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There are multiple paths to a life of volunteering, but few have been more torturous than the road taken by Melanie Washington.
"I had been weaned on blame," explained Washington. "Since childhood, I had experienced so much pain and suffering that the only thing I knew was to point the finger at myself."
At age ten, Washington witnessed the point-blank murders of her mother and sister by her stepfather. When he turned to her, the gun jammed and she was spared. After graduation from high school, she married an abuser who later was murdered by a gang member. And then in December, 1995, one of her three sons, Dee, was murdered by a gang member he had befriended.
The four murders sent the Long Beach, California resident into a downward spiral, and soon she was homeless and addicted to crack cocaine.
Finally she bottomed out. After a failed suicide, Washington started going to the California Youth Authority to counsel two of the teenagers who were present at her son's murder. The experience was transformative.
"Going into the prisons, giving them love, respect and family, the intangibles of life they lost in their youth, gives me the greatest joy," she said.
In 1999, Washington formed Mentoring A Touch From Above (MATFA) to provide mentorship and other services for kids who are already in the California Youth Authority system.
Typically, she said, this population has a 55% recidivism rate. But kids who are mentored through MATFA have a remarkably low recidivism rate of 8%. Most of MAFTA's volunteers come from VolunteerMatch.
Today, in between her day job at the Boeing Company and finishing a college degree at night, Washington spends every waking moment working to grow MAFTA's reach. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed: in 2002, she was honored by the White House.
Yet there is something more to her story that gives most people great pause, and sometimes makes them uncomfortable. It's that she found a place in her heart to do the unthinkable by forgiving the boy who killed Dee.
"I can't hate you," she told him. "Dee loved you, and so I must love you too."
At VolunteerMatch, we've seen many times how volunteering can change a person's heart and lead to stronger communities. Find an opportunity that's meaningful for you: Log in today!