Trailblazing: Giving Hope & Help
Jessica McClellan founded Giving Hope & Help in 2013. It is “a non-profit organization that supports domestic violence survivors, provides essential resources to end period poverty, empowers college bound and non-traditional students, and inspires cancer patients.” Jessica notes that she is following a tradition of service. Her great-grandfather, R.L. McCallop, was the founder of the first Black-owned bus company in Shawnee, Kansas. His focus was on providing transportation for Black students, ensuring that they could attend school and be educated. She said, “My family has come from slavery to school buses to scholarships. It’s impossible for me not to serve. It’s in my DNA. Onward with my life’s mantra: ‘Live to Give.’”
Giving Hope & Help provides period products, underwear, and other essential items to more than 30 domestic violence shelters and other places of refuge in the metropolitan Kansas City area and in Texas. These products enable women to take care of their hygienic needs while maintaining their dignity. On December 11th, the organization donated $31,000 worth of supplies to eight local venues. Courtney Thomas, the chief executive officer of Newhouse Shelter, said, “No matter the season, Jessica always shows up to support [the] community. She has the ability to bring diverse groups of people together… . When we weren’t certain that period products would be available during the pandemic, Jessica and Giving Hope & Help were there for us.”
Giving Hope & Help also sends products to other countries, including Africa, Cambodia, Haiti, Mexico, and the Bahamas. More than 50,000 recipients have benefited. Jessica created the LOVE Bags 4 Cancer initiative to honor the memory of her late niece. At the time it was launched in 2015, the plan was that the bags would be given to hospitalized cancer patients on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. That was successfully accomplished for several years in partnership with four Kansas City metro area hospitals. Due to the pandemic, a change was made in May 2020: now, nominations are accepted, and the bags are mailed to recipients.
Education is highly valued by Giving Hope & Help. The organization has an annual scholarship initiative, The Education Is Your Passport Scholarship Program. The beneficiaries are high school seniors in underserved areas and non-traditional students who are preparing to attend college. As Kierra Broadnax, a recipient, noted, “I’m so happy to have received this scholarship. It has helped take a bit of the load off regarding paying for college that is just a big stressor for students like me. My family appreciates the support as well, and I’m forever grateful.” Beginning in 2015, Giving Hope & Help has awarded 79 scholarships, including four full-ride scholarships to Metropolitan Community College – Penn Valley. In collaboration with Ryana Parks-Shaw, Kansas City, Missouri, City Council member, Giving Hope & Help donated 2,300 backpacks filled with school supplies as part of Operation Backpack in August 2021.
There are many roles for volunteers at the organization, including serving on “Dream Teams,” which support the various initiatives, hosting a party where supplies from Giving Hope & Help are packed by the partygoers into bags for distribution by the organization, hosting Facebook fundraisers, and more.
Renee Sutherland, board secretary, said, “Giving Hope & Help has done a phenomenal job since its existence of providing quality service that is effective, efficient, and timely to those in need. This truly is an organization for the people and speaks volumes about service to all.”
Featured in the March 19, 2022 issue of The Independent.
By Heather N. Paxton
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