of faith that is surprising, brave, and more than a little foolhardy. And yet that’s what three local women have done.
The odds were not in their favor. There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, 3,276 registered in Rock Island County alone. Competition for the charitable dollar is fierce.
And nonprofit organizations must comply with regulatory and administrative oversight just as other businesses do.
So why bother to start one up?
Each of them was driven by a strong wish to change lives or save lives by addressing a cause or issue that was important to them.
Pat Herath, Moline, visited Africa and was struck by the desperate poverty in Niger, where the average family income is $700 per year. Only 46 percent have access to clean water, one in four children die before age 5, and the average life expectancy is 53 years old.
Access to clean, safe water is a need of critical importance. Women spend hours every day walking to remote wells to get water for basics like drinking, cooking and bathing.
Pat Herath started Wells 4 Wellness, which has a simple mission: “Provide safe, clean drinking water to communities in Niger.” Her goal is to put 30 wells in Niger. Through her persistence and dedication, the rig, compressor, tools and other supplies necessary for digging new wells are on their way to Niger.
In 2002 Deb Bowen, Aledo, attended a program about “the three Esthers,” three Jewish women who survived the holocaust. Esther Avruch, Esther Katz and Esther Schiff all lived in the Quad-Cities. To keep their stories alive, Deb collaborated with the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities and area teachers.
Deb founded A Book by Me, which uses books written by children, for children, to tell the stories of brave persons who survived World War II in Europe.
Schools use books from A Book by Me for holocaust education, Deb has presented her work in synagogues and community organizations throughout the United States. Her goal is to preserve these stories and the lessons they taught us.
Jodie Kavensky, Coal Valley, had firsthand knowledge of the devastating effects of ovarian cancer. Both her mother, Norma Shagrin, and her aunt, Leah Hantman, died from this deadly disease.
Ovarian cancer is one of the “silent” cancers that may not produce notable symptoms. Those symptoms -- such as abdominal bloating/swelling, pain/ pressure in the pelvic area and changes in appetite/ bowel functions -- are similar to many less life-threatening, non-cancerous conditions.
The statistics are startling: ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among American women; approximately 1 in 70 American women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime.
Jodie founded the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation to “create public awareness, promote early detection, and support research for ovarian cancer.” The ultimate goal “is to have ovarian cancer screening become a routine part of a woman’s annual gynecological exam.”
Even though they “didn’t see the whole staircase” Pat Herath, Deb Bowen and Jodie Kavensky took leaps of faith for causes they deeply believed in.
Their vision, persistence, and courage make our community a better place to live.
And it makes me ask -- what act of faith will each of us do?
Gary Rowe, Rock Island, is a retired development professional for non-profit Quad-Cities organizations.