vol•un•teer: “A person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.” That is the textbook definition of the word, but once you meet Becky Young and hear the amazing story of how she turned a $100 yard sale into a foundation that is feeding, sheltering and educating hundreds of abandoned children, you expect to see her picture right there in the dictionary.
The Apex native was living a full life back in 1998 — wife, mother, full-time employee, church volunteer — but “something was missing in my life,” Young recalled. After hearing a pastor from South Africa speak at her church about street children who had literally been “thrown away,” left naked and eating out of the trash in Mabopane, a poor industrial city just north of Johannesburg, her life began its 180-degree turn.
“I just cannot describe the yearning I had to meet these children,” said Young. “At 2 in the morning I would have visions of these children who needed someone to hug them and kiss them and tell them they were loved … and I wanted to be that person.”
Six months later, taking a huge leap of faith, a woman who once described herself as “insecure” and “dependent” made plans to travel with a group to Mabopane. What she found there, in their dirty faces and bare feet, was both heartbreaking and endearing. She left her shoes there … on a young girl’s feet. She left her heart, too. But back home in North Carolina she kept asking the same question.
“Lord, this is so big. How could I possibly make a difference?”
Young started small. She wanted to buy as many shoes as she could for the children at the Love in Action and Good Hope shelter homes in Mabopane, but her family lived paycheck to paycheck. So they looked around their home for items they could sell and held their first yard sale out of their home in Pittsboro. They made $100. Fifty of that was eaten up to wire the money overseas, and the other $50 bought shoes. It was a start. Before long neighbors heard why she was having yard sales.
“All of a sudden we would find donations on our doorstep for the next sale. It grew and grew and grew,” marveled Young.
Young became the bridge that connected the deep well of need in South Africa to the generous hearts in North Carolina, and in 2003, the Mabopane Foundation was formally established. Today, a brick ranch on a sparse stretch of Highway 64 in Apex is home to yard sales held every second Friday and Saturday and last Saturday of each month. On those days, you will find Young and other volunteers enthusiastically sharing the story of the Mabopane children with shoppers.
“We try to tell each child that shops in that children’s room, ‘You buying that toy is helping us feed one of these kids or send them to school,’” explained Young. “I really believe that all of our volunteers are really helping others to think outside of the me, myself and I.”
Contagious Volunteer Spirit
Although the scope of her work as president of the Mabopane Foundation has grown exponentially over the years — she is now working on building a village of homes to house children from infancy to young adulthood — Young’s pay has remained the same: zilch!
She works more than full time, even paying her own travel expenses by baking and selling butter pound cakes, and she’s not alone. All the workers with the Mabopane Foundation, including lawyers, accountants, Web designers, painters, sale sorters and office workers, donate their time, talents or treasures so all the money raised can go to the children.
“The example she sets for volunteers is not explainable. I know of no volunteer who gives of themselves so unselfishly,” said Charles McLaurin, Mabopane Foundation board chairman. “When I see her in action I find myself doing a re-evaluation, which in the process causes me to want to do more.”
That must be why a mother-daughter team shows up every month to work the yard sales, why a local family donated all the proceeds of their “downsizing” sale ($7,000), and why an old cotton farmer from Spivey’s Corner met her on the side of the road in his pickup and pulled a $10,000 check out of his bib overalls and pressed it into her palm, leaving them both in tears.
Young once wondered how her volunteer efforts could make a difference. Today it is easy to see how that difference multiplies with each child who achieves success.
“These children are going to make a difference in their country. They are already,” Young said in a voice filled with love and pride. “These kids, against all odds, are making it … and it’s so worth it.”
To learn more about the Mabopane Foundation, visit www.mabopanekids.org.