Calling: A Gift Wrapped in Red Tape
A Getting Ahead Story—Written by Dr. Gary Riggins, The Caring Place Board of Directors

Finding that thing one is divinely “called” to do is a gift, but it’s often wrapped in lots of red tape. This is a story of the long bumpy road one single mom traveled to find hers.

Lana Jones is the medical assistant who greets desperate, anxious patients at the Karis Community Health Clinic, who like her just a few years ago, are fresh out of options.  It hasn’t been that long since this high school dropout and single mom of three (ages 13, 9, and 4), was on the other side of counters pleading for basic human services. Like so many in our community, she was backed into a corner by a series of bad choices and circumstances, most beyond her control. How she got on this side of the counter is a testimony to true grit and grace.

She grew up in a comfortable, loving family with a strong faith-based foundation.  They packed shoe boxes for children in faraway lands and adopted angels on their church’s Christmas tree. Poverty, with all of its implications, was a bloodless statistic she learned in school. That all changed her senior year of high school. At 17, she got pregnant and became one of those faceless, unnamed statistics. This baby’s father, like both of the other two fathers, was overwhelmed with the new responsibilities and walked out.  In turn, all three of these absentee dads left Lana to assume all of the responsibilities and obligations of caring for their children.  She had to quickly learn the ropes of basic survival. She completed her GED and learned to read the fine print on applications for social services. In the hectic chaos of most of the last 13 years, she has not only survived, but now she’s beginning to thrive.

Lana could have easily given up. What balanced the odds stacked against her was her gritty determination to meet obstacles head on.  The only thing missing was the opportunity. That opportunity came when a friend took her to The Caring Place, an oasis for those like Lana almost out of hope. Although she desperately needed the clothes and groceries they provided, she knew those were short term solutions. She needed a plan. She picked up a flyer advertising a new class of “Getting Ahead,” The Caring Place program that paid qualifying participants $25 dollars per class to develop resources designed to lift folks out of poverty. She almost quit reading after the $25 dollars. “Wow!” she thought, “that’s gas money and supplemental groceries.” In the classes, things changed.  She formed lasting friendships with people, who for one reason or another were just as desperate. Together they learned the basics of budgeting and the possibilities it offered a family. She tackled the assignments with the same vigor she read the fine print of conditions for assistance. Lana leaned into the message of the class.  She intended toget ahead.

After graduating in 2018, she went to work in a series of medical offices and soaked up every training opportunity they offered. As an ambitious and dependable worker, her reputation grew.  In the early spring of 2021, a medical arm of the existing Karis Dental Clinic was proposed and Lana’s name was at the top of their interview list. When it opened in August of 2021, it was the warm face and confident voice of Lana Jones that welcomed Cleveland’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised. With the skill and compassion of one who has “been there,” she gently helps them decipher the jargon and untangle the knots in medical red tape.

The path that led to her “a calling” was at times lonely, full of disappointment, and with long stretches of rough road. Along the way, she rediscovered her childhood faith that has provided a light in the dark places and hope at the dead ends. Looking back, even the struggles along the way were blessings. She now does soul-satisfying work that has led to owning a car, a spacious apartment for her family, and most importantly the chance to go home at the end of the day to three beautiful children that make it all worthwhile. A line from Kung Fu Panda sums up Lana’s experience, “yesterday is history…tomorrow’s a mystery…today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.” Come to think of it, gift packages wrapped in red tape seem oddly appropriate this time of the year.

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