I met Jan Eversole briefly at a Mentors fund raising gala, but I did not get to know her until she joined a Mentors International expedition to the Philippines in November of 2011.  Sometimes you meet someone and they change you forever. Jan is one of those people for me.

A single, working mother of four living children–two others passed away shortly after birth—Jan has worked hard throughout her adult life to provide for her family. When her marriage didn’t work out, she resolved that she would be self-reliant and work out the challenges of going it alone. But how does a mom with only a working class job take care of a home, her own needs, and the needs of her children—and donate a significant amount to her favorite charity at the same time, year after year?

I still marvel at Jan’s ability to look beyond her circumstances and ask, “What can I do?” Jan joined our Philippine expedition with two of her brothers. She had saved painstakingly and over years to cover the costs of the $3,500 expedition. “I had been donating to Mentors and to mothers in developing countries for several years,” she said. “I wanted to really find out about what I was giving to.”

On the trip, we visited several of these hard working mothers trying to build a better life for their families and rise out of the grinding poverty of earning $1 or $2 per day. “It was amazing to see the businesses that some of these women had built to support their families,” said Jan. “Some made purses, handbags, carry bags, and wallets from discarded juice boxes. Others had created small food stands outside their homes. Some sewed potholders, pillows, and dresses. One even created beautiful stuffed animals for children. They were very creative.

“We also visited several center groups where about 30 women in each would meet weekly to receive training, make a payment on their loan, and ask questions about how they could grow their business,” she said. “It was rewarding to meet these hard working mothers who just wanted to find a better way to feed and educate their children.”

A highlight of the trip was when about 600 of the Mentors clients gathered together for a cultural exchange. Jan was asked to speak to the group, and what she said caused a collective gasp from the audience.

“It takes me almost a month to earn my $1,500 annual donation to Mentors,” Jan told the audience of women. “I am a working, single mother and I am not rich. Just like you, I have to work hard every day to feed and shelter my children. I work for a printing company, where we print postcards for realtors and mortgage companies, invitations for weddings, etc. I do customer service, billings, and collections. I do it for my children, I do it for you!”

My parents taught me the importance of caring for others,” she added. “If I can help some of you succeed, I will have done my part.”

You could have heard a pin drop as understanding dawned in their faces. They could hardly believe this kind of generosity. Certainly, this is the widow’s mite, one poor mother told me later.

“Everyone has a choice on how they spend their money,” Jan told me recently.  “Whether it is your nails, your hair, dates, furniture—I choose to give a portion of my excess to Mentors.”

Jan learned about Mentors International through her mom and dad who became involved with the microfinance organization in the mid-90s. They had given money to each of their children, along with a list of suggested charities of which Mentors was one. She opted to give her portion to Mentors. Her brother, Jay, then invited her to a Mentors gala in 2008.

“I was so impressed,” she said. “The next year I saved up, and I purchased my own table. That is where it started. The trip to the Philippines really sparked my interest in the Philippines—the remarkable loan repayment, the follow up, the training, loan requirements, were all really impressive.

“I was also humbled and saddened by the extreme poverty I saw first-hand,” she added.  “I had been to other places in Latin America, but I have never seen such dramatic, cruel circumstances as the Philippines. But I was startled to find out about the imagination, work ethic, and the resourcefulness of these people to succeed. They are happy. I loved that. The opportunity that Mentors gives them to better their circumstances is amazing. I remember the lady who does the fish, who went from nothing to having a business that gives her $130 a day with many employees. She was incredible!”

Two of Jan’s children are now married, and she has three grandchildren with two on the way. She told me that her favorite activity is weeding—pulling out the bad, leaving the good. It seems to me that this has been a metaphor for her life.

“Serving others—building and lifting lives—has lifted my own life,” she said. “My parents left me with that legacy, and I cherish it.”

by Mark L. Petersen, CEO Mentors International

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