Reaching Out And Handing Up 9

Reach Out Lakota Creates a Bridge to Tomorrow

“It’s a hand-up, not a hand-out.” That’s how Lourdes Ward describes the services she and her team have been providing at Reach Out Lakota for more than 23 years.

Reach Out Lakota’s mission is to give a hand-up to those in need throughout West Chester and Liberty Township.

“We could hand out a bag of food to families and send them on their way, but that’s just a band-aid. That’s not getting to the root of the problem,” explains Ward, who serves as Executive Director of the 24-year-old organization.

Reach Out Lakota’s services include providing food, clothing and supplemental grocery needs like hygiene or cleaning products. Each client must participate in a series of required classes and meet with individuals who teach them about finance, insurance, emergency and workforce services.

“We want to look at the whole picture. We want to know as much about a client’s situation as we can so that we can help them to move forward,” Ward says. “Our hope is that we can help bridge the gap between today and tomorrow.”

In order to apply for assistance, a client must either live in West Chester or Liberty Township, have a child enrolled in the Lakota School District, or be a registered member of a participating church. Clients who qualify can receive clothing once a month and food and supplemental items three times a year.

Ward says she often hears the misconception that people in the West Chester community don’t need help or assistance meeting the needs of their families, when in reality she says, many do.

“My hope is that people realize that circumstances happen to all of us, no matter the neighborhood you live in,” Ward says. “It could be you, your family member, or someone you know.”

To continue providing for the community, Ward recognized last year that she needed someone to focus solely on fundraising and development. By being 100% community-based and funded, raising awareness is a necessity. Ward introduced the organization’s second full-time employee, Peyton Gravely, whose passion and experience of working with non-profits has been a major asset to the organization.

Gravely is focused on growing partner relationships and fundraising efforts through the organization’s five annual events: the Shamrock Shuffle, Corporate Food Fight, UCBMA Food Truck Rally, Celebrity Waiter Dinner and the Santa Suit Fun Run. Many of these events have become cornerstones of the West Chester and Liberty Townships communities.

“We are truly community-supported. Every time someone donates, volunteers or even hits that ‘like’ button on Facebook, it helps us,” Gravely explains.

His hope for the future is that Reach Out Lakota continues to be a welcoming place where local residents know they can come in for a helping hand.

“For a lot of clients, it took a lot of life happening for them to come in here. It’s not easy,” Gravely says. “But sometimes you just have to say, ‘Please.’”

Both Gravely and Ward encourage community members to take action in whatever way they feel most compelled. If it is working in a soup kitchen, volunteering at a church or participating in a Reach Out Lakota fundraiser, Gravely says people should get involved.

If you are interested in helping Reach Out Lakota, they are now accepting donations of new and gently used clothing, including winter jackets, scarves, gloves and boots. For more information on how to donate or more ways to get involved, visit the Reach Out Lakota website. ReachOutLakota.org