MILWAUKEE — A crucifix hangs on Rose M. Cook’s wall that was never there before. To her, it is a reminder not only of Christ’s sacrifice, but also a reminder of the ultimate charity given to her by the organization, Both Hands.
Both Hands is a national organization that centers on James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The group concentrates on care for the widow, while raising money to save the orphan through adoption.
On Saturday, Oct. 15, a group of 15 volunteers arrived at Cook’s house with their own supplies to do any repairs or cleaning that she needed.
After her husband died, Cook thought that she’d get some repairs done on the house “when her ship came in.”
Volunteers worked on Cook’s house, while raising money for Lifesong For Orphans through sponsorship. While many causes ask for sponsors while they golf or run, Both Hands raises money for adoption while working on a widow’s home.
JT Olson founded the Bentwood, Tenn.-based foundation with that idea in mind. Olson, president of an executive search firm, Haystack, Associates Inc., for 10 years who prior to that, had spent 23 years in sales and sales management, was looking for sponsorship for another cause when a friend returned his letter saying he’d support him if he was working on a widow’s house instead of playing golf. This message stayed with Olson for three years, until one of his friends was looking for a way to raise money to adopt four children from Moldova.
Olson and friends recruited others to work on a widow’s house, while raising money for the overseas adoption. Local businesses donated supplies and Both Hands was born. That first project raised around $55,000. “Both Hands is how God can take a terrible, tragic mess and turn it into something beautiful,” said Olson.
He sees the importance of the Both Hands’ mission first hand. In 2003, he adopted his daughter from China. Also, when he was 12 years old, he and his four siblings, lost their parents in a car accident. Olson’s aunt and uncle took the family in. Therefore, Olson said that not only does he know what it feels like to be an orphan, but he also knows what it feels like to be rescued and blessed.
Cook, 90, is a charter member of St. Gregory the Great Parish on Milwaukee’s south side, now knows what it means to be blessed as well.
Olson, who went to college in southern Wisconsin and has family here, thought Milwaukee was a great place to do what the organization calls, a “Big Build” fundraiser. Big Builds, like the project on Cook’s house, benefit the Lifesong For Orphans general fund, while other Both Hands fundraisers benefit specific families hoping to adopt. Fundraisers have taken place in more than 30 states.
Since its beginning in August 2008, the organization has raised more than $1,150,000 for adoptions through its partnership with Lifesong For Orphans.
“It’s a business plan only God could think of,” Olson said.
Heather Schneider, also a member of St. Greg, worked with Olson during college. Schneider’s friends Chris and Christina Fugman, also of Milwaukee, organized the Milwaukee Big Build, after their mutual friend, Olson, had approached them about it.
Schneider contacted Chiara Sainer, pastoral associate at St. Greg to see if there were any widows in the congregation that would benefit from Both Hands.
When Sainer approached Cook about Both Hands, Cook couldn’t believe it at first. She kept thinking “Why me?” and “What will it cost me?” She had a hard time believing that an organization would come and do repairs on her house free of charge.
“This was an act of God that I was chosen,” said the widow of eight years.
Sainer had never heard of Both Hands when Schneider approached her, but she thought of Cook, an outgoing, retired school teacher, whose face still lights up when she talks about her previous students.
At first, Cook just had a few small jobs in mind for the team, but after a visit from the volunteers, more projects were discovered. By the end of the Saturday, the group had landscaped around the brick ranch, installed a doorbell and cleaned extensively the Milwaukee widow.
This was the first time Schneider has been involved in a Big Build. “We spent the day changing the life of a widow,” she said.
Beyond the gift of charity, Cook said the Catholic spirit was apparent in the caring way the group got along.
“When they were here, you could feel the Holy Spirit’s presence,” said Cook’s daughter, Pattie Nielson. “They had the real Christian spirit of helping and giving.”
Cook is grateful of the foundation’s generosity. “I cannot tell you how satisfied, how appreciative I am of all the help they’ve give me,” she said.
Schneider sees how Both Hands is different from other organizations. “This is so different asking to be sponsored for something so meaningful,” said Schneider. “It’s great to know how much we’ve helped Rose.”
“So many widows are hurting, and so many churches do not know how many there are in their congregation,” Olson said.
How much did the Big Build raise for Lifesong For Orphans? Checks are still coming in and there is still time to donate.
“There are a lot of people that want to adopt but a lot of people just can’t afford it,” Schneider said.
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