After losing their own home in a fire, a mother and son are reaching out to disaster victims across the state, providing them not only with essential supplies but also with messages of hope.
Keli Lynch-Wright and her 12-year-old son, Ashton Wright, co-founded the nonprofit Hatching Hope of Alabama in January 2016. Their home burned down in 2010, and ever since Lynch-Wright and Ashton have been involved with disaster relief. A fire at an apartment building this past Thanksgiving season convinced Lynch-Wright that she needed to start a nonprofit for this cause.
When they went to the property to pass out food and other supplies, Ashton suggested that they get an air mattress from home so that the residents wouldn’t have to sleep on the apartment complex’s clubhouse floor. Lynch-Wright took advantage of Black Friday sales and bought all of the air mattresses that she could afford.
“A lot of times, more often than not, apartment management companies and managers place displaced victims into vacant apartments” Lynch-Wright explained. That’s why Hatching Hope of Alabama provides victims with air mattresses, bedding, a full toiletry kit and a note with an encouraging message.
These encouraging messages often come from Ashton and his friends. “That has just been the most amazing part about it because it brings the younger generation in that’s usually stuck on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4,” Lynch-Wright said. “I mean we have spend-the-night parties over here with my sons’ friends all the time, and all they want to do is pack the kits.”
Lynch-Wright said one of the goals of Hatching Hope of Alabama is to show young people how they can give back to their community.
As an upcoming seventh grader, Ashton wants to become a mechanical engineer when he grows up. He likes to build and play with robots. However, Ashton spends most of his free time working as the co-founder of Hatching Hope of Alabama.
Ashton was only five years old when he lost his home, but he remembers how devastated he felt. He said he turned to prayers and Jesus, as well as a supportive community, to help him and his family get through the loss.
He draws on that experience to help others who have been through similar disasters. “It inspired me because I know how it feels, and I know how other people feel when it happens to them. So that’s why we started it [Hatching Hope of Alabama], so we can help other people not feel like we felt,” Ashton said.
Lynch-Wright could not be more proud of her son and his willingness to give to others. “He’s amazing. Really as a parent, I’ll probably start crying, but it’s the most incredible, overwhelming thing when you see your child reaching out to people like that,” Lynch-Wright said, her voice choking up with emotion.
Lynch-Wright herself is no stranger to the apartment business, most recently working for ApartmentFinder. She wants to pull vendors for the apartment industry, such as pest control companies, carpet vendors and fire and restoration companies, into the Hatching Hope community.
“The resident has put many a meal on our table and many a gift under our tree. And that’s my philosophy. It’s our duty as an industry to support them when they need us. It’s that simple,” Lynch-Wright said.
Several apartment management companies have held fundraisers for Hatching Hope of Alabama at their properties. Recently, the Greater Birmingham Apartment Association granted Hatching Hope of Alabama honorary membership for 2017. The association is also reallocating its disaster recovery funds to Hatching Hope of Alabama.
Lynch-Wright estimates that Hatching Hope has already helped over 100 Birmingham residents, besides providing aid after four fires in Huntsville and one in Montgomery.
On Sunday, June 5, a fire at Ascot Place Apartments on Gadsden Highway displaced about 40 people. Lynch-Wright said this was the largest group of people Hatching Hope has helped so far. When Lynch-Wright and Ashton passed out kits in the clubhouse, the residents began to cry and say things like “This is going to give me a bed to sleep on,” and “This is all I have.”
Melissa Wilson, property manager of Ascot Place Apartments, said that Hatching Hope showed up with essential supplies for the displaced residents. Most of the residents have been placed in empty apartments on the property, and the others are staying with relatives, said Wilson.
“They [the residents] loved them [the kits],” said Wilson. “They said to tell them ‘thank you very much!’”
Amber McKinney, the property manager of Ascot Place’s sister property Mountain Lodge Apartments, was helping out on the day of the fire. “Because they lost everything, just to know that someone cared enough to come out and just bring that, I mean like air mattresses, things like that, they were very grateful for it and excited.”
Ashton said his favorite part of Hatching Hope is helping people get through rough times. When he hands out kits after a disaster, he says, “When we give you these things, this is the start of a new life. This will change your life. This could lead to something good.”
The next step for Hatching Hope is to figure out how often their kits are needed by apartment residents throughout Alabama. There were around 69 apartment fires in the city of Birmingham in 2015, but it’s hard to predict how many units will be affected in each fire, Lynch-Wright said. With a better idea of how often apartment fires occur and how many units are usually damaged in a fire, Hatching Hope can be prepared to serve the entire community.
A report from the U.S. Fire Administration states that multifamily residential building fires accounted for 28 percent of residential building fires from 2011 to 2013. Every year from 2011 to 2013, about 106,000 multifamily residential building fires occurred in the United States and caused $1.3 billion in property loss.
Lynch-Wright’s son shares her enthusiasm for the future of their nonprofit. “I want it [Hatching Hope of Alabama] to look like Red Cross, like United States, like worldwide. I want it to be huge,” Ashton said.
Hatching Hope is always looking for volunteers to put together the kits and donations to buy the supplies. They also need notes of encouragement to include in each kit. “There’s so many different ways that people can make a difference by doing small things,” Lynch-Wright said.
For more information, visit hatchinghopeofalabama.org.