Giving thanks: How deserving Columbus residents have gotten help from Dispatch readers

·8 min read

They were all in need, but none of them were asking for help.

Four residents found themselves in need of a hand, because of a pandemic or unexpected vet bills or a desire to connect with family. One wanted to help children in his homeland.

They didn't ask for help. But help came anyway.

It came from those who read their stories and were inspired to send money or encouraging notes. It came from people living across the street or in another state or even in another country. It came from those who they know and those who wished to remain anonymous. In some cases, it came from people who didn’t have a whole lot to give themselves.

Over the years, The Dispatch has written about neighbors in need of help. And as is usually the case, aid has come pouring in from strangers near and far. Those receiving the help are more thankful than most people realize.

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A whole new life

Clarice Kinard talks with her half-sister, Ginny Clingenpeel, of Ocala, Florida, in 2017.
Clarice Kinard talks with her half-sister, Ginny Clingenpeel, of Ocala, Florida, in 2017.

Clarice Kinard was adopted at age 4 after her unmarried parents placed her in an orphanage as an infant. She started searching for her birth family in her thirties, but it wasn’t until she was 76 when another internet search helped her discover she had two sisters.

But the sisters lived in Florida and Alabama, and the expense of making that trip was too costly for Kinard. Then, in December 2017, The Dispatch wrote about her wish to see her family for the first time.

“Without that story and the kindness that followed I would have just been sitting in Columbus,” said Kinard, now 80. “People have no idea what a blessing they gave me.”

Kinard received exactly $3,218 plus $873 in free airline tickets from 27 different people.

That allowed her and a friend to spend a full week visiting her sisters.

But that was only the beginning.

Kinard made five more trips to see her sisters and was connected to a brother and about 30 other family members she had never met in Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and Alabama.

In the fall of 2020, Kinard was able to move to Alabama and be within 15 minutes of her sister, Vicki. That was only made possible after another charitable act.

Kinard fell in love with a ranch home with three bedrooms sitting on almost an acre of land with four pecan trees. It was way out of her price range when she met the 99-year-old woman selling the home.

The woman was so inspired by Kinard’s life story that she dramatically reduced the sale price.

That, combined with selling her home here in Columbus, was enough to allow Kinard to move closer to her family.

Kinard said she has reached out to thank every person who gave her money to make that original trip.

“I have a whole new life thanks to those people,” Kinard said. “I spent my whole life looking for my family, I now have them because of the love others showed me.”

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Paying it forward

Byron Woods cuts the hair of Earl Thompson at his barber shop, Oohs and Ahs Hair Design. When Woods was struggling because the pandemic forced his shops to close, donations flowed in from customers and strangers.
Byron Woods cuts the hair of Earl Thompson at his barber shop, Oohs and Ahs Hair Design. When Woods was struggling because the pandemic forced his shops to close, donations flowed in from customers and strangers.

The barber chairs all sat empty and the bills were piling up for Byron Woods.

The man who had cut hair for generations on the city’s Southeast Side was almost out of money and hope that he would keep his barber businesses alive in the spring of 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic had forced hair-cutting businesses to close, and there was no revenue to cover the rent for Wood’s three operations.

Woods had once survived being shot in an armed robbery at his home about 15 years ago, but he wasn’t sure his livelihood would survive this.

After The Dispatch wrote about Woods’ situation, his mail pile wasn’t just all bills.

He found checks and donations from dozens of people who wanted to make sure he stayed in business.

They included a retired school teacher who wrote a check to Woods for $1,200. She was giving Woods the stimulus money she had received from the federal government.

There was another envelope that looked like a bank advertisement that Woods almost threw in the trash. But inside was a check made out to Woods for $5,000.

It all saved Woods' business.

“It’s really hard to express how thankful I was and still am,” said Woods, 56, owner of Oohs and Ahs Hair Design, Oohs and Ahs Lab, and Oohs and Ahs VIP in the Eastland Plaza.

“I wanted to pay all that help forward,” he said.

The barber has a long history of helping people himself. Woods has been involved in prison ministry for 20 years and has given a second chance to convicted felons by hiring them to work in his hair salons.

Woods is part of a nonprofit organization called Destined Pathways, founded in February, that helps people in Greater Columbus find affordable housing and provides free meals, health care, and other support for disadvantaged children.

Woods, who is a member of the organization’s board, said he is inspired every day by those who helped him.

“I will never forget,” Woods said. “And we can help many more because of the love others had in their heart.”

'It truly was a blessing'

Dorinda Calloway was able to spend three more years with her Sheltie, named Shashe, after neighbors and strangers helped her pay for vet bills when the dog was attacked.
Dorinda Calloway was able to spend three more years with her Sheltie, named Shashe, after neighbors and strangers helped her pay for vet bills when the dog was attacked.

Dorinda Calloway and her little Sheltie dog named Shashe were heading back home after a walk through their Near East Side neighborhood when the pit bull came charging out of nowhere.

The larger dog attacked Shashe, grabbing the 18-pound dog by the throat .

The dogs were eventually separated by bystanders, but not before Shashe suffered severe damage to his neck and spine.

Calloway cried and prayed for three days following the attack, unsure if Shashe was going to live.

The dog would survive, but it would cost Calloway more than $1,000 in vet bills and expenses.

In August 2018, Dispatch columnist Theodore Decker wrote about what had happened to Calloway and Shashe. The help flooded into Decker’s newsroom mailbox. People from as far away as Arizona and California sent Decker checks for Calloway that covered the vet expenses and allowed her to care for the dog going forward.

“There were no words to express how thankful I was and still am for what people did for me and Shashe,” said Calloway, 72, who lives in Old Towne East neighborhood. “It truly was a blessing.”

It took Shashe about seven months to fully heal, but the dog and Calloway resumed walking the neighborhood twice a day.

Shashe would continue being Calloway’s faithful companion for another three years until this past summer, when Calloway was taking a short four-day vacation with family in Florida.

Calloway’s daughter, who had been caring for Shashe, called to say the little dog had died at age 13.

Calloway was initially devastated, and even drank a rare shot of alcohol poured by her consoling son that day.

But she doesn’t want people to think her story is a sad one.

She is instead thankful that their generosity enabled her to have three more years of spending time with her best friend.

And when asked if she would consider getting a new dog, Calloway laughed and said she would consider it — after the cold winter months.

“I’d be open to it,” she said. “But there will never be another Shashe, and I need a break from those cold walks.”

Helping his homeland

Eugene Harmon, a native of Liberia, coaches a group of kids at his Columbus Astro Soccer Club at Nafzger Park on the Southeast Side.
Eugene Harmon, a native of Liberia, coaches a group of kids at his Columbus Astro Soccer Club at Nafzger Park on the Southeast Side.

Eugene Harmon grew up playing soccer barefoot on the streets of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia in West Africa.

As kids, he and his friends did not have fancy gear or a well-manicured soccer pitch. They collected large rocks for goalposts and created field lines and markings out of sticks.

The hard work paid off in 2009, when Harmon was offered a college soccer scholarship and was able to move to the United States to play and earn an associate’s degree in computer science. He now has a career as an IT specialist while living on Columbus’ East Side.

A former assistant men's soccer coach at Bucks County (eastern Pennsylvania) Community College, he is the founder of the Columbus Astro Soccer Club.

But Harmon wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to give other children back in Liberia that same opportunity he received.

Two years ago, he started a soccer program called the Zion Astro Football Academy (zionastro.com) in his home country to remotely mentor about 60 Liberian children ranging in age from 12 to 15. So far, Harmon said he has paid tens of thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to keep the program running.

“The youth in Liberia had no opportunity and no one to direct them to the right path,” said Harmon, 33, who also coaches a soccer team here in Columbus with many immigrant children from African nations. “Soccer is the most popular sport in Africa, so I decided to use it as an instrument to get the kids’ attention and push them to stay in school.”

Harmon had never before received a donation for the program until people read about his efforts last month.

His first donation was for $26 from a man in Oregon.

“When I saw the $26 I was almost moved to tears,” Harmon said. “That $26 can feed two children three meals a day for two days. It meant a lot.”

Harmon reached out to the donor and set a up a call between him and the children in his program back in Liberia.

After that call, the man from Oregon sent Harmon another $100.

“I wanted him to see where his money was going,” Harmon said. “I believe in the power of learning from one another, and helping each other no matter where we might come from in the world.”

Dispatch reporters Ted Decker, Ken Gordon and Yilun Cheng contributed to this story.

mwagner@dispatch

@MikeWagner48

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Stories of generosity from Columbus Dispatch readers through the years

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