A seed of an idea can blossom into something much bigger and better.
Monica Sigmon and her partner, Michael Taylor, have experienced this lesson firsthand over the past few weeks as they’ve been planning a charitable event that eventually grew into the Grove Summer of Love.
The Summer of Love started as a plan to do some good, somehow. “Michael and I have friends all over the country who go overseas doing community work,” Sigmon says. “About a month ago it hit me – why go out of the country? There are enough people in need right here.”
The Grove community in James City County was at the top of her list, so Sigmon decided to focus attention there. “We wanted to do something for the families in Grove. We’re firm believers in the power of the family portrait – it’s something that’s handed down over generations, and is part of a family’s history.
“But many families in Grove don’t have this. Some don’t even have school portraits [of children]. There are many multi-generational families there, and they have no record.”
So, Sigmon and Taylor decided to offer free portraits for families, and chose to give every member a copy of the photos. So far, 77 families are signed up to have their pictures taken on August 6.
The duo started talking about their plan to their friends and folks in the greater Williamsburg area, and things started to snowball.
The Carousel Children’s Boutique offered to hold a clothing drive through the end of July so families could have speciall, new outfits to wear. Silk Salon offered to donate free hair and makeup services so families could look their best, and Blink in New Town offered to do a school supplies drive for Grove children.
But the group wanted to do more than just the photos. “We were so excited,” Sigmon says. “This started out like any small idea, and then it just swallows you up. Instead of just doing portraits, we thought, how can we have a bigger impact?
“So we decided we wanted people in the community to get out there and celebrate Grove.”
After the photo session on August 6, the residents of Grove and the greater Williamsburg community will be having a Community Celebration Day, an idea that attracted more offers of help. Custom Culinary Connections will be organizing a cookout, and Williamsburg Event Rentals will be providing some fun kids’ activities, like a bounce house and face painting.
Sigmon and Taylor talked about their plans with their friend, local builder Jeff Fisher of J.H. Fisher Construction.
“I’ve been talking to my wife for years about paying it forward,” says Fisher. “I said to myself, ‘Jeff, you’d better get off your butt and do something for the community to show how much you appreciate all that you’ve got.’”
Fisher, who has been in business for over 20 years, decided to offer his services free of charge to help residents in Grove who need home repairs. He’s traveled to the area twice already to meet with about nine people.
Projects he’s agreed to take on include fixing or building a few handicap ramps, two bathroom remodels, one mini kitchen remodel and several heating and cooling projects. He will get subcontractors who he works with to donate supplies.
One Grove resident Fisher met with has no air conditioning in his trailer. His wife has cancer, and the man is ill and can’t install a unit. Another family has one member who is in the hospital and will need a handicap ramp once the hospital stay is over.
“These little fix-ups will make a big difference,” Fisher says. “We overlook this area in our community. It’s easy to forget about because we don’t see it.
“I’m trying to grab a couple of hands that are reaching out, and help pull them to shore. It feels good to do it.”
Fisher saw some abandoned trailers in the neighborhood and is now figuring out a way to have the owners donate them to residents in need after he has repaired them.
The people who are helping to coordinate the Summer of Love are working closely with the Grove Christian Outreach Center. GCOC Executive Director Pat McCormick is excited about Fisher’s projects.
“This was such a surprise to us and wonderful blessing,” she says. “Many people in Grove don’t have the resources to make necessary repairs to their home to make them safe so Jeff’s willingness to give of his time, resources and to enlist his friends in this endeavor in a priceless blessing to our community.
“It’s like having our own ‘Grove Extreme Makeover’ event!”
McCormick says the residents of Grove “are very excited about the entire event. When we tell them about the portrait sessions, some of them are in awe and wonder that someone would come and do that free of charge. Many of these families have never had a family portrait taken and would never be able to afford to have a quality portrait done by a professional photographer.”
One grandmother whose young daughter has two-year-old twin boys said they haven’t had pictures of the boys taken since they were babies, according to McCormick.
She says the folks at CGOC were very excited and touched when Sigmon first explained the idea, and things are coming together already.
“Having this outpouring of kindness and love invade the Grove community will certainly have a tremendous impact on our community,” says McCormick.
“The people of Grove are wonderful people and I’m looking forward to seeing new friendships and partnerships emerge from this great time together. Since before we came to Grove eleven years ago, we’ve always called this the forgotten part of James City County – I think this event will change that!”