Keli Lynch-Wright and her son know how it feels to lose everything. Now, they’re making sure others in the same situation have something right after a disaster.
As she sat in her car on the morning of Sunday, June 5, 2016, Keli Lynch-Wright broke down and sobbed.
She had just watched her son Ashton, then 11, deliver a comfort kit to one of the survivors of a devastating fire that had taken place late the night before at Ascot Place in Birmingham, which left 60 residents displaced.
“Do you know this is all I have?” the woman had cried to Ashton.
Ashton returned to the car, comforting his mother. “Mom, we’re doing good things,” he told her.
Wright explained to him that the tears were a good cry—a combination of nostalgia, empathy for the survivors and gratitude for the loving kindness she saw in her son. Wright and her family had lost their own home to a fire right before Easter Sunday in 2010.
“They believe it was something in the electrical panel down in the basement,” Wright recalls. “The compassion of the community and Ashton’s classmates helped keep us focused on moving forward. It’s just one of those things where you have to move forward. You learn a lot about what you can let go.”
Then, on Thanksgiving Day 2016, 20 units burned down in Hoover Place, leaving 80 residents displaced. After watching people sleeping on the floor of the clubhouse, Ashton suggested going home to bring an air mattress, which led to them ordering 56 air mattresses online for the residents. All of these experiences and her own career in the apartment industry led Wright and her son to launch Hatching Hope, a disaster relief organization that serves the entire state of Alabama as well as parts of Florida: Tampa, Orlando, Pensacola and Boca Raton.
“What we provide them is what they need to take refuge: an air mattress, blanket, linens and toiletries,” Wright says. “We fill in the gap between what the American Red Cross and the insurance companies do. We’re such a tight-knit organization that we’re often the first to get there.”
Hatching Hope also dispatches volunteers to assist with disaster relief and clean-up, as well as resources to help survivors dealing with post-traumatic stress and depression.
“We try to provide resources for them because they don’t know they’re there. They feel defeated very quickly,” Wright says.
Everyone gets the comfort kits, but they also personalize them.
“Baby backpacks are a huge hit because that’s not usually something they have when this happens,” Wright says.
As part of Hatching Hope’s Little Kids Doing Big Things program, children can get involved as well by helping make personalized kids’ activity kits.
“Children can come in and decorate boxes. They even write pen pal notes for the kids. It shows and teaches them how to give back to the community.”
Watching her son comfort a young boy while at Ascot Place also inspired her to start a teddy bear adoption program, where small teddy bears wearing Hatching Hope T-shirts can be purchased and given to children who are survivors of a fire. Wright says she loves watching children express kindness and empathy to others, especially other children.
“That’s the most powerful thing a child can say to someone: ‘I know. This happened to me, too, and it’s going to be OK.’”
Since its launch, Hatching Hope has helped over 2,700 families and their pets in Alabama. The Florida chapters just opened earlier this year. The “Nest” is located at 374 Shady Acres Road in Alabaster, with a thrift store “Marketplace” next door.
“Everything is new or consignment quality,” Wright says. “People can come in and shop for pennies on the dollar.”
Wright says her focus now is on empowering and educating people on fire prevention. In November, she will be speaking at the National MultiHousing Council, where she will speak for the first time at a national level. She also plans to network with the National Fire Protection Association to take part in the HEROES Experience, an innovative public fire and life safety education attraction, as part of a new facility across from the tank farm exit on Highway 52.
Now with more than 2,400 Facebook followers, a Twitter feed and an ongoing relationship with news media, Wright says she plans to see Hatching Hope launching in more states.
“It’s a beautiful process,” Wright says. “It’s a great way for people in the Birmingham community to plug themselves in.”