Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. HEATHER BRIGHT of Mahomet is a professional volunteer, friends say, giving her time and passions to the homeless and those in need within the local community. She talked with staff writer Paul Wood about what she does and what others can do.
Where did you come from and how did you get here?
I grew up in a small town, Lovington. While growing up, we only moved across the small town once while I was in grade school. Although we lived in Lovington, we traveled regularly, driving across the country to see family in Texas, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Florida and more. Family was a major priority in my life then and now. I graduated from Lovington High School in a graduating class of 42 students. After high school, I was offered a competitive volleyball scholarship to Lakeland College in Mattoon. I moved into an apartment in Mattoon fresh out of high school as an 18-year-old ... it was the first major move in my life. Unfortunately, I had an injury that prohibited me from continuing to play volleyball. In response, I chose to leave college. I packed up my things, ready to move to Texas, but my then-ex-boyfriend (now husband) called me up asking if I wanted to see him again. I explained I was moving to Texas and he had one week to convince me otherwise. Let’s just say he did a great job convincing me otherwise as I have been happily married for 28 years and counting. We have remained in central Illinois much of this time.
Any family stories that helped mold you as a person?
I had an amazing set of grandparents on both sides. My mom’s dad, grandpa Dean, owned Gaddise Shelter Care, which was a nursing home in Lovington. I spent many hours in the nursing home with the elders who lived there. I really enjoyed getting to know the residents, and empathy grew in me as I listened to their stories. I was able to take the time to get to know them and learn what made their heart smile. When I returned for visits, I would bring small gifts and other items to the residents to bring them joy. I wanted to make them feel special. Reflecting, this is what I am trying to do with those in need at this time.
And on you dad’s side?
My dad’s parents were “modern-day gypsies” who didn’t have much when they were growing up. However, they always found a way to ensure that those around them had everything they needed. My grandparents lived across from the railroad tracks. At times, homeless individuals would hop on the train unnoticed and then hop off near my grandparents’ house. My grandparents would welcome them into their home for a hot shower, fresh laundry and a bread sack so they could have a small meal on their way.
You’re an unofficial liaison between organizations such as the Hope Center, CU at Home and Merci Refuge. How do you find missions they can do in common?
Each of these organizations finds needs in the community and meets them in different ways, even while working on the same project. For example, the organizations are partnering to make Humanity Paks. Humanity Paks are packs with hotel/travel size shampoo, conditioner, soap, razor, lotion and Q-tips that are provided to “friends without an address” (homeless individuals) when they are in need of a shower. Hope Center created storage and work space for the project. Now, Merci Refuge members volunteer two hours each Monday to sort, assemble and pack over 300 packs each month. Once the packs are assembled, CU at Home picks up the packs from the Hope Center and takes them back to their building to be used for their hot showers. By taking the time to listen to each of these organizations’ needs, I can help to find a solution to a problem and help the agencies become more efficient, effective and productive. At this time we are still in need of travel size and hotel size donations.
What can people do to help?
There is a huge need for donations to help those in the C-U area. I am in the process of seeking out local individuals to donate hotel/travel toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash, soap, razors, etc. Many people have these items in their homes after a trip and they get tossed. However, we would love to put them to good use in the community. You may deliver items to the Hope Center (1802 N. Lincoln Ave., U) on Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or call 217-607-5654. You can check out the Hope Center's Facebook page.
Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?
I try to eat very healthy for every meal, choosing the most nutritious foods. However, if someone put a fresh hot Bavarian pretzel with processed spicy nacho cheese dip and a cold beer in front of me, I would not turn them down.
Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?
I would love to go to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. It seems like it would be an adventure like nothing I have ever experienced before. If we get excited about a sunset or a sunrise, can you imagine how fabulous seeing the Northern Lights would be?
Tell me about your favorite pet.
I loved Caramel ... my teddy bear hamster that I had for three years in junior high. She would snuggle with me and lay on my stomach while I napped staying there by my side until I woke up. It was adorable when she would fill her little cheeks with carrots and apples. She eventually got so sick that I needed to feed her with an eyedropper. When she passed, I could not go to school that day so my mom planned a funeral for her to help me process. I have not had another pet since.
What would you order for your last meal?
Linguini with white clam sauce, a bottle of Chianti wine, a loaf of garlic bread from the Pearl bakery located in Portland, followed by chocolate flourless cake.
Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?
Albert Einstein. I admire him for his fortitude and determination even during difficult times. He did not let a little failure keep him down. According to what I understand, he did not talk until he was 4 years old. It was like he was absorbing all of the fascinating things around him and processing getting ready to make a true impact on the world.