One of the greatest ways to honor our loved ones is to continue the good that they did after they are gone. That’s what the family of Sarah Tolbert did this holiday season, after she passed away unexpectedly earlier this year.
Mrs. Tolbert was a tireless volunteer for the Detroit Leadership Academy; principal Julian Roper was like an adopted son to her, and daughter Terri Mial leads programs for the Metropolitan Youth Y. Starting in 2010, Mrs. Tolbert asked Julian to choose a family or two that her family could adopt, instead of over-buying for the children in their own family. This year, as a way to honor their mother, the Tolbert-Mial family adopted one family on their own, and the teens from the MY-Y program adopted two others.
“I don’t know if people have some sort of inkling that there is a last thing they need to do before they aren’t here anymore,” Terri says, “This is something she wanted us to do and we wouldn’t have it another way.”
The teens raised money from a Christmas store at the school where students could buy gifts for their parents, and also through restaurant fundraisers and other activities. Members of Mial’s family also donated goods to the Christmas store to help raise money — her aunt created 10 holiday centerpieces, for example.
The Tolbert-Mial family adopted the Darden family. Not only is their mother working to overcome financial hard times, but she has taken other children into her home who were not being properly cared for. The other families that were adopted were the Anderson family, whose mother is a dedicated volunteer at DLA and very engaged in her children’s education, and the Johnson family, who lost their mother tragically this year and were taken in by their grandmother.
All three families were presented with their gifts at the MY-Y’s Holiday Harvest party, where the teens and the Tolbert-Mial family could meet the families they helped.
Being able to carry on her mother’s work has been comforting to Terri during her first holiday season without her mother, who she describes as her best friend and the person who taught her about the importance of giving gracefully. “It means a lot to me — if nothing else she taught me to be a giver. She was really, really big on the idea that people who were less fortunate felt important too.”
Giving to others helps her feel connected to her mother, even though she’s no longer here, Terri says. “She was one of matriarchs of my family, and whatever she says pretty much goes,” she says. “I still know what the expectation is, if she’s there or not. I just know she sees.”