Granite Shoals resident Charity Rose Parker looks for ways to spread kindness. She often passes out small cards with encouraging messages such as ‘Spread Kindness like Confetti’ to those around her. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley
In 2019, Granite Shoals resident Charity Rose Parker went in search of an extra pair of men’s size 14 shoes for a 19-year-old homeless man who lost all of his possessions when a flood in Marble Falls washed out the area where he had been sleeping.
“I figured there was a tall guy out there who would help,” Parker said. “We ended up finding someone and got him a nice pair of shoes within the day.”
The homeless in the Highland Lakes is “a population that isn’t always seen,” said Kelli McCord, the McKinney-Vento liaison for students experiencing homelessness in the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District.
Finding exact statistics on how many people experience homelessness in both Llano and Burnet counties is difficult, likely because of the nomadic realities related to the issue. However, by the end of the 2020-21 school year, Marble Falls Independent School District identified 95 students who qualify. Burnet CISD identified 50.
“I think a lot of people are surprised (at the numbers),” McCord said.
More than 27,000 people in Texas are homeless, according to 2020 statistics from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. The number is even higher when referring to students, sitting at roughly 114,000 statewide.
To qualify as a homeless student, individuals must lack a regular and adequate nighttime residence. This includes those living in homeless shelters, hotels or motels, cars, and campgrounds as well as students who are staying with another family because of financial issues.
Parker, who works with the homeless on her own as a self-motivated caregiver, doesn’t have any numbers to provide, but she sees more than she wishes.
“When you’ve actually got the eyes for it, you’ll start to recognize (homelessness and those in need) everywhere,” Parker explained. “You start to notice all the people hurting in your community that you’ve never seen before, and then you start thinking of ways to help whenever you can.”
Parker’s interest in the issue began during a 2018 family trip to Corpus Christi. She and her sister, Dee Heffner, witnessed several people without homes preparing to spend the night beneath the city’s bridges. The siblings prayed for guidance on how to help. She believes God answered their prayers by showing them small but powerful ways to touch the lives of others.
Parker said she has learned a lot about human nature working with the homeless. People without a social safety net can become skittish around those offering help. They don’t want attention, and they don’t easily trust.
“If you’re willing to listen, and I mean genuinely listen and treat everyone with respect, people will talk to you,” Parker said.
Through her personal ministry, Parker has spent time with homeless people in the Highland Lakes where they gather, whether under bridges, behind buildings, or along creekbeds. She brings food and clothing and listens to their stories. Through patience, respect, and time, she learns why they are on the streets and can better identify ways to help.
The cycle of homelessness is difficult to break, Parker said. Someone without a home may try to work toward a better quality of life by applying for aid or a job, but without access to showers, clean clothes, a home address, a bank account, or even copies of birth certificates and other necessary documentation, it is almost impossible.
Parker and her sister worked together helping those in need until Heffner died last winter. Parker said their shared mission holds a deeper value for her now. She views her work as a way to keep her sister’s kindness alive.
“It was easier when she was around,” she said. “We could split up the work a little more. I miss her a lot, and I think of her every time I meet with someone.”
Parker believes that need is everywhere, whether it be financial, emotional, or physical. Everyone, no matter their social status in life, could use a little kindness. Sometimes, it’s those little things that count, she said.
As she goes through her day, she does things like tape dollar bills to vending machines and bags of microwave popcorn to movie kiosks. She leaves bottles of laundry detergent on washing machines at laundromats and passes out ‘Spread Kindness like Confetti’ message cards.
Parker, a single mother of four sons, encourages everyone to look for little ways to help those around them, saying that even a smile or a considerate word can brighten someone’s day.
“I don’t see what I do as anything special,” she said. “Everyone can do it, and it’s just what we should do. I’m called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and this is how.”
Area residents can help by volunteering with organizations such as the Highland Lakes Crisis Network. For information on how to get involved, visit highlandlakescrisisnetwork.com or call 325-423-3662.
Those interested in learning more about student homelessness within the Highland Lakes or who wish to provide physical and monetary donations may contact MFISD McKinney-Vento liaison Yarda Leflet at 830-798-3654 or firstname.lastname@example.org or BCISD liaison Kelli McCord at 512-756-2124 or email@example.com.