Larry Mays’ foundation aims to lead people out of adversity
JOLIET – The lotus flower.
Larry Mays of Joliet liked its spiritual symbolism – perfect, he felt for a foundation serving the homeless and anyone in need.
“The lotus flower, I learned, closes up at nighttime. It goes down into the mud and rises back up the next day,” Mays said. “And what’s interesting about it is that you would think the mud would stick to the petals. But it rises right out of the water, just as clean and pristine. That’s symbolic, to me, of the human spirit.”
With that in mind, Mays founded the Lotus Foundation of Illinois in November 2014 and is gradually building and growing its outreach.
Currently, Mays and a small band of volunteers distribute care packages to the homeless in Joliet and Chicago.
The timing and amount depends on available donations, Mays said, although he estimates they’ve distributed about 200 in the last two weeks.
This summer, the foundation is also hosting two events: a fundraiser June 30 and a monthlong drive for backpacks and school supplies.
Mays wants Lotus Foundation and its volunteers to “be the beacon of light that leads people out of adversity,” he said.
Sometimes people’s adverse situations are consequences of their actions, and sometimes they’re not, Mays said. The chaos into today’s world often leaves many people confused in their decision-making.
But how people became stuck in hopeless situations is irrelevant to Mays.
“If they’re looking to come out of that, we want to provide,” Mays said.
If anyone understands, May does.
From bleak past
to beacon of light
Originally from Chicago, Mays said he and his daughter moved to Joliet five years ago so she could know “a better way of life.”
“In Chicago, there’s too many people dying needlessly,” Mays said.
Mays, a former gang member, could have been one of them. Mays said he joined the Blackstone Rangers because he didn’t really have a choice.
Only the gang members could freely move about the neighborhood, Mays said. Even though it happened a long time ago, Mays remembered when the gang recruited him.
“That was 1959,” Mays said. “I was 8.”
Eleven years later, Mays joined the Air Force and found another way to live. He returned home to young men getting shot on the streets, he said.
Mays tried to explain to the young people that life was more than joining gangs and dying.
Those weren’t empty words. Mays said he’s been shot, served time, done drugs and sold drugs.
“God rescued me from all that,” Mays said. “I felt it was my obligation as a human being to go back and reach for some of those still lost.”
His first opportunity arrived in 2012. A friend who worked for CeaseFire Illinois recommended Mays as someone who could go into gang-infested neighborhoods and mentor young men. So Mays became employed as an outreach worker.
“I had a caseload of 25 young men ranging between the ages of 16 and 26,” Mays said. “I basically did intervention with them and got them into some of the programs CeaseFire had at the time.”
These programs included GED and job readiness programs, Mays said. Then came the day when funding to these programs was cut.
“I had all these young men looking at me saying, ‘Now what do we do?’” May said. “And I said, ‘Well, you keep going.”
But Mays knew they needed more than encouragement. So he began Lotus Foundation.
The foundation’s immediate needs are more volunteers and someone to head up a volunteer committee, Mays said.
He’s seen some interest in that regard now that people are becoming aware of Lotus Foundation.
“People are asking me, ‘What can I do? How can I get more involved?’” May said.
Mays also writes a one-page monthly newsletter, which he’ll email at request. He recently wrote about the connection between mental illness and homelessness. As donations increase, Mays hopes to make the newsletter more widely available.
Eventually, Mays wants to start a community service program through local schools so more youth can get involved. But that will come in time, he feels, with growth of the foundation.
One step at a time, Mays believes.
“I can’t spread myself too thin. I’m wearing two and three hats,” Mays said. “But you know what? I’m loving every single minute of it.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Lotus Foundation of Illinois fundraiser
WHEN: 6 to 10 p.m. June 30
WHERE: Juliet’s, 206 N. Chicago St., Joliet
ETC: Includes one raffle ticket, two drink tickets (alcohol or non-alcoholic), light dinner and assorted pizza. Proceeds benefit outreach mission for homeless.
INFORMATION: Email email@example.com
TO HELP OUT
WHAT: Book bag, school supply drive
WHEN: July 5 to Aug. 9
WHERE: Firehouse No. 1, 101 Clinton St., Joliet, and Firehouse No. 8, 2293 Essington Road, Joliet
ETC: The firehouses are drop-off sites for the collection school supplies. School supplies are needed for children in kindergarten through grade 12.
INFORMATION: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has been updated to correct the email. The Herald-News regrets the error.