STILL KICKIN HERO APRIL 2018
EVERY MONTH, OUR PROCEEDS SUPPORT A NEW PERSON OR ORGANIZATION WHO DEFINES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE STILL KICKIN.
AND SIMPSON HOUSING SERVICES.
This month’s Hero story is a bit different.
We know, we’ve said that before. But that’s because it’s true.
Jerry McNeal is an 81-year-old high school running coach and teacher’s aide. He doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon… and he doesn’t want our support or our merchandise proceeds or any of your donation dollars.
But he knows exactly where that money should go instead.
When Jerry and his wife were in their mid-50s (aka at that point in life when couples look forward to retirement, traveling and enjoying the fruits of their labor), they adopted their two young grandsons. And promptly started that whole raising kids process all over again.
“It made a lot of sense for us,” Jerry told us. “The decision was made on one question: Do we love them? Yes.”
As one might expect, adopting the boys changed Jerry’s life. He retired early from Dayton’s to spend more time with the kids. (Minnesota people, raise your hand if you remember Dayton’s.) He volunteered as a reader at the boys’ school. A paraprofessional job opened soon afterward, and Jerry retired from retirement and became a teacher’s aide (a job he’s now held for 21 years).
And all of this was incredibly rewarding. However, the boys went through quite a lot before being adopted by their grandparents, and throughout his adolescence and high school years, one of Jerry’s sons (whose name we aren’t including for privacy purposes) faced mental health and substance abuse issues. There were many ups and downs, as is common in situations like these. During one of these “up” periods, Jerry’s son completed rehab. He got a degree. He and Jerry co-signed a mortgage on a house and were excited to fix it up together.
Then came the “down” period. Jerry’s son relapsed. The debt accumulated on the house they’d planned to remodel. Jerry’s wife developed memory issues and needed to be moved into assisted housing. Jerry was eventually able to sell his son’s house, but at a major financial loss.
This part, right here, is where we would normally tell you that your support this month will help Jerry tackle the debt incurred from helping with his son’s house (not to mention those years of mental health and substance abuse treatment).
Jerry, however, has other plans.
When we first reached out to him, Jerry explained that while yes, he took a “pretty good hit” when he cleaned up and sold his son’s house, that debt “will be taken care of in a couple of years.” The financials of wife’s memory care are being handled just fine, he said. Jerry recently moved in with one of his other children, and as we mentioned before, at 81 years old, he’s still working as a teacher’s aide and running coach.
“All of those other [Hero] stories? Those people needed help," Jerry said. "I don’t. I’m doing okay.”
We tried to insist Jerry's situation was definitely one that could benefit from a little extra support, but you try arguing with a kind and generous 81-year-old and let us know how that goes.
That’s when Jerry brought up the idea of giving this month’s proceeds from Still Kickin’s merchandise and event sales and donations to Simpson Housing Services, a Minneapolis nonprofit that provides assistance to people experiencing homelessness.
It’s an organization Jerry knows well, as he’s been regularly volunteering at Simpson for more than 20 years. He started with monthly overnight shifts, to help provide the guests a safe place to sleep. He then added on monthly meal service assistance. Over the years, Jerry has witnessed the shelter go from basic mattresses on the gym floor to bunks and lockers for guests to store their belongings. The shelter also provides access to showers, laundry and on-site health care.
“When the housing crash came, I started seeing such a wide variety of people come through there,” Jerry says. “And I realized that it could be any of us tomorrow.”
And Jerry’s son? He’s doing really well. He’s been sober for about a year and a half, which is amazing. Oh, and he also volunteers at the shelter.
“The cycle’s come full circle,” Jerry says. “He’s gone through the training at Simpson and has started doing overnights, which of course tickles his dad to no end, that he’s keeping that going.”
So this month, though we’re honoring Jerry for the wonderful guy he is, your support will be going to Simpson Housing Services, an organization very close to Jerry’s heart.
“They’re helping people who, at this point in their lives, need a hand. They need a safe place to be,” Jerry says. “Giving back is a lot more rewarding than taking."
Written by Jordan K. Turgeon