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From a Single Act of Kindness

By Kimberly Horg | Photos Courtesy of They Are One

It started with a single thought—which turned into an action and grew into something beautiful and life changing. A group of friends wanted to support a friend who was adopting a child in Africa, so they made the long journey with her, for moral support. After visiting the orphanage, in 2012, and seeing firsthand its need for assistance, the six women formed the group They Are One (TAO), its name inspired by Mother Theresa’s words: “Just begin—one, one, one.”

The women, all mothers, met with the orphanage’s director in South Africa, launching eight years of friendships to date and international and local partnerships. After that meeting, TAO started addressing the large homeless population in their own community by volunteering time at the Salinas Warming Shelter.

“We asked the mothers in the shelter what they wanted the most, and the feedback we received didn’t involve money,” says TAO cofounder Michelle Chisum.

Many homeless women in the shelter indicated that their children need someone to help them with homework—as many as 36 children on a given night. In response, the shelter started a homework club in 2017. Typically, three adults and three high school students assist in this effort. Chisum says that one high school volunteer especially inspires her. The teenager used to be on the receiving end of assistance, and now she offers her time helping other children. “The sense of accomplishment that the children show after completing an assignment or project fuels my motivation to give more of myself each time I sit down to help them with homework,” says Chisum.

Students not only receive help with various assignments but also assistance with school projects and purchasing supplies. Moreover, because the homework club doesn’t cost money, the organization uses some of the funds to send children to YMCA camp. Chisum says that because camp is a safe, controlled environment, it has become a goal to send more children to camp in the future. Other future goals include giving children the opportunity to participate in sports by awarding scholarships for sports equipment and uniforms.

TAO now supports a school in Haiti, where 28 ninth-graders are assisted in their studies. The initiative involves employing teachers and staff. After traveling to Haiti for eight weeks to volunteer, Chisum says that she learned more about the people and culture than during her previous two-week stay. The language in Haiti is Creole, and Chisum had a translator to help her while she was there. She learned a great deal about her assistant, and now TAO assists with his tuition while he is in his third year of college.

TAO’s 10 board members currently host three major fundraisers a year in Salinas: a chili dinner and a raffle, a large rummage sale, and a family fun run.

For more information, to volunteer, or donate, visit


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