Living Thankfully as a Lifestyle
It is hard to believe that we are actually celebrating our 8th year with Live Thankfully. What started with just a few Thanksgiving turkeys has grown into a movement across our city. I am constantly asked how Live Thankfully came to be and what our vision is when it comes to LT in the future. Honestly, when I reflect over the past 8 years, I have no idea how we have gotten here or how in the world LT keeps growing with such momentum. I just know that God continues to bless our efforts, cover our many mistakes, and graciously bring us folks to guide us and serve alongside us.
My husband, John (co-founder of LT) often refers to Live Thankfully as our “accidental nonprofit” or “my very expensive hobby”. Never in a million years did I think I would be partnering with 2 others in running a charitable organization. Don’t let this blog or social media posts fool you. The nonprofit world falls way short of glamorous. Startup nonprofits require a ton of work, cause a significant amount of stress, cost a lot of money, and are always evolving and never ending. Yet our reasons for continuing to press on are anything but accidental – they are completely intentional.
You see, Live Thankfully is not just about serving meals, we are about preparing young hearts for service. Meals and groceries are simply the conduit!
What began as a way of marketing John’s orthodontic practice 8 years ago, has evolved into a four-part service project involving the entire community. In the past, before Live Thankfully was established, Kelley Orthodontics gifted turkeys to its referring dentists around the holidays. In 2012, we redirected our efforts and reach out to families in our neighboring schools who were struggling to put a Thanksgiving meal on the table. That year, with the support of our dental community, we gave 60 meals to families in need. Today, eight years later, we are an established 501c3 organization with paid employees and hundreds of volunteers. Next month will give approximately 850 meals to families adopted through 30 Fort Worth schools, while focusing on student leadership and service.
Leadership training takes place in all of our Live Thankfully schools throughout the academic year. The process begins with education and changing the way kids think about service and giving. LT volunteers spend numerous hours in our partnering schools, working with student leaders, and teaching them how to conduct successful food drives. We teach kids that they have the power to create positive change in their communities.
Not every child can shine academically, but every child can serve. The evidence of a good leader is service. FWISD Principal and LT superstar, Sara Gillaspie, states, “We have so much emphasis in school today on reading, writing, math, and science that it is hard to take time out to talk about those character qualities that are so important in the lives of our students and their futures. Live Thankfully allows us to pause and shift our attention to things that go beyond academia. We talk with our students about gratitude and what it means to give back. And then we give them the tools to actually live thankfully within our schools and in our neighborhoods. LT has changed the energy of our students, their families, and our community!”
Food drives are conducted the month of November in our partnering schools and business offices. LT volunteers pick up these heavy boxes of food weekly, transfer them to our storage units where students of that campus organize them for our packaging party. Our food drives collect enough food to fill 3000 bags of groceries and donate another 5000 plus food items to local area food banks and churches.
Packaging Parties: Live Thankfully hosts 2 parties in which volunteers from the community come together to package the groceries collected from our LT food drives. These parties take place on the Saturday and Sunday prior to Thanksgiving at Stripling Middle School and Southwest Christian School. Last year’s parties had a combined attendance of around 500 volunteers.
I am constantly blown away by who shows up to sort and bag the food. There is no discrimination of age, religion, socioeconomics, physical abilities, or race. This, to me, is the most beautiful part of Live Thankfully. A person simply volunteering their time may be serving next to another who is actually receiving a meal. Since those receiving meals serve alongside those who give, students recognize the needs around them, compassion increases, relationships strengthen, and our community strengthens.
Thanksgiving Dinner Distribution: Thanksgiving dinners, purchased through Live Thankfully, are given to families selected by our partnering schools’ counselors. Each family receives a full meal along with 5 bags of groceries from our packaging parties. These families are chosen based on financial, emotional, and physical needs. Our counselors are diligent to follow up with these families throughout the school year. We offer resources and collaborate with other nonprofits to help these families get back on their feet.
Every participating school has teachers and administrators present to give the meals to their adopted families. We hope to tear down walls of distrust and builds bridges of trust between those in need and those who are able to help. This starts in the micro-communities of the schools with the teachers, administrators, and fellow students meeting the needs of their own school families.
So what do I envision for the future? I truly am open. We simply pray that the Lord will organically grow Live Thankfully as He desires, and that He will bring the financial support, the manpower, and the resources we need to continue being the hands and feet of service in our local schools and community.
I have no idea where Live Thankfully will be tomorrow. I just know that our LT team has fallen completely in love with the teachers, administrators, and kids of our public schools. We see the chains they wear because of governmental red tape and ridiculous testing requirements. We see children who have so much potential, so much character, so much to offer our society, being crushed in spirit because they don’t fit into a box. Live Thankfully gives our schools a different type of box – one that is moldable and pliable. The schools can change and manipulate it based on the needs of their students and the conditions of their individual schools.
Our teachers have disclosed that they have witnessed transformation in the students that are actively involved with LT. For some, Live Thankfully is the only place they feel successful in school. Through Live Thankfully, they experience the joy of hands on learning and the excitement of discovery. Students come to believe that they are so much more than a test score, and that academics don’t have to get in the way of a good education. One Tanglewood Elementary parent wrote, “My daughter took on a bigger role in her school’s efforts with Live Thankfully this year. I was surprised at how much joy it brought her to be in service. I was touched by the number of teachers and friends who reached out to me to communicate how into this project my daughter was and how authentic her joy in service appeared. I needed to hear this. My daughter is a kid who desperately wants to fit in but often struggles to find her tribe. LT is a good reminder that if you follow your passions, serve with your heart, and stay true to yourself a tribe eventually emerges around you.”
This is what keeps us going. This is WHY behind our WHAT. An investment in our youth is a guaranteed return on our future community. Spend just a few hours in our Fort Worth schools, see the faces of Live Thankfully. You too will be hooked to live thankfully too!
LT in a sentence: Live Thankfully is a lifestyle. Won’t you live thankfully too?
Alison Kelly (seen here with LT’s Director of Programs Lesley McFarland and Director of Operations Sarah Nader) founded Live Thankfully with her husband, John, eight years ago as a way of giving back to the community.