As a sophomore at Covenant Day School, Laura Gennings, felt empty.
She described herself as having been a typical, self-absorbed teenager who would have spent all her free time playing soccer on her school and club teams had her parents not carved out time for community service.
Community service was a family priority, she said.
One day, Gennings told her father, John Gennings, “I want to turn over a new leaf.”
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Gennings wanted to do more to address the issues of poverty she had seen firsthand through her family’s involvement with A Better World, an after-school enrichment program initiated by Christ Resurrection Church.
“I saw how much the program helped the kids,” Gennings, now 24, said, “but I wondered who was helping the parents.”
Gennings approached the church’s pastor, Ken Gilliard, about her desire to do more than simply volunteer at A Better World. Gilliard told her about a woman whose $225 utility bill had left her only $40 for food and other necessities for her children. Gennings went door to door in her south Charlotte neighborhood to raise the money.
Enabling that woman to provide for her family transformed her, Gennings said. “It is what she needed at that moment to turn her life around.”
Then Gennings told her father, “Let’s do this on a bigger scale.”
In 2007, the Gennings family launched the New Leaf Foundation. The goal, Gennings said, is to “help low-income families by providing them with financial assistance, counseling and basic necessities within a system of accountability.”
Funding is provided through churches and individual donations, and according to Gennings has helped hundreds.
John Gennings oversaw the New Leaf Foundation initiatives while Laura Gennings attended UNC-Chapel Hill, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2013 and a masters in accounting programming in 2014.
Since returning to Charlotte and becoming a tax accountant with the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, Gennings has recommitted to New Leaf and seen it grow tenfold.
Her most recent initiative is to plant a community garden at Christ Resurrection Church, in the Freedom Drive community. Deloitte & Touche is paying for the garden and providing volunteers to help plant it as part of the firm’s June 5 Impact Day, during which the firm’s professionals spend the day volunteering for community initiatives. The garden is in keeping with New Leaf Foundation’s philosophy of providing holistic solutions to the challenges of poverty.
“It’s not about handouts,” Gennings said. “It’s about change and transformation.”
The community garden will include a greenhouse and farmers market and offer cooking, nutrition and gardening classes – and even a science, technology, engineering and math class for the children in the A Better World program.
The symbolism of planting a seed and helping it grow is not lost on Gennings, nor is the full-circle experience the community garden represents.
Britannia Glover Thomas, a cook for A Better World, is a community resident who, according to Gennings, is excited about the community garden and is eager to participate in the many initiatives that will stem from it.
Thomas also happens to be the woman who needed help with her utility bill in 2007.
“She was the first woman we were able to help,” Gennings said.
Gennings said she hopes to empower many more low-income families to turn over a new leaf.
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about New Leaf Foundation, to make a donation or to volunteer, visit www.newleaffound.org.