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‘It has been a long journey’
Immigrant story: Richmond mom’s faith helps her persevere to give 3 kids the college education she never got

At age 53, Fatimo Ibrahim’s life has been defined by work, faith, sacrifice and determination.

A first-generation immigrant from Nigeria, Ibrahim started working on her family’s farm when she was 5. Over the years, she also worked other jobs in Nigeria. When she was 17, she followed a tribal neighbor to New York, where she worked for a family as a domestic helper — a position she describes as domestic slavery. She said she was abused physically and paid randomly.

A formal education was never a serious option, as Ibrahim’s parents didn’t send her to school. Her parents always valued her contribution as a laborer.

She met her husband in the Bronx when she was 26. Between them, they have three children, but Ibrahim said he didn’t support the family and wasn’t a good role model for their children.

“I was depressed and unhappy,” she said.

One day when she was in her neighborhood, a random woman walked by and saw Ibrahim crying about her hopeless situation. She was overwhelmed with financial hardship and unsure how she would raise and support her three young children.

That random woman introduced Ibrahim to a nearby Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was there Ibrahim found comfort, faith and a renewed outlook.

“She could be an angel from God,” Ibrahim said of the woman on the street.

“Since I found the Mormon Church, I am full of joy,” she added.

Looking for a new chapter to her life, Ibrahim packed up her children and left New York for Richmond, as she was told by friends that Richmond would be a better place to raise her children.

But life wasn’t easy here, either.

After brief stays at a hotel and a friend’s place, Ibrahim and her children ended up spending a month at a homeless shelter.

Her oldest daughter, Gbemisola “Latifa” Ibrahim, who was 8 at the time, remembers those days.

“We weren’t there for long. But I literally felt like we were there forever,” said Latifa, who is now 24. “I just couldn’t eat. At school, I would go to the cafeteria and just cried.”

From that experience, Latifa said: “My mom was always trying her best to make sure we have enough to eat and we have a roof over our head.”

While at the homeless shelter, Ibrahim found an apartment in the Whitcomb Court public housing community and stayed there for a year before moving to Gilpin Court. Her fourth child, daughter Fatimah “Angel” Akwari, 14, was born at the public housing complex.

During a hot fall day a few months ago, Ibrahim made her way to Winthrop Manor Assisted Living in Richmond, where she is a full-time cook. It’s only about 3 miles from her home, but it took an hour, with two bus rides and walking a few blocks.

With a bad knee that requires replacement surgery, Ibrahim struggles physically to work for the long periods of standing the job requires. But, she said, while peeling potatoes for the residents’ dinner, “I love my job and I love to feed my people here.”

Ibrahim said her faith is her foundation and her children are the most important thing in her life. Her four children range in age from 24 to 14, and now one has graduated from college, two are seniors in college and the youngest is in high school. Her three oldest children attended college with full scholarships.

Latifa, who graduated from Brigham Young University–Idaho, works at a pharmaceutical company in Richmond. Rakiyat “Ruka” Ibrahim, 23, is a senior at the same university. Yusufu Ibrahim, 21, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, has already secured a full-time job after a graduation. Angel is a freshman at Richmond Community High School.

“Not saying I never had desired to go to a college, but honestly, I didn’t have a choice,” Latifa said about the emphasis her mother placed on education. “My mom was like, college and education, that’s number one, and college will get you far.

“She’d never gotten opportunities to get any education, so it is important for her and her kids to do that.”

Richmond police Sgt. Carol Adams met the family in 2007 at Gilpin Court during a children’s program. Adams noticed right away that Ibrahim stayed with her children for every session to learn with them.

“[I was] automatically falling in love with them,” Adams said. Since then, their friendship bloomed and Ibrahim’s children call her Auntie Carol.

“Just determined to not to be captured within the walls and boundaries of the Gilpin Court, even though that’s where she lives. It’s clearly about what you have in your heart,” Adams said about Ibrahim. “She always has a smile on her face and her kids also always have smiles on their faces. I have never heard them complaining about their condition, never about how they live, where they live and what they have, always kind and respectable. It is contagious, really.”

A few days before Christmas, the Ibrahim family gathered at their small apartment in Gilpin Court. Ruka flew from college in Idaho, Angel had just come from cheerleading practice, Latifa drove from her job and Yusufu came home from VCU.

Yusufu thanked God for the family gathering and their well-being in a prayer before supper.

“I am grateful my children are going to places I have never been and God makes everything work out for me and my family,” Ibrahim said. “It has been a long journey, but I am happy now. And I am grateful for my life.”

Making a difference: Bob Hummer started Moments of Hope, an outreach ministry for the homeless

A head-on collision in 2005 caused Bob Hummer to suffer a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and eight bulging discs in his back and neck.

But after dozens of surgeries, thousands of hours of therapy and years of chronic pain, the crash also provided Hummer with some clarity about what he wanted to do with his life.

Five years ago, Hummer, 57, started a homeless outreach ministry called Moments of Hope in Richmond and Henrico County after meeting a woman named Lisa.

She was “flying her sign,” Hummer said of the woman who was standing on Chamberlayne Avenue near its intersection with Azalea Avenue and the Richmond-Henrico line. He pulled over to find out what she needed.

“She explained that she and her boyfriend, Dave, had been living in a tent in the woods for three years,” he said. “I was mortified. I was naive enough not to know there were folks living in the woods in Richmond, let alone women in tents. So I gave her some hand warmers, a bottle of water and some socks I had in the car.”

He returned over the next several weeks, each time bringing more and more items he thought would help. Eventually, Lisa led Hummer to her camp and introduced him to others living in the woods.

Hummer tried to start a challenge, like the viral ice bucket challenge, where people would provide “moments of hope” to someone in need. He thought it would take off, but at the end of the year, only 40 people had liked the Facebook page.

“I was devastated,” he said. “I felt like I had let God down.”

So he did what he’s always done when times are hard, or the pain was too much, or the plan was unclear — like after the crash. He prayed.

A couple of days later, a church reached out wanting to help by serving a hot meal. That Saturday, they set up a table with slow cookers full of chili and piles of cornbread in the parking lot of Brookhill Azalea Shopping Center, off Chamberlayne, where Hummer had first met Lisa. That was four years ago, and Hummer’s group has only missed one Saturday — when an ice storm shut down the city a few years ago — ever since then.

“A lot of folks refer to it as Food Lion Church,” said Hummer. There’s a Food Lion in the shopping center. “We call it Saturday Servings, but they call it something more special.”

To date, the ministry has served more than 30,000 meals.

It’s also expanded to a food pantry in Hanover County, where Hummer lives. Canned goods are distributed, along with the hot meals on Saturday afternoons, which they serve in Henrico from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Attendees, who aren’t necessarily all homeless, also receive health screenings, help applying for food stamps and other assistance programs, and hygiene items, clothing, tents and sleeping bags.

“I so much wanted the world to see what God has done through this one man,” said Carol Heller, a volunteer with Moments of Hope. “It’s the power of one with God.”

Heller said it’s clear Hummer and the volunteers take care to get to know the people they serve, who are called by their first names, and follow up with them. Hummer has helped put up tents and goes with them to court, Heller said. She’s not able to volunteer in person as much as she’d like to, but helps run a prayer tree and follows the ministry’s social media, where updates are posted about those they serve.

Hummer gives credit to God, as well as to the team of hundreds of volunteers, and Betty Jo Hayes, the only other salaried member of the ministries staff.

“I’m truly not capable of all that I’m getting credit for,” he said.

Hummer’s ultimate vision is to build an entire self-sufficient community of tiny homes to house 100 people. Mo Hope Village, it’ll be called. Hummer, along with the ministry’s board of directors, are looking at a plot of 45 acres in Caroline County, and starting fundraising efforts.

Hummer’s faith keeps him from stressing about the money, but Hummer said it’s the memory of the crash and its aftermath that keeps him going. His wife, Bonnie; son, Jake, who was 8 at the time; and daughter, Mollyann, who was then 16 months old, were also in the car when it crashed. Jake and Mollyann were OK, but Bonnie also suffered a traumatic brain injury, though not a severe as her husband’s. Hummer said it’s made them all stronger.

“This gets me off the couch,” Hummer said. “I don’t feel the pain as much when I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing for [God].”

For more information or to donate, go online to momentsofhopeoutreach.org.


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Richmond police surprise 4 children in need with gifts and lunch on Christmas Eve

The last time Sgt. Matthew Edgar saw the four siblings was over the summer when officers found the youngest, 2, wandering the streets of the Richmond Police Department’s 4th Precinct.

Back then, the children were soiled and hungry.

But on Christmas Eve, the children appeared happy, healthy and well-cared for by a couple fostering them. Their smiles grew wider as they tore open the colorful wrapping paper revealing dozens of gifts the officers had collected for them.

“Hopefully, it’s a little bit of Christmas magic,” Edgar said during Tuesday’s event at the precinct on Chamberlayne Avenue. “I’m hoping it’s just a little something, just to say somebody cared.”

While planning a holiday potluck for some of the officers, Edgar’s partner asked about the family they’d encountered over the summer. Edgar said Child Protective Services, which had gotten involved when the officers removed the children from an apparently neglectful home, connected them with the foster parents, and the officers invited them to lunch on Christmas Eve.

Then, they put the word out that they were collecting toys, clothes and bikes to surprise all four kids, and the couple that took them in.

“This is awesome,” said Mariol Harris, who, with her husband, Harold, is fostering the four children. They’ve fostered 50 children over 13 years, they said, after raising two of their own and an adopted daughter as well. “We’ve been doing this that long, but this, we never had such an overwhelming show of generosity and love and caring like this. This has been amazing.”

Mariol Harris said the couple had planned to take a break from fostering. A pair of siblings had just left their home about a week before they got the urgent calls about taking in the four young children. But when she heard their story: “I was like, bring them on over,” she said.

Edgar described some of the conditions in which they found the children. A neglect case is ongoing, so police asked that media not reveal the children’s identities.

“If you touched him, your hand had dirt on it. He smelled. He hadn’t bathed in ... a while. He hadn’t eaten in a while, either,” Edgar said, describing officers’ first encounter with the 2-year-old. Officers found the child’s home, where they discovered his three siblings — the oldest was 8 — in similar disheveled states, and brought them to the precinct.

“Once we got them here, we figured we’d need to wash hands and faces, and we’d need to change a diaper. We needed some clothes, so my guys started hitting the stores,” he said. “Two officers went across the street here to the McDonald’s and got Happy Meals, and it was at that point that everybody started losing their emotional control because it started hitting home.”

Edgar estimated that 90% of the platoon he works with has children. Several of their kids attended the Christmas Eve lunch, as well, and helped collect the discarded wrapping paper as the foster children freed the toys inside. They quickly zeroed in on the pile of presents designated for each of them, and immediately, hopped on their new bikes.

The oldest boy was enamored with the yellow, remote-controlled Corvette that took several officers, and their spouses, to fully extract from its packaging. The girl, the only daughter, got a light pink purse shaped like an ice cream cone topped with three large scoops, into which she stuffed as many of the other toys as could fit.

The middle boy threw a soft purple and green football into the air. “Yay!” he cried as it flew up and then back down. He never quite managed to catch it, but that didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm.

But the youngest never took his eyes, or his behind, if he could help it, off his bike.

“I don’t think it’s hit them yet,” Mariol Harris said. “That all of this is going home with them. They think that they are going to just play with it here. That’s why he won’t let go of that bike.”

The Harrises said fostering can be challenging, especially during the initial transition, but that it is rewarding to see the transformation in the children.

“A little TLC goes a long way,” Mariol Harris said. “It makes a tremendous difference. I hope that one day they forget the bad parts, and just remember everything good that came out of it.”

“They will remember this,” Harold Harris said.

Richmond-based ChildFund's Real Gifts Catalog allows donors to improve lives around the world and 'change the cycle of poverty'

The sweet little boy with the equally sweet baby goat draped around his neck smiling back from the cover of ChildFund International’s 2019 Real Gifts Catalog isn’t showing off the latest fashions for pint-sized people, with a pet barnyard animal thrown in just to up the cuteness factor.

The boy’s name is Longida and he lives in Kenya, the catalog says, and the white goat he’s holding happens to be a much-needed gift to his family, one that’ll help sustain them by providing milk, cheese, yogurt and potential income.

Among the throngs of catalogs that grace our mailboxes this holiday season, few likely offer the sort of gifts that have such far-reaching effects. Mosquito nets, camels, flocks of chickens, bicycles, school uniforms, clean water, mattresses and warm blankets — all are items needed and requested by people in the poorest parts of the world, and can be given directly to them through the ChildFund catalog.

Richmond-based ChildFund — an international organization that works to protect and serve the world’s neediest children in 24 countries on three continents — started the Real Gifts Catalog in 2011, only back then it was called Gifts of Love and Hope. The name changed in 2014.

Within its photo-filled pages are images of real people who’ve benefited from donations, said Brenda Lachance Owens, direct marketing director for ChildFund International. In her six years with the organization, she’s been to Africa five times, including earlier this year. In some cases, she has taken the photos of the gift recipients for the catalog.

Items run the gamut. Mosquito nets and school uniforms are $11 and $14, respectively, while one dairy goat is $99 and a pig is $95. Starter farms — $395 — include two sheep, a goat, six chickens and feed, while a “barnyard of blessings” for $848 includes a cow, two goats, six chickens and a pig.

If families in Kenya, for example, need goats, which happen to be the catalog’s most popular gifted animals, she said, “we will buy goats in country to stimulate the economy, and actually deliver a real goat to a family.”

Beyond animals, a student bicycle is $100 while one mattress with a blanket and pillow is $70. The list goes on, all the way up to $4,500 to build a classroom.

Last year, for example, ChildFund gifted 1,300 goats, 430 bicycles, 62 hand pump wells (which allow access to clean water) and 2,600 mosquito nets.

As Americans, “we have everything,” Owens said. Most people will never see the plight in other countries, so they “have no concept of how helpful some of these things are to a family.”

Donkeys and school uniforms are new to the catalog this year. She explained that in many parts of the world, children are forced to carry heavy water jugs or firewood and other materials for long distances. Having a donkey means the animal can do the heavy lifting instead, which could also free the children’s time for other endeavors, maybe even school.

A donkey is $175; two are $350.

School uniforms, on the other hand, are $14, but the effect is far greater than the price tag, Owens explained. In places like Africa, where school uniforms are often mandatory, she said, the lack of appropriate attire can be a barrier in sending children to school.

“Sometimes, it’s the one piece keeping them out of school,” Owens said. But children are eager to learn because “they know it’s the one thing that’s going to change the cycle of poverty.”

Nicole Duciaume, ChildFund International senior manager for sponsorship partnerships, said she was present at a community ceremony in Bolivia in 2015 when a family that had received a cow two years earlier through the catalog was able to give its calf to a neighbor.

“The original cow was not only a blessing to that one family,” Duciaume said by email, “but it was being shared with another family.” She said the donating family “beamed with pride” as “they had the chance to be the ‘giver.’”

Richmond resident Ed Street has been a ChildFund sponsor for decades, he said, but also has been giving the catalog gifts annually — usually an animal — and often in honor of his friends and family.

“Like most families, our family is fortunate. We don’t really need more things for Christmas,” he said. “I like the idea of giving one of these gifts in their name,” in part, because it encourages the recipients to do the same.

“It’s a very unique gift,” Street said. “Giving a gift that gives ... is much more in the true sense of Christmas.”

For information about the Real Gifts Catalog or ChildFund International, visit www.childfund.org.