One year ago today I took the biggest risk of my life (as in so big I didn’t even tell my parents until it was too late to turn back). A couple of random conversations over a couple of months gave birth to a unique idea-an idea Mantachie desperately needed and one that would give my life purpose.
Even as a kid, I remember loving where I was from and feeling that deeply personal sense of “home.” In 2006 when I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, my home was ripped away. For two days I stayed strong through the uncertainty but the first tears fell when doctors told me that I would most likely be away from home for a couple of years; which meant no school, no sports, and no friends. Over the next 15 months, it was Mantachie, her people, and their prayer that kept me going. Giving up, even on the worst day was not an option, because I had to make it back. At 10 years old, I didn’t really know what all that meant, but I could feel it growing inside of me as the tumor shrunk.
Eventually, I did return home, and Mantachie welcomed me with open arms, continuing to take care of me in new ways. Over the 14 years since though, I have watched countless people abandon her limits, obviously missing that bond I so strongly feel. I have also witnessed staple businesses close while many others struggle to stay afloat. With age came perspective and it was clear my home needed help, and that aid had to come from within.
My entire life the outside world has overlooked Mantachie, and maybe that is why I feel so connected to this place. Cancer affected my life in many ways: how I think, how I feel, and obviously how I look. Disease and the changes it created in me also affected how I have been treated by others. Being taken seriously as a capable intelligent adult, while giving off the appearance of a minor, is a constant struggle. Every day is a battle to be judged for WHO I AM, not for how I appear. I realized opening the market was not just going to fill a starving void for Mantachie, but a void for me all the same.
There have been so many times I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve gotten discouraged. I’ve felt isolated. This year especially, with everything going on in the world, in addition to personal struggle, the road has been anything but easy. The one constant I’ve had throughout has been the store. No matter how far I fall, each new day I am greeted by a host of smiling faces that remind me of why I continue to fight. For me, the store is a daily reminder that I do belong. It shows me that I am strong, I am resilient, and I am valid. It gives me the confidence to believe in myself, despite the negativity in the world around me. The store brightens my life and provides me an opportunity to be a light in the darkness for others’. Sam’s Town Market is a symbol of hope for the future in Mantachie, a promise that some of us still believe in her, the town, and her people.
For me, there is no purer joy than helping the people of my community. Every single day is a genuine honor and an opportunity to give love to the town that first loved me.