My Rich Neighbor

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. Mother Teresa

Johnny Horne and his family have called the South Side neighborhood home for the past 20 years. All his friends are there. In the summer, the city sponsors barbecue nights where neighbors gather in the street to visit and eat together. They are friendly and respectful of one another, even amidst a growing crime rate, houses that are badly in need of repair, and little work to bring in money. It is one of the lowest income areas in our city. The South Side community also has a garden that grows the most beautiful vegetables I have ever seen.

One summer, word spread about our own community garden, which provides fresh produce to local shelters, and I ended up meeting the Hornes and visiting their neighborhood garden plots. Johnny proudly gave me the tour around all ten plots, detailing vegetable plants as we walked and talked. He explained how it worked: each neighbor pitches in and tills the plots. They share resources and help each other plant. On Saturday mornings, entire families weed together and share stories about the week. As they work the soil, they open their hearts to one another — they share themselves.

One day, Johnny showed up at my retail gift shop with boxes of vegetables in hand, ones picked that very morning.


“Will you take them to the shelter?” he asked me. He was smiling from ear to ear and looked very proud. “We want to help people who are hungry, people who are in need.”

“Of course,” I said, thanking him profusely. He unloaded five boxes, filled to the top with vegetables. When he drove off, I knew something remarkable had happened.

That summer, their garden produced more vegetables than it ever had to feed their families and neighbors — vegetables they could even sell at the local farmer’s market. But what struck me the most is something I have never forgotten: by any standards, the people who needed the vegetables the most were the people in that community. They were the hungry ones, the ones who were “disadvantaged,” the ones who didn’t have money to buy fresh produce. Yet they were the very people who gave what little they had to help others. And they did it not just once, but throughout the entire growing season.

I know many people who are financially wealthy, the top 2% on the scale. But the Hornes and their neighbors at the South Side Community Center know a different kind of wealth. Their wealth management portfolio reflects wealth from a self-renewing source — their open hearts. By society’s standards, they are on the bottom rung economically, but in reality they have the richest personal bank accounts in town. They teach by example what most of us have to learn.

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