Story by MaryJane Mudd, American Red Cross
The Reverend Dr. Leonard Favorite is tall and engaging, with a welcoming smile and eyes that hold your glance so you know he cares about what you have to say. He gives bear hugs – especially to those with whom he’s volunteered during disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Isaac, Rita and Ike, Tropical Storm Sandy and tornado-stricken Alabama and Mississippi. He walks with purpose into the Red Cross Hurricane Harvey disaster operation room with a knowing glance – he’s done this before. He’s driven by it. It’s his purpose.
“I knew when I was nine years old that I had a ‘pursuit of a notion,’ that I would serve God by serving others,” says the Louisiana native. “I’ve stayed the course, during my years in the Air Force and then 40 years as a minister. The American Red Cross has allowed me to continue that pursuit many times; this time, by offering comfort to those who will soon be departing Red Cross shelters.”
Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall, the Red Cross has offered more than 434,000 shelter stays in Texas and Louisiana. Many weeks later, in Houston where Favorite is volunteering, the two final shelters are set to close. While residents have choices of living arrangements presented to them by valued partners positioned for longer term support, shelter residents are afraid – and that’s where Favorite comes in.
“It’s important to me to help individuals recognize the rainbow in the storm. To pull back the blinders and the shades of suffering to see the positives about themselves and what’s happening around them,” says the father of six and grandfather of nine. “I sit down with them. I listen. It can take a while to earn their trust but I will spend the time necessary. I want them to feel life again.”
Favorite’s first experience with the Red Cross was during Hurricane Katrina, when he volunteered individually and observed the Red Cross at work. He was impacted by what he saw as the “enormity of the mission” carried out by the organization. In time, he helped create a memorandum of understanding between the Red Cross and the National Baptist Convention USA Incorporated to ensure a partnership of volunteerism during disaster.
Over the years, Favorite has deployed around the country for numerous disasters, this time with his wife, Cheryl, who is visiting shelters with her husband.
“What we are doing is identifying and connecting with those persons who feel they have nowhere to go. Their home is the street,” says Favorite. We’re trying to see what their interests are, what their expectations are. I want to help them explore new options for what their future lives will be. I want them to know ‘You’re still alive!’”
Long after the Gulf Coast recovers from the floods and Hurricane Harvey is a thing of the past, this man with the gentle smile and kind eyes will continue to serve others. The pastor who is now 63 will never forget the nine year old boy who had a pursuit of a notion…one he will follow for the rest of his life.