Antioch family hopes one day to repay kindness of strangers
By Lou Fancher for San Jose Mercury
Although the children at Lafayette's St. Perpetua School have years of schooling ahead of them, there's one advanced degree they've already earned: masters of generosity.
Working with Concord-based Shelter Inc., an organization aimed at preventing homelessness in Contra Costa County, the students and their families have adopted the Samuals, an Antioch family in need.
On April 5, after a whirlwind, 24-hour sign-up had struck down a mighty list of needed furnishings and household goods weeks before, the St. Perpetua community delivered. In a home that had formerly held more family than furniture, beds, chairs, a dining set, dressers, dishes, linens, clothes, sports equipment and gift cards for future purchases arrived as part of a well-planned rescue.
Shelter Inc. event coordinator Chris Flitter said the response from the school's Mission Effectiveness program was unprecedented.
In 2013, Shelter Inc. assisted 1,552 households, helping them by providing rent support, budget analysis and solid planning for retaining their homes and health in the future. While working with the Samuals as clients, they discovered the family of five was living with four folding chairs and mattresses on the floor for beds. Shelter Inc. put out the call for help. One day after coordinating with Monica Byers, one of three volunteer parents leading the private Catholic school's ME committee, all the family's needs had been met.
"We had people coming back and asking, 'Isn't there more we could give?' " Flitter said. "These kids are giving things from their own closets and homes. They're giving new life (to their belongings) by sharing them with a family who doesn't have things. To know how and to whom they are giving completes the circle. There's a sense of community beyond their own rooms."
Joshua Samual, in an interview one day before receiving the goods his family has been living without, said being helped by people he doesn't know -- specifically, strangers from an affluent, largely white community, helping an African-American family striving to overcome misfortune -- proves "love knows no race."
Born into poverty, with 10 brothers and sisters, a drug-addicted mother and a father who struggled to house his family in an abandoned home with electricity borrowed from neighbors, Samual improbably rose to a position earning him a six-figure income with a New York City hotel.
"I was director of operations and did all the hiring," he said. "After Marriott bought out the hotel, I started a production studio for Internet content. It was 2008 and the sector just faded away, so I found work as a security supervisor for a hospital."
Eventually, lured by mirage-like visions of Silicon Valley's venture capital potential, a lifelong urge to be an entrepreneur, and Kaiyah, who'd left her job with the Air Force and returned to Antioch, her hometown, Samual resigned and headed to California in 2012.
After years of online correspondence, Samual said he and Kaiyah "had coffee in August and got married in November."
Pregnant with now-9-month-old Joy in 2013, complications forced Kaiyah to take time off from work and the Samuals fell into the crisis. Flitter said many families have suffered during the last half-decade of economic downturn. With two other children, Moses, 15, and Jelani, 10, making up the 37-year-old's family, Samual said, "We literally went from month-to-month, not sure how we'd survive."
Hardest of all was sticking to his dreams and Professional Address, the startup company he and seven partners hope will become the next "made in a garage" miracle. The company is marketed to the younger workforce, ages 14-22, providing professional-level résumés, interview videos and networking platforms.
Samual said working in human resource departments taught him that young people's résumés did not match their interviews.
"I'd put a post out, get 1,000 résumés, whittle it down to eight -- and find the people had no talent for the job."
Worse, he'd see their Facebook and Snapchat profiles: "No professional company is going to hire based on what I've seen," he said.
The city of Antioch is his beta client and Samual said the Antioch School District is working with the company. "I'm going to help young people get jobs," he said. "And when I'm a billionaire, I never want to forget where I came from. I want to go back to the poor neighborhoods and be of service."
Byers said the instinct to give back is innate, but children need an opportunity to contribute. By providing the structure -- annual holiday giving programs and especially, in the yearlong "One Good Cause" endeavor that led them to the Samuals -- she said, "It's on their radar to help others. They realize there's more than affluence. They learn they can help."
Samual agreed, admitting that accepting help was "humbling," but sitting on a couch with his family was "going to feel so good."
Bursting with gratitude, he said, "I love America. When you ask for help, there's understanding. I'm working toward having the means to take care of my family. Soon, I'll help other families too."