Kathy Nelson wrestles with hope versus despair almost every week of her life.
Hope keeps winning.
I'm an optimist, but as I watch Kathy and see how she hangs on, I'm not sure I could be as faithful to convictions as she is.
Kathy and her husband, David, are real estate agents. People come to Southwest Florida wanting a piece of this paradise for their very own. The Nelsons are very happy to help them find the perfect place.
But one thing they learned early on is that some people can't hope to have a piece of paradise. Often, they don't even have a home. Or they lose the home they had.
When the economy collapsed a few years ago, even those who thought they would never be homeless found themselves desperate. You can't pay for a home if you don't have a job.
"We kept seeing people fall into bad circumstance. We thought they just needed a little help to get back on their feet," Kathy says.
That's when they conceived the idea of providing transitional housing to families at risk of homelessness. The Nelsons said they felt called by God to tackle the problem.
They decided to start a foundation, using 10 percent of the gross profits from their realty business. Through good times and bad, they stayed true to that mission.
Finally, they had 14 units of housing to offer to those willing to work the program. They made it clear it wasn't a handout.
Clean, pretty homes would be given to a struggling family for two years, but they had to keep a job and take classes provided to help them better their situation.
Mostly single mothers trying to raise children on their own applied.
We can curse the darkness, or we can light a candle. The Nelsons are lighting candles as fast as they can.
I interview them periodically, and I'm always amazed how they keep plugging away without getting discouraged.
The latest setback happened last week when they had two people vacate the homes that were provided for them.
One woman was asked to leave when she wouldn't follow rules. The final straw came when she was arrested for drugs.
The woman left, all right. But not before she wreaked havoc on the place. She tore out fixtures, pounded large holes in every wall and left behind a legacy of filth.
So much for saying thank you for the chance she was given.
That makes me angry and discouraged.
But Kathy says the one that really broke her heart was the older woman she was helping back to financial security. "She was older, seemed quite reliable, and I thought everything was fine in her house," Kathy said.
Instead, when the woman left, Kathy discovered she had cats that used the entire place as a litter box.
"The smell assaulted anyone as soon as they opened the door," Kathy said.
Now, please know Kathy and her husband get no government funding. They had to pay for all the damage out of their retirement savings a retirement they postponed so they could continue helping people.
Let me ask you this: Would you be willing to go on helping people after that, or would you rethink your mission?
I guess it depends on your religious convictions.
It is her strong faith and her belief in helping others that keeps Kathy in the game.
This week, I interviewed her again. This time her program is being hailed after a success story made everyone happy.
Lynn was a smart, hardworking single woman trying to support her young daughter. She got pregnant in high school and earned her GED after the baby was born. Although she worked at a banking job for six years, Lynn knew she would never be able to have a place of her own if she stayed in the low-paying job.
She applied for a college scholarship and got it. But where could she live while she went to school? And how could she buy groceries and meet her daughter's needs?
In stepped Kathy, who gave Lynn a beautiful new apartment and helped with basic food.
This time, Kathy's faith in people was justified. Lynn graduated with honors, earning a nursing degree as well as a good-paying job that will allow her to finally afford a place of her own.
"I get uplifted by success stories like that," Kathy said. It's those success stories, she adds, that keep her going.
One of the things I absolutely love about my job is being able to rub shoulders with good people like Kathy.
Yesterday I interviewed a woman who works six days a week as a cook. On her day off, she again stands on her feet, cooking at a homeless shelter. She's been doing that volunteer work at the shelter for 15 years.
"I want to give back," she says, explaining there was a time when she, too, struggled for the basics and knows the meaning of hunger.
I sometimes get tears in my eyes when I interview people like that.
Grateful for what they have, they express their gratitude by helping others.
Some go through life only working to have more.
Others go through life with grateful hearts determined to give more.
It's those good people who give us all hope as they work to make a better world.