As written by Christine Collins – Founder/Executive Director Pay It Forward Farm.
I am 53 years old, live in Spring Hill, Florida, and have been married to my husband Paul Rauch for 12 years. I was born in Kentucky to Lloyd George and Nannie Ellen Collins. I have two biological children, three step children and five grandchildren.
In 2010 I became the Founder and Director of the Pay It Forward Farm, a non profit organization that provides support and assistance to single mothers and their children. This is a mission that is close to my own heart. My husband, Paul and I founded this organization in honor of my mother, Nannie Collins. Like our Pay It Forward Farm Members, my mom was a single mother. My father died when I was 6 years old, leaving Mom to raise 6 of their 9 children all by herself. Mom had a 5th grade education, no outside work experience, and very little money. She was faced with what seemed to be insurmountable odds against her. Yet with a steadfast determination to provide a good life for her children, Mom managed to raise us all on just a stipend from Social Security. We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat and clothes to wear. I don’t think that growing up I ever realized that we were poor. As a matter of fact, with as little as we had, Mom always managed to find enough to share with others. It seems that there were always extra children and sometimes whole families either at our dinner table or living in our home. Mom was a caregiver. As the old cliché goes, “she didn’t know a stranger” and she never turned anybody away from her dinner table. I like to think that her generous spirit was her legacy to me.
This isn’t to say that Mom and I had a perfect relationship. As a matter of fact, we butted heads on more than one occasion. It was that adversarial mother/daughter relationship that gave birth to the dream of the Pay It Forward Farm. And, that is what it was, literally, a dream. One night, I believe that God spoke to me and said “stop fighting your mother and honor her instead”.
The next morning, I said to my husband Paul, “Honey, I think God wants me to heal my relationship with my mother. I believe that God wants me to start an organization in mom’s honor to help single moms and their children”. Paul, who is the real hero in this story, didn’t hesitate. He fully supported my dream and together, we stepped out in faith, sold everything, emptied the savings account and we literally “bought the farm!”
I did not always have a great husband like Paul. As a matter of fact, I was a single mother myself for many years. I lived in government subsidized housing next to crack cocaine dealers. The set of duplexes that we lived in were on a septic system that routinely backed up into our living room. My only transportation was a bicycle which I rode with my son in tote to the University of South Florida where I earned my Bachelors Degree in Economics and Political Science in 1991. During this time, I lived on the proverbial “system”. I collected food stamps, AFDC, and was on Medicaid. However, I was very fortunate to have been the recipient of many acts of kindness from others.
One instance in particular, I remember riding my bike to the food stamp office (we did not have the luxury of EBT cards) and then back to the University for one of my Economics classes. Somewhere in between the time I picked up my food stamps, dropped off my son at daycare and got to my class, I lost my purse. All of my food stamps and my AFDC check were in my purse! I was devastated! I told one of my classmates what had happened and she, without my knowing, took up a collection from our fellow students and the next time our class met, presented me with gift cards to a local grocery store and more than enough cash to make up for my loss. This was truly an act of kindness that I never expected!
One thing I learned as a single mother is that anything, I mean ANYTHING is possible when you have the right attitude and the right support system. I was blessed to have both. And now, as the director of the Pay It Forward Farm, I am on a mission to provide support to women who are committed to invest in themselves, in their families and in their community!
This journey is not easy and, certainly, we still have a long way to go. But this labor of love, which started out as nothing more than a dream, has come a long way in 3 years. We have helped women earn their GEDs, enroll in college, secure jobs and become better mothers and citizens of this community. We normally serve between 12 to 15 families at a time which includes approximately 15-25 children.
When I talk to people about the farm there are always some common questions that arise. The most popular is “What do you grow on the farm”. Well, we use the term “farm” very loosely. We have no crops and no farm animals (other than a rooster and a chicken). What we do have is 10 acres of land, several dilapidated buildings, very little money, but a WHOLE LOT OF DREAMS!
The second most popular question is “Are you a shelter for women?” The answer is no. However, we do have an extra room in our home (and future childcare center) that is usually occupied with a Mom and Child who need some help during a transition period. We currently have a young mother and her 3 year old son staying on the farm with us.
Another frequently asked question is: How do the women find you? Our members come to the farm through many different avenues. Some are referred by social service agencies, some by friends and family and some we just pick up at the grocery stores.
And finally, “What do you offer your membership?” As the old Chinese proverb says “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day … teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime”. Just imagine what happens when you teach women and children to fish! That’s what we do … we teach our members how to fish.
Our membership program is set up with a progression of levels, Novice, Intermediate, Senior and Master. At the master level, our members should be well on their way to sustainability with a commitment of “Paying It Forward” to the newer members and to the community. We do not believe in entitlements at the Pay It Forward Farm. Each of our members are required to complete volunteer hours both on and off the farm. They also are required to participate in educational activities including goal-setting sessions, Microsoft-training classes, public speaking, conflict resolution and more.
Our members learn to work independently as well as part of a team. They are given opportunities for leadership and are encouraged to think outside of themselves.
We are on a mission to “re-claim” the Women’s Arts and have the good fortune of having women from the community come in and teach cooking, sewing, quilting, crocheting and more. We host bi-weekly “Lunch and Learns” in which members of the community visit the farm, share lunch with us, and teach the members about various topics.
Love and kindness are the core values at the Pay It Forward Farm and we try to thread those values through all we do. We are proud of our new Breaking Barriers series, which is designed to help us shed negative and discriminatory thought patterns that hold us back from reaching our true potential and connecting with our fellow human beings.
I think this quote by cartoonist Scott Adams expresses what we are trying, every day to accomplish at the Pay It Forward Farm, “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” My life has been enriched by the “ripples of others”. I am just simply “Paying it Forward”.