Formed in June 2004, the Sundari Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-denominational, public charity organized for educational and charitable purposes and dedicated to promoting the education, advancement and social inclusion of poor, disadvantaged and homeless women and children. The first initiative of the Foundation was the establishment of the Lotus House as a free, non-denominational, resource center and residential facility for homeless women and infants in the heart of one of the poorest neighborhoods of Miami, itself one of the poorest large cities in the United States. Overtown was selected by the Foundation because of the overwhelming need of women in this impoverished community for shelter, support, resources and civic engagement in the face of a gap in the continuum of existing services. Since that time, Lotus House has served well over 650 homeless women and infants, coming from hospitals, safe houses, rehab centers, prison, temporary shelters, and straight off the streets.
In the spring of 2007, Lotus House opened a special maternity building, dedicated to serving women who are homeless and pregnant and their infants. During 2008, the Foundation completed the rehabilitation of the Resource Center building, which provides common programming and training space. In the fall of 2009 the Foundation opened Lotus House Thrift in order to help fund the shelter and provide a job training program and employment for alumni and residents of Lotus House. In September of 2010 Lotus Wellness Center opened, a free on-site health clinic, staffed by volunteer doctors, which provides access to basic health services and referrals to uninsured women and children at Lotus House. Most recently, the shelter celebrated it’s expansion of a new residential building, increasing the number of women and children served to over 100 daily with the combined facilities.
With respect to the Lotus House guests’ anonymity we would like to share a story from one of our young volunteers instead.
“Bal Harbor to Overtown” - The bell rings at 3:05 Friday, and most of my friends and fellow students are rushing to their cars to get ready for another unpredictable night ahead. As I rip out of the Gulliver parking lot and race home to get my clothes for the weekend, I receive a phone call from who is saved on my contact list as “mothership”. I turn down the loud house music and roll my eyes apologetically to my friends, while thinking, what does she want now? After a short conversation of moaning and complaining, I slam my iPhone back into its charger and hang up on my mother. I let my friends know our Friday plans are ruined and I need to take them home. My mom wants me to go to the women’s homeless shelter that her public relations firm represents pro-bono. Oh great, not only will this ruin my Friday, but this will also be unpleasant, awkward, and uncomfortable. That Friday was the first day I set foot into The Lotus House shelter in poverty-stricken Overtown. That Friday was the first day of a better life not for the women living in the shelter but for me.
Four o’ clock arrives on the torching hot Friday, and I pull up to the pastel-colored building surrounded by serene fountains, trees, and flowers, I think to myself, this place does not belong in Overtown. I hesitantly step out of my Range Rover and instantly start feeling uncomfortable and out of place next to the poor old woman, no younger than seventy, resting breathlessly and perspiring profusely on her ancient bicycle. I begin to feel uncomfortable. I know she should be resting; she should be the one in the air-conditioned luxury vehicle. After I stick my jewelry and watch into the glove compartment, I hop out and walk towards the pure white picket-fence outside Lotus House. I am nervous. I am afraid. “Wow, I am a coward!” I hesitantly push the gate on the fence open only to be cheerfully greeted by dozens of glowing women, young to old, all smiling from ear to ear. As I loosen up a little, I start to realize this might not be so bad after all. Stuttering a bit I ask how I can help; I’m going to paint the children’s faces while their mothers graduate from their cooking class.
While I sit in this hot garden taking in the sound of laughing women, playing children, and the song “Stand By Me” playing faintly in the background, my mind starts to wander. I strike up a conversation with one of the women graduating and taste her carrot-ginger soup, I think out-loud, “The soup is delicious.” The six foot tall black woman looks at me with moist glittering eyes, and hesitates before asking if I meant what I said. I insist that I am enjoying the orange puréed concoction and watch the salty tear race down her cheek. I hope what I see is sweat because if she is crying, I am going to feel awful. As she wipes the tear off her face, she stutters as she mumbles softly when she says, “No one ever told me they liked my cooking before.” This woman deserves the world, and I want to give her the shirt off my back and the over-priced designer shoes on my feet. She deserves them more than I do, and I want to give everything to her and all the other radiant women in the yard.
I feel a gentle tap on my lower back. I spin around only to look down to see the smiling little boy staring up at me. He looks calm, happy, safe, and innocent. As he tugs on my hand and frantically asks me to paint his face into spider-man, I start to feel good, no great! Where have my emotions been hiding? I paint the boy’s face with bright red and blue paint and watch him jump around his mother insisting he has come to save her. Little does he know she is saved; she is at Lotus House. These women have been beaten and broken from all forms of domestic abuse, to rape, to drug addiction. I will help these women. I have a new mission.
I went home that day with a new outlook on life. I changed what I had learned to value for years in just a few hours. I was devoted. I was committed. I was in for the long haul. A few months later, the Lotus House Support Club was opened at Gulliver Preparatory School. Ever since that hot summer day I dreaded so much, my mission has been to give to and to fight for every-woman residing at the shelter. I feel gratitude towards my mother and the women at the shelter for helping me see. I love what I do, and I am finally proud of myself for the right reasons.
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