Keisha Spivey remembers when, four years ago, God called on her to start making ripples in Rocky Mount.
It was at a rough point in her life. She was doing her best as a youth pastor to offer comfort to a city shaken by the deaths of two children in a drive-by shooting and a suicide at the high school her son attended while dealing with a tragedy in her own family at the same time.
And she was supposed to stand that Sunday to preach, to comfort a broken city and grieving families. So she asked God how she could do that when she was feeling so broken herself.
“He said to me just as clear as if He were standing next to me: ‘You’re overwhelmed because you’re looking at the ocean. You can’t see where it ends, you don’t know how far it goes — it’s insurmountable,’” Spivey said. “He told me, ‘Keisha, I didn’t ask you to take on the ocean. I just asked you to get up every day and make ripples. Take what I’ve given you, the passion that I put in you, the gifts and talents that I have trusted you with, and I want you to stand on the shore every day and make ripples. At the end of the day, if you’ve made a ripple in somebody’s life, that’s all I’m requiring of you. Because if you stand up and toss the stone and you make ripples, the effects are up to me. Trust me with the effects.’”
That Monday, she told her husband they would be starting a nonprofit group called Ripple Effects. She was not sure what the purpose would be then, but she wasn’t worried — and by the time the paperwork came back, she had a plan of how to cast the first stone, to make the first ripple.
As the youth pastor at Church on the Rise, Spivey was responsible for helping children labelled “at risk.” These children had been deemed troublemakers due to acting out at home and school, but in her time working with them, Spivey started noticing a pattern: many of the challenges the children faced were grounded in a home life that was unstable as their families faced homelessness or even just struggled to make ends meet.
“I started working with one particular student, who we found out was homeless,” she said. “And in the process of helping that family get stable in a home and helping mom go back to school and start working, we realized that this is how we change a generation. This is how we break cycles of desperation and hopelessness. It’s not just enough to support the child and send them back home to get stuck in the same cycles all over again. We needed to be active in coming alongside the entire family.”
Spivey said that the purpose of Ripple Effects is to stabilize and maintain. The first step is figuring out what it is a family or individual needs to get back on their feet and then walking with them to make sure they keep moving forward.
“What makes Ripple Effects unique is that we are chasing after the one, the one who’s hurting, needing, lost, broken, desperate, hopeless,” she said. “So often, programs are designed for numbers to ask, ‘How many people can we touch?’ And those programs do good work and we support them, but there are a lot of people who fall through the cracks. We’re dedicated to finding those people, and what we do is we throw out a hope line and say, ‘If you reach up, we’ll reach back. Let’s walk this thing out together.’”
In March 2020, COVID-19 struck and turned everyone’s plans upside down. Ripple Effects had a gala and several other fundraising events planned that had to be canceled or put on hold.
But just when Spivey was about to give up and accept the lost funds from all the food for the gala they had already bought, she said God pointed her in a new direction.
“He said to me, ‘Keisha, all the food you just bought,’” she said. “I said, ‘Yes, God?’ He said, ‘I want you to give it away.’ And I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ He told me, ‘I want you to give it away, and I want you to give it to seniors.’ So we did.”
So the program gave away all the food they had purchased. And then she said God called them to do it again, so they sent a volunteer team to Conetoe Family Farm to get fresh produce. She said He called them to do it again, so they sent out a plea on social media. And she said He called them to keep doing it.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the group’s senior citizens program has grown from 60 seniors served to 150 and over 4,000 boxes of food have been distributed from their food center.
“Our whole heartbeat is that we leave the 99 for the one,” Spivey said. “There are a lot of people moving forward, but what about the ones that are being left behind? What about the ones we’re not seeing?”
In addition to their focused programs, Ripple Effects also serves as a resource hub, working with other local programs to direct people in need to resources that many do not even know are available.
Looking forward, Spivey has outlined two major goals for the new year. The first is that as they have grown, so have their needs for staff and volunteers to help keep up with increased demand for services.
The second is a financial goal.
“In 2021, we’re asking God to help us connect with 500 people who are willing to donate $20 per month,” Keisha said. “We don’t ever want to be more focused on getting grants or money than on helping people. If 500 people donate $20 per month, that will completely cover our operating costs. If we can connect with these people and this community, I believe that we can really make a splash.”