Martha and Margarito Aguilar remember the Sunday four years ago when a group of women walked into their Florida church during a Bible class.
The group had walked a few blocks from the Auburndale Bridge Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program†, an alternative to incarceration that helps women recover from addiction and re-enter communities.
Martha and Margarito talked with the group and asked for their prayer requests. Many of the women shared their pain of being separated from their children as they worked toward rehabilitation and getting their lives back on track.
“Even to this day, their prayer requests are heart-wrenching to me,” Martha said. “They could be praying for their child who was growing up without them and living with somebody else, or praying for their child who is struggling. It makes me cry just thinking about it.”
Margarito also was moved. “There was a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, a lot of recognizing the mistakes they made,” he said.
Finding a way to help
Martha and Margarito wanted to do something to support the group. They found out families visit the residents during holidays, and there was a need to increase the positive activities available.
“That’s why we decided to help,” Martha said. “To make it more fun for the families, but especially for the kids.”
The Aguilars and their 12-year-old son, Sebastian, created mini carnivals four times a year during holidays. Spending their own money, the Aguilars put together games and crafts and offered face painting, toys, prizes and candy for the families to enjoy.
In recognition of their volunteer work supporting these women in need, the Aguilars, who are Amway Independent Business Owners (IBOs), are being honored with the Amway Family Hero Award for Generosity.
It’s one of four Amway Hero Awards given to honor IBOs who build stronger communities and make positive impacts in the lives of others.
A family struggle
Martha grew up in Florida and some of her family members struggled with addiction and successfully went through rehabilitation.
“Probably because of what I’ve been through, I just feel a heartache when I see someone in that situation, so I want to give as much love as I can,” she said.
Margarito feels the same way. “I don’t like to see the kids being sad,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the reason is—it’s not their fault.”
Sebastian goes to the family days, too. He sets up his own table with checkers and tic-tac-toe and plays anyone, child or adult, who will take him on.
“I like hanging out with the other kids, getting to talk with them and getting to know them,” he said. “The kids get to be with their moms, and they really enjoy it.”
Giving them love
Veronica Ogbeifun worked as a chaplain at the Bridge for two years. She said many women need encouragement, and the Aguilar family has shown them genuine compassion, helping them emotionally and spiritually.
“They talk to them, minister to them, show them love,” she said. “They’re patient and kind with them. They make them feel welcome without having a judgmental spirit or looking down on them.”
And the family expects nothing in return, Veronica added.
“They don’t do it for status, power, recognition, none of that,” she said. “They’re so faithful and committed.”
Volunteers play an important role at the Bridge, said Kenuated Clarke, executive director of the program.
“The mission of the Bridge could not be accomplished without the generosity of individuals like the Aguilars,” she said. “They donate their time to the ladies here, which is pivotal for their success as they transition from the treatment program.”
A helping hand
Support has grown for the Aguilars’ efforts. Other members of Martha’s family help at family days, and Bible study classmates pitch in financially. The Aguilars also attend graduation when residents complete the program and give every woman a Bible as a graduation gift.
“A lot of times when they graduate, they may not have a family member there, so we’re there to clap for them,” Martha said.
The Aguilars also help them make a smooth transition, providing funds and transportation or collecting furniture and household items while the women try to find work and a place to live.
Tosha Esham is one of the program graduates who is thankful for what the Aguilars have done. Her 7-year-old son visited her on one of the family days, and he loved the games, getting his face painted and playing in a bounce house.
“They were amazing for the family days and amazing with the children, with the candy and toys and all the things they did,” Tosha said of the Aguilars. “It was really memorable for him.”
And that’s what motivates the Aguilars to keep up their efforts.
“Talking with the children, loving them, making them feel special, seeing them smile – I love that,” Martha said.
†Auburndale Bridge Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program is part of Bridges International®, which is a registered trademark of Bridges of America, Inc. DBA Bridges International.