Times Past

There are angels among us in San Luis Obispo County

Teri Nixon Kelley sitting on the right with fellow volunteers at Arroyo Grande Rotary Bandstand, 2012, where she spoke to the crowd about Harvest Festival baking contest.
Teri Nixon Kelley sitting on the right with fellow volunteers at Arroyo Grande Rotary Bandstand, 2012, where she spoke to the crowd about Harvest Festival baking contest.

Our new German sedan stalled in the fast lane of the Ventura Freeway just before the Interstate 405 interchange. I turned on the warning lights, but we were in danger.

A rickety truck with its own warning lights flashing moved effortlessly from one lane to another to our rear. The driver signaled me to try to push our car into the lane to the right. He positioned his truck by straddling two lanes to shield us.

Using the power of the standard transmission clutch, we slowly moved one lane at a time to the safety of the right shoulder. We briefly spoke with our Latino “angels” who refused any money. Since they later told us they were undocumented Americans, they risked a great deal helping us.

Angels often enter our lives when there’s a need. As Liz and I write this column at the end of another eventful year, we are deeply grateful for those angels who make a difference. We also wonder what motivates these wondrous spirits in human form.

Connie McNoble, a retired kindergarten teacher from Atascadero, wrote this meditation on the teaching of the Prophet Isaiah: “If you look into the Mirror of your life and see only your own reflection, the meaning may be lost . . . rather if in that reflection you see your poor, suffering and marginalized brothers and sisters (and you help them!), then you’ve seen and experienced God . . . and a glimpse of your True reflection.”

Teri Nixon Kelley of San Luis Obispo is such an angel. Teri lives her life as a fulfillment of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s motto: “Do small things in great love.”

Eunice Pierce, who organized and coordinated the January Homeless Overflow Shelter at Mission San Luis Obispo for many years, recalls meeting Teri “when she joined our Social Justice Ministry at the Old Mission. Her immediate response was, ‘What can I do?’ After spending an overnight as a hostess in our shelter, Teri wanted to plan an ice cream social as a way of bringing some fun into the lives of our homeless guests.

“Teri set about acquiring donations of ice cream, multiple toppings, bowls, napkins, spoons, a colorful tablecloth and a fancy centerpiece.

“‘Beautiful,’ we cooed. But her response was, ‘I’m not finished yet. I’ve asked stores for donations of personal items such as toothbrushes, lotion, hair brushes, etc.’

“‘Great,’ we chimed. On a roll, Teri announced, ‘There is more I plan to do.’ We replied, ‘Really, Teri, you’ve done plenty. This is excellent.’

“Nothing stops Teri. So our party became even bigger with gifts of bus passes, grocery gift cards, makeup for the ladies, books and toys for the various ages of youngsters.

“Next came a movie, decorations and balloons. Our homeless guests were overwhelmed and grateful for such a delightful party. Actually, the party lasted for a full week of ice cream and goodies.”

Mary Giambalvo had a similar experience with Teri when the Arroyo Grande Fourth of July Concert was supporting Arroyo Grande in Bloom.

“I spent time trying to find people to go into the crowd to sell raffle tickets while I collected money at the booth,” Mary said. “Teri bounded up to me and offered her services. Not only did she decide to solicit ticket sales, she compelled her friends from the American Cancer Society to help. The next thing I knew, I was being handed fistfuls of cash by a coterie of wonderful people I had never met.

“Thanks to Teri’s remarkable enthusiasm and dedication to her community, we raised more money than we ever had before.”

Little wonder Teri calls herself “the pest of the West.” But she is also an angel seeking to fill unmet needs. This New Year’s Eve, Teri, who has worked nights and weekends at Advantage Answering Plus for years, was unable to do her usual “Teri Does Babies” so families could go out, as her co-worker, Sue Buehre calls it.

To be continued...