Lori Welham isn’t the same person she was six months ago when she picked up an application to train at Serving Hope, Inc. There’s probably a butterfly metaphor in there somewhere, but it’s cliché to compare nature’s caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation with a woman who overcame three abusive marriages, a broken back and a long line of hardships.
“Lori’s metamorphosis is nothing short of a miracle,” said Julie Johnson, Director of Community Relations and Outreach at Serving Hope, Inc.
It hasn’t been easy, but thanks to Cynthia Hart, founder of Serving Hope, Inc., a new nonprofit formed to assist the under-resourced population in our community, Lori is building a new life for her and her 3-year-old daughter, Maya. Today, Lori is completing her training at Cyn Shea’s Cafe and Catering, a division of Serving Hope.
Serving Hope was formed after Cynthia saw the need to help the homeless and underprivileged population get on their feet. The seven-month training program gives students the skills and certification needed for a successful career in food service.
“When the Lord spoke Serving Hope into existence, He made (it) clear we would help people grow into the persons He intended for them to be,” Cynthia said. “The mission of Serving Hope is just that: Serving Hope through teaching food service work and life skills through Christ’s love.”
Cynthia said Lori stood out even during the interview process. There was something about her willingness to learn and grow—not to mention an insatiable work ethic—that made her the perfect candidate to study at Serving Hope Inc.
“What better way to get a fresh start in life lessons than to learn a new work skill while building her confidence to believe she could finish the program and start afresh,” Cynthia said.
Before the Fresh Start
Lori’s childhood was complicated. She goes back and forth between talking about her parents as loving people to giving glimpses into what her home life was really like. Her parents loved her conditionally, basing their affection for her on her behavior. But they let their children decide their own religions, and Lori chose to be involved in church.
She was a military brat who followed her parents to Alabama from Colorado after she graduated from high school in 1990. For almost 17 years, she had a great life in Alabama. She was finally out of the snow, living it up in the heart of Dixie, when everything changed in a split second.
The car she was in was t-boned.
She settled the accident for only $1,400, largely because her family doctor—someone she trusted for 16 years—told her back pain after an accident like hers was normal for a few months. When she woke up one day and could barely move, she went to a new doctor and demanded an MRI. That’s when they discovered she had been living and working with a broken back and four herniated disks.
Then Lori learned her mother had a brain tumor, and it altered her mother’s personality. Lori’s good relationship with her mother suffered—her mother said she hoped Lori would die. That, coupled with a massive prescription from her therapist for anti-depressants that didn’t work well together, resulted in Lori overdosing on prescription pills.
Lori said her confusing childhood likely contributed to her borderline personality disorder diagnosis, and the diagnosis came with the usual side effects—low confidence and fear of being abandoned. So Lori ended up marrying the wrong men. Abusive men.
Gaining Hope, Serving Hope
But after she left her last husband, Lori eventually ended up at New Futures, a home for families who are getting back on their feet. It was the perfect place for Lori and her daughter, Maya. The only missing piece was a job so Lori could continue her recovery.
She prayed and prayed for an opportunity before getting the call that would change her life. One night she knew something was about to happen.
“I’m so ready to work,” Lori said. “It was just inside me, and it felt real. And then the next day, I got a call from DHR.”
They were calling to tell Lori about Serving Hope, Inc. She interviewed with Cynthia and joined the program in March.
“I just have to keep my faith and be strong,” Lori said. “I’m really working hard now and asking for answers from God, and He’s been providing. And He’s been there for me. The best decision was going to Serving Hope because I’ve pushed my limits. I’ve gotten confidence. I’ve found out that I’m really good at baking. I’m good at cooking. I’m good with people.”
Serving Hope’s program sends students to a farm for two weeks, where they study how food gets from the ground to the table—everything from chickens and eggs to growing tomatoes and pulling garlic out of the ground.
“It was where we (saw), through God’s love, the things that He has provided and what we’re able to do and how we’re able to feed people,” Lori said.
Lori has seen her life, and even her personality, change over the last few months she’s been working at Serving Hope. She walks a little taller and has enough confidence to stay out of bad relationships. Her bosses and coworkers have noticed a change in Lori as well.
“Although … she moved through each department in the restaurant with great fear … she quickly learned in each department that we were here to teach her something new,” Cynthia said. “Her confidence began to grow as she realized she had been made to learn what she was experiencing and actually became very good in her newly learned skills.”
Betsy Wallace, one of the Serving Hope instructors, said Lori has “come from being like a crab in a shell to coming out (of the shell). She’s not gullible and naive anymore. She has a sense of urgency now. Lori is outgoing and has a huge heart.”
This is certainly a win for Lori, Maya and the Serving Hope team, and they want to invite the rest of the community to come celebrate Lori, Serving Hope’s first graduate. Lori’s graduation celebration is Friday August 25 at 6 p.m. at Cyn Shea’s.
As part of her celebration, Lori has chosen the movie, ”Pursuit of Happy-ness” because it’s similar to her life story. Cynthia explained that Lori found it to be an example of how she could—and did—change.
By the way, Lori passed her Servsafe exam last week. So come on down to Cyn Shea’s on August 25th and celebrate with her!
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