“I am one of the luckiest women you know”

By Claudia Oliver

I am one of the luckiest women you know!  It was April 1994 when my husband took me to meet Mack McCarter.  He was outlining a way to save our civilization through intentional caring relationships.

Mack is a very charismatic and dynamic speaker – mainly because he was (and still is) convinced that the model of Community Renewal International’s caring relationships is the answer to what is ailing our country and the world.  And we are so lucky to have gotten in on this idea on the ground floor!

David and I became involved monetarily and volunteer-wise over the next year with CRI.  Although most of us volunteers still couldn’t describe what it was we were endorsing, we truly believed it could be the answer to what was ailing us!

We kept attending meetings, learning more of how this model could work, and hearing success stories of Mack’s “test” in Ledbetter Heights to make friends in a neighborhood where he wasn’t known, or even welcome, through intentional, systematic, caring-by-showing-up-every-Saturday-morning-at-10 am just to meet the people where they were and become friends with them.

Fast forward to September 26, 1995 – a beautiful, sun-filled, blue-sky day that had me out the door early to tape two Red River Revel interviews at KTAL-TV that would be aired that week concerning that weekend’s upcoming Revel highlights.  The tapings went well and I was off to run errands and visit my Uncle for his birthday!

My first stop was at Kroger, located in the Eastgate Shopping Center on 70th Street at that time, to buy two loaves of low sodium bread.  That’s all I bought! At 11:30 am, I headed back to my Suburban where I opened the back door behind the driver’s seat to put the bread and my purse in the car, then opened the driver door to enter the Suburban.  Immediately, there was a gun pointed at my head and a young man telling me to move over!

(With enough stimulation, one can do anything!) So, I pulled myself straight up from under the steering wheel and over the raised TV console and was proud to be in the passenger seat! Then, the “gun” told me to get into the back seat! I complied and at the same time the rear door opened and another young black man entered the vehicle.  I was in shock!

They told me they needed $5000 and asked how close I come to getting it! Then they added, “We don’t want a trail of bloody bodies, so if you don’t do anything stupid, you will be ok!” I became a fast learner, and followed the rule of doing nothing stupid!

During the 25 minute ride up Youree Drive, past Kings Highway, past the Juvenile Detention Center, through downtown Shreveport, and onto North Market, I convinced them that all I could write a check for was $301.97.  They seemed reconciled to the fact that that was all I could do and I proceeded to write the check.

Having no idea where they were taking me, but knowing “I hadn’t done anything stupid”, I felt like they were taking me to a bank.  They DID!  It was Premier Bank on Freestate – not a mile from the KTAL-TV station I had been to earlier that morning.  I had moved to the back seat behind the driver’s seat in anticipation of giving the check to the teller at the bank when the “gun” asked “isn’t this going to look funny with me driving and you in the backseat?” to which I replied, “Naw!  It’ll just look like we are working at the Revel and doing an errand together!”  I couldn’t believe it worked!

When we drove up to the bank and I put my check and driver’s license in the drawer, I stayed in the car.  But it TOOK FOREVER!  (The teller felt something was amiss!) Finally, the teller brought the check back for me to endorse – which I did by GETTING OUT OF THE CAR and endorsing the check! I really thought about putting 911 or HELP on the back, but, I AM a fast learner and “didn’t do anything stupid!”  The teller took the check, gave me the money, I said “thank you,” and we drove off.

Except we didn’t turn south on North Market! They spun around the corner heading north.  I was in shock (once again)!  They drove through a cut-through street that took us to Grimmet Drive.  They pulled into an apartment complex and drove in to the rear and parked in a parking spot.  The “gun” told me it was time to get out!  But the backseat guy demanded all of my pay phone money.  So, I opened my wallet and poured the contents of my change purse into his hand.  With that, I was standing there alone as the “gun” and the backseat guy peeled out of the parking lot.

A teenage male with long dread-locks was across the parking lot and he looked at me.  I was unaware that I spoke for the next 24 hours in a monotone voice, so when the teenager couldn’t hear me, I was surprised.  I told him that I had been carjacked and robbed and needed help.  He said, “You didn’t know those guys?” and I answered “No, I didn’t know those guys.” He questioned, “But you were standing there talking to them like you knew them.” I answered, “They had a gun on me.”  With that he turned and motioned for me to follow.  He led me to the manager’s office where the two ladies helped me contact 911.  After I had given the factual information to 911, I asked one of the ladies if I could cry on her shoulder.  She grabbed me and let me break down into tears of relief.  What an angel!

The “gun” and the backseat guy drove my Suburban back to the Eastgate Shopping Center where Chief Prator was exiting Kroger – he stayed there after he had received the 911 call, and eventually tackled the backseat guy in the cotton fields across 70th Street.  I identified the two men within 30 minutes of the event and that started the 18 months of trials, depositions, and sentencing.

During those 18 months, Mack McCarter, along with many other CARING individuals, called, visited, brought meals, and cried and laughed with me.  I was fortunate to see who really cared for me and my family.

After the “gun” and the backseat guy were found guilty of the felonies of Aggravated Kidnapping and Carjacking and sentenced to life in Angola with no parole, I was sent to the Evidence Room to “pick up” my money.

Having never been to an Evidence Room, I was surprised to be handed THE ACTUAL MONEY that had been taken from my vehicle 18 months earlier.  I immediately took that envelope of bills and change to the CRI office because I believed that CRI’s model was what we needed to change “what was ailing us.”

I truly believe if those two 18 year old males had been surrounded by caring individuals from a CRI Friendship House, along with others in the CRI family, along with trained, caring, Haven House Leaders in their neighborhoods, their lives could have turned out differently.  We will never know.  But there are success stories billowing out of all the neighborhoods in Shreveport-Bossier; Abilene, TX; Cameroon, Africa; Washington D.C.; Shawnee, OK; and more that prove that this model IS the ANSWER for saving our collapsing world.

I am the luckiest woman you know!  Not only because I have been given 20 more years to live, but that I have been changed by the work, teachings, love, and success of Community Renewal.

Friends,

One of the volunteer jobs I do for CRI is help guide informational tours showcasing the model of CRI.  Our 28 passenger bus is used frequently for the tours, transporting our Friendship House children to reading rallies, report card dinners, etc. The bus is utilized to the fullest each week. We are in desperate need of a new 28 passenger bus.  Will you help me raise $150,000 to get a new bus? We have a commitment of $20,000 so far!  Please join us in this exciting and life-changing work and you, too, will be one of the luckiest people in the world!  Help us connect people, change lives, and transform communities by donating. Donate Now!

Sources say the average cost to incarcerate an adult is $30,000 / year. If each of these 18 year olds remain imprisoned for 50 years that is a cost to tax payers of $3,000,000 ($30,000 x 50 x 2). Not to mention the wasted talent, positive contributions and earning potential of two misguided lives in our society. How do we even begin to translate the impact of a life invested for the good of others like Claudia’s. Thousands of volunteer hours invested in this community over the last 20 years. Indeed, a life invested!