I’d never been anywhere like the San Antonio Clubhouse, a non-profit organization that provides work for people with chronic mental illness. And I’d never met anyone like JoJo, the young man with the great hugs and golden heart.
After coaching my ladies’ CrossFit class on Friday, two athletes/friends of mine and I carpooled to the Clubhouse for a meeting with the organization’s directors. (I’ll have to devote a future blog to this exciting brainstorming session!) Just seconds after stepping into the foyer, we were greeted with uncommon alacrity by a rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed and bespectacled twenty-something man named JoJo.
Wearing a baby pink baseball cap, oversized purple t-shirt and baggy shorts, JoJo promptly and proudly began guiding us through the pristine facility, expertly providing us with facts and figures regarding the organization’s history and powerful impact on the community. We saw the kitchen where the zucchini and banana bread are baked and then delivered by JoJo and others to nearby needy households, as well as the list of tasks and chores written on a gigantic dry-erase board beside which JoJo beamed as he pointed out his name assigned to several duties, including computer repairs.
Last but not least, we were led to a multi-purpose room adorned with Swiss balls, a Bowflex machine, an assortment of cardio machines, a few rows of folding chairs, and a big screen TV on which we viewed this video telling us a bit more about the Clubhouse (have Kleenex on stand-by!).
After the video ended, my friends and I curiously probed our gentle guide for more information about his own history at the Clubhouse. He told us that eight years ago, he failed out of St. Mary’s University after his mind “systematically” checked out of academia “never to return.” After JoJo was diagnosed with both Asperger’s and bipolar disorder, his parents couldn’t seem to handle his mood swings or help him through the hardships. They sent him to live in a hotel, alone.
When JoJo first became a member of the Clubhouse, he was detached and disinterested. Rather than interact with the staff and other members, he’d escape into his portable DVD player and watch Tim Burton movies. Now, he not only pounces on the opportunity to give tours to Clubhouse visitors and befriend prospective members, but he also gives free hugs in downtown San Antonio, near the Alamo.
About this Saturday pastime, JoJo says: “It’s just a little kindness — everybody needs a hug.”
Kindness. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “a kind deed;” “the quality or state of being kind.”
Fun Fact: JoJo’s last name is Webster, and he is a direct descendant of Noah Webster, the founding father who published the famous dictionary I reference nearly daily!
JoJo credits the genuine and persistent kindness of a staff member at the Clubhouse with his own graduation from shell-dweller to hug-giver.
“The way to connect with me is through kindness,” JoJo said to us, with equal parts childlike innocence and philosophic simplicity.
Throughout our meeting with the Clubhouse’s directors, I couldn’t stop pondering that statement, or the word kindness and its astounding ability to transform the broken, beat-down, and abandoned into effervescent individuals who offer hugs to the hurting in their spare time.
“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” (Proverbs 12:25)
I thank God for introducing me to JoJo, a young man who hasn’t let the abuse and neglect of others rot his bones with bitterness or darken his days with despair. JoJo is showing – not merely telling – the community how lives are changed for the better…through kindness. I pray to bear more of this sweet-tasting fruit.
Stay fit, stay faithful ~<3 Di