My name is Belinda Ashley. Twice in my life, I have seen the inside of a shelter as a resident. The first time, I was a kid. I don't really remember how old I was or even how we got there but I do remember seeing other families with children there. I remember sometimes hearing the mothers talk of how they'd lost or left everything after some tragedy or another and seeing children who'd lost their toys and the teddy bears they used to sleep with before they got there.
Then, in 1998, when I was 19, I was in a shelter again for nine months. It was there that I started learning self-reliance. The shelters teach the residents life skills, professional skills and help us get back on our feet.
Since then, I have never gone back as a resident.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself until, in 2009, I fell into a state of disillusionment after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and my world was shaken. I lost my focus.
For a year, I felt angry and bitter at the world. I didn't see the point of fighting so hard if life would be so unfair. Then, something happened. I was idly watching one of my favorite TV shows about Bollywood, hosted by Obaid Kadwani. I'd been a big fan so I decided to Facebook him. I was shocked to find that he also has a charity project called A Slice of Hope, where they throw pizza parties with live music in homeless shelters around the country. Their whole point is to feed the body, energize the spirit with music and put a spotlight on the good work that shelters do all year!
Feeling kinda silly and not really expecting Obaid to respond, I wrote to Obaid to tell him how important these parties would be to shelter residents. When I was in the shelter, we were blessed to have food, but it was rare to have an event that we could look forward to, where the whole point was to lift our spirits and the parties had music and dancing! It was an event for us. We had nothing else!
I asked Obaid to throw a party in Life Center of Eastern Delaware in Upper Darby, where I'd been a resident. I told him that I was still struggling myself but that I really wanted to do this for the shelter's current guests and that I'd volunteer as much time and effort as he wished.
Well, he wrote back! I still have my Facebook message from June 15th, 2010. He said there was no money in the budget, but that he'd still make the party happen somehow since it meant so much to me.
It was crazy! Here was a known TV-person making all this time just to help people. To spread some hope and joy. To make people care about each other as human beings. And to do it as a big Celebration of Good.
I decided to collect whatever little donations I could, even though Obaid wasn't expecting any. I asked the boss at my catering, I asked friends, I collected a dollar and two dollars here and there. I felt like it was my time and way to give back to the very place that helped me to get on my feet and stand on my own! Since A Slice of Hope's motto is "$1 sponsors 2 pizza slices and live music," every dollar was going to make a happy memory for someone.
I was going to get to meet Obaid for the first time at the party on June 17th, 2010. Obaid normally only goes to the New York parties since all the parties across the country happen in the same week. However, he told me he'd make sure to come to this party as he was inspired by me! Which was crazy (and exciting)! I never thought I'd meet anyone I actually watch on TV. So it was kinda like the icing on the volunteer cake for me.
The shelter's director was so happy to see me as were many of the volunteers and we all exchanged hugs. Obaid had arranged for a full band to volunteer to play at the party. People were dancing, children were clapping and singing and I just thought that many of these children will have this happy memory as they grow up.
And I helped create it.
When I met Obaid, we hugged and I handed him the envelope with $96.80 in it. Obaid went around telling the shelter's director, Mr. James Shelton, and all the volunteers about what I'd done. Everyone was congratulating me and Mr. Shelton couldn't stop smiling and telling me how proud he was of me!
Then we all sat down at a table with a bunch of kids and ate the Dominos pizza together and clapped with the music.
Since then, I've been the official host of the party at the Life Center of Eastern Delaware. I still struggle with Multiple Sclerosis, but I have a new purpose in life. I will do whatever I can to help people. People that I never knew have helped me, so I will help people back every chance I get.
I want to help A Slice of Hope raise as much money as possible so that they can inspire and help people throughout the country. This year, Obaid has started working with CrowdRise and that's allowed me to set up my own fundraiser to help A Slice of Hope. I called it Belinda's Slice of Hope.
I really want to be able to throw parties at the women and children's shelters that my shelter is affiliated with and as shelters that house children.
Children in shelters rarely get to have parties. They usually have only their most basic needs fulfilled -- somewhere warm, a place to shower and eat. People often forget that they are still children. This makes the parties that A Slice of Hope holds even more necessary.