Making an Impact

Making an Impact

By Ken Walker-

In the blur of “content” zipping by daily through every electronic device imaginable, you might assume that the written word makes little difference.

However, the director of a residential drug treatment center in central Kentucky would disagree. Mark LaPalme of the Isaiah House knows the joy of opening an envelope with a $200,000 contribution, thanks to a story that appeared on a web site in May of 2012.

I wrote that story. It included the account of a well-paid retail manager who got so strung out on pain pills his parents told him to choose: drug treatment or the state penitentiary. Today, he pastors a church in a nearby town.

Ten days after the story posted, a handwritten envelope arrived in the center’s mail. When LaPalme opened it and saw “200” peeking out, he thought it was a check for $200. Since donations of $50 or $100 are common, LaPalme pushed it aside to open the rest of the mail and make some calls.

When he got back to the envelope later, he thought the donation was for $2,000. After a third look his eyes grew wide. There were five zeroes after the “2.” The donation came from a woman in another state. In the check’s memo section she wrote, “To God be all the glory.”

“I don’t know where else she could have read about us,” LaPalme told me. “We didn’t have any prior connection; she didn’t have any relatives who had been treated here or anything like that.”

This is one of those incredible stories that rarely make headlines. The woman doesn’t want any recognition; LaPalme’s calls to thank her were never returned. I can’t say I blame her for wanting to keep a low profile; it is easy to imagine her being besieged with hard-luck appeals were her identity revealed.

Hopefully, no one will think the center is now flush with cash. It has operated for many years on shoestrings and continues to face funding challenges.

For example, it recently opened a women’s facility, which already has a waiting list. Recently another benefactor offered it property in eastern Kentucky, but the board must decide whether they can afford the operational costs.

After all, few clients show up with deep pockets. The only way most get back on their feet is through earnings from jobs during their stay—things like cutting firewood or cleaning up race tracks.

To show you the gift’s significance, in 2011 the center contemplated closing its doors. For three years staff members had received numerous paychecks late. LaPalme doesn’t expect to ever make up some of them.

I found out about the $200,000 donation through a member of the board of directors I interviewed for the feature. To say his call made my day is an understatement.

Although I can only claim a minor role in this chain of events, to play a part in such a thrilling outcome provides the kind of satisfaction that lasts longer than a paycheck.

It also reminds me of a comment I heard last spring at the Ohio River Festival of Books. Julia Keller, literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, spoke on the eve of the release of her newest book, A Killing in the Hills.

After Keller’s talk, I asked her if—with the flood of books on the market— writing them felt like throwing spitballs in the ocean. She replied, “Yes, but you have to keep going. You never know when something you write is going to touch someone.”

So I keep throwing spitballs. I never know when something I write will strike someone’s heart in an astonishing way.


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