SCOTTSBLUFF — When author Laura Schroff met young Maurice, he was just 11 years old. The boy had been on a New York City street, begging for money for food when Schroff passed him on Labor Day weekend in 1986.
At first, the woman walked by the young boy, who often went to the streets when he was hungry as his family lived in a drug-ridden hotel. She said “no” when he asked for money and kept walking.
But, three words stopped the woman, right in the middle of the infamous Broadway.
“I am hungry.”
And, Schroff turned back around and offered to take the boy to a nearby McDonald’s.
As she ate with him, she learned that he hadn’t eaten for two days. His family was trapped in a cycle of poverty, drug addiction and violence.
As they talked, she said, “I knew instantly that he was just a really good kid who just happened to be stuck in a really hard, bad world.“
What happened next changed Schroff’s life, and Maurice’s. Schroff shares her story in her book, "An Invisible Thread." The story reinforces how one small act of kindness can make an enormous difference, she told the crowd at the Light of Hope event Thursday.
After that fateful day, Schroff and members of her family became mentors for the young boy. Today, he is in his 40s, with a family of his own, and having achieved a degree in theology.
“Without knowing it at the time, I was somewhat like a CASA before I knew what a CASA was,”she said.
Maurice learned important lessons from Schroff. Schroff learned lessons from Maurice, like how love can come in a paper bag. Schroff told how she had offered to prepare lunches for Maurice, who asked her to pack the lunch in a brown paper bag. The kids who brought lunch in a brown paper bag had people who loved and cared about them, he told her.
Schroff became involved in speaking at the event with an invite from Becky Sorensen, a board member for CAPstone. Sorensen saw the author speak at an event in Omaha and began emailing the woman. She asked Schroff if she would speak at the Light of Hope event, and within 24 hours, the engagement was arranged.
The Light of Hope event raises funds each year for CASA and CAPstone, two organizations that focus on helping children in child abuse and neglect cases. Andrea Rein, director of CASA, said the Light of Hope event raised $40,000 and donations are still coming in. Rein said she believes it is among the highest amounts raised during the annual event.
“We are thrilled,” she said. “This year has been really successful.”
Rein said she believes it was a combination of moving the event to the evening and Schroff as a speaker. Everytime Rein went to speak with Schroff, she said people were lined up to talk to the woman and she thought the business after hours event helped people to visit and learn more about the two organizations. The evening event helped draw in people who may not have heard about the two agencies and their work.
“I have never heard so many positive praises,” Rein said. “I think the message got across of the two organizations, but also a positive, renewed feeling about wanting to spread kindness.”
Funds also were raised through a silent auction and the diversion and juvenile assessment center contributed an additional $600 through a bake sale.
“We had different agencies come out in different ways for us and we really appreciate it,” Rein said.
People can still contribute by sending donations to CASA, designated Light of Hope, at 2029 10th St., Gering, NE 69341.
While in Scottsbluff, Schroff also spoke to Scottsbluff High School and Bluffs Middle School students on random acts of kindness. Invisible threads can change people’s lives, Schroff’s message says, and she urges small acts of kindness to act as ripples to change people and gnerations.