SPOTLIGHT: Changing Lives One Move At A Time

SPOTLIGHT: Changing Lives One Move At A Time

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By Martha Rounds

A young woman quietly weeps, her two-day-old child sleeping in a bassinet next to her. She’s just come out of the hospital and can barely walk after the birth of her son. She has no family nearby, and the baby’s father has disappeared. Her landlord has evicted her. The Acton Housing Authority has found her a place to live, and she’s moving today. A dozen strangers pull up with a U-Haul truck; seeing her distress, they assure her she’ll be okay. Then, the SAC Movers carefully place her things in the truck and drive to her new home. They make her bed, bring her food for the next few days, and make sure she’s comfortable; by day’s end, they feel like friends. Many years later, Jim Willis, a leader of the SAC Movers, is approached by a woman in a local store. “Do you remember me?’ she asks. The young woman who the movers helped to her new home is now the store’s manager. Her infant son is on his way to college. “You and your team took care of me while I was in a desperate situation,” she told him. “I thought I was alone — until you showed up. I’ve never forgotten that day.”

For fifty years, the SAC Movers, a mission of the South Acton Congregational Church in Acton, Massachusetts, has moved furniture, boxes, and bags for countless people facing the challenge and disruption of moving. They do not charge for their services. They’ve moved hundreds of people in every stage of life – people who’ve been evicted, young couples with their first homes, unemployed people ejected by their landlords, elders leaving a beloved family house, formerly homeless people, and new immigrants. Faced with today’s brutal economic inequities, many of these people don’t have the resources for daily life, let alone the ability to move on short notice. But the Movers usher people through this traumatic and tender experience, discovering – over and over again – their deep connection to every person they move.

It’s a few days before Christmas. A veteran waits for a group of strangers to bring him, his small dog, and his things to his first real home since he was discharged. For many years, he’s been homeless, couch-surfed with family members, or lived in shelters. The SAC Movers bring his possessions to a one-bedroom apartment in North Acton; they set up his bed and carefully place his boxes where he’ll need them. Finally, the move is done. The man looks around his new apartment, tears welling in his eyes. “Thank you for the best Christmas gift, ever,” he says. ” I have a home now – finally.”  

Each person on the moving team is buoyed by the opportunity to support others with the simple act of moving their stuff at a difficult time. Many movers have been part of the moving team for decades. And the SAC Movers welcome people of all ages, genders, and physical capabilities. Those who are able move heavy furniture; others carry boxes, household items, and small objects. Everyone has a part to play in bringing a family to a new home.  

“We go into someone’s house and move all their worldly possessions,” notes Willis. “You see the dust behind their cabinets, their beds and dressers. You’re not just picking up their boxes; you’re literally carrying a person’s life. And you make a contribution that’s like none other you will ever experience.”

Three sisters, immigrants from South Sudan, joyfully pack for their move to a large condo at Nagog Woods in Acton. A small boy toddles about. The sisters are preparing for the arrival of their parents from Africa. They’ve been in the U.S. for some time, and their parents’ arrival is the culmination of several years of hoping and planning. The smell of cooking lentils pervades their small apartment; one of the sisters is preparing supper for that evening. A large truck and eight strangers pull up; the sisters warmly welcome the Movers, who are here to take them to their new home. The sisters refuse offers of rest, helping to haul mattresses, furniture, and boxes out to the truck. Once the truck is full, they stop at Household Goods, Inc., for lamps and artwork to grace their new home. The sisters and the Movers are energized by optimism and a sense of purpose: now, three generations of this family will have a new and better life in Acton.

After five decades in Acton, the SAC Movers have broadened their outreach to embark on a new venture to expand in eastern Massachusetts. Through a partnership with Household Goods (www.householdgoods.org), the renamed “Mission Movers” are now helping Household Goods clients to move their household items to their new homes: 25% of people who qualify to procure items from Household Goods can’t afford a truck or can’t find people to help them move, or both. But now, the Movers are partnering with other groups who want to experience the joy of doing the “heavy work,” with the Movers acting as trainers and mentors. So far, groups in four towns have signed on to spread the SAC Movers’ message: changing lives by moving people.

An elderly couple clings together in the bed they’ve shared for fifty years. Tomorrow they will leave their home and move to an assisted living facility. Their adult children have taken a few mementos, but the couple are bringing their most precious possessions – her parents’ formal living room set and glass-faced armoires, the art they’ve collected over many decades – to their new home. They know their smaller place will be crowded with furniture, but they’re taking it anyway. Tomorrow, the SAC Movers are coming: they’ll make it work….

To learn about starting a Mission Movers group in your town, or to join the Movers, contact Jim Willis, jim.n.willis@gmail.com. For more information about this story, contact Martha Rounds at martha.rounds@gmail.com.

You may reprint this story by including the following line in your article:  Reprinted with permission from Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, Spotlight


 

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