The walls that love built
When Holly Jackson (BA ’11) walked away from her abusive relationship nearly 30 years ago, she left everything behind including the roof over her head. There were few places to turn for the young, pregnant woman, who suddenly found herself on the streets. And when she did muster the courage to reach out for help, she learned she earned $7.11 above the threshold to qualify.
“I remember feeling defeated, very embarrassed – all of the things that go along with having to ask for help,” she said.
“So then having to ask for help and not be able to get it, made it even worse.”
Back then, homeless shelters had a three-day-stay limit without exception – even for Holly, who was expecting her eldest daughter. So, for the next couple months, she slept under bridges and in parks, couched surfed and showered where she could. All while working a full-time job.
It’s an experience seared into her conscience.
Eventually, she saved enough for a home. But that feeling – of living on the edge, of never having enough, of worrying about where she’d sleep at night – it never left her. In fact, it shaped her.
For years after that, she volunteered for many different organizations. As a student at Cleveland State, she was a part of a team deeply involved in service projects, but even then, she felt that there was more she could do.
One chilly November evening in 2018, she drove past a group walking on the sidewalk in shorts and Crocs, clearly in need of proper winter wear.
And Jackson started to dream out loud.
“I just said, ‘I wish there was some magic place — a wall, if you will — where people could go and get things they need without judgement or stigma.’”
Holly held a small fundraiser with family and friends to help equip and supply her first wall, what she simply called a labor of love, initially. But the media got wind of her plans. Publicity soared and her plans exploded into what became the nonprofit Walls of Love.
In November 2021, she celebrated three years after having served well over 325,000 people in 21 states and outfitting over 1,000 walls with daily necessities like toothpaste, soap and more.
“I didn’t intend for it to be what it is now,” Jackson said.
“I just wanted to do something kind for the community.”
And the community is a big reason why Walls of Love is still around today. Jackson’s efforts are funded almost fully by grassroots support. Though she’d one day like to secure corporate sponsors, she credits a crew of volunteers and donors for sustaining the organization through the years.
“I’m adamant that it’s not a me thing; it’s a we thing. I can’t do this without other people.”
She estimates that she works 90 to 100 hours per week on Walls of Love, coordinating locations for new walls, organizing donations and managing hundreds of volunteers. And that’s in addition to her full-time job. She doesn’t mind though. It’s clear that it’s her passion.
Eventually, she hopes to expand the organization to all 50 states. And she wants to build the biggest wall of essential items ever.
For now, Jackson is relishing her journey so far.
“This thing that I do. I can’t honestly put into words. It makes me so happy.”
Learn more about Walls of Love at www.wallsoflove.com.
Also in this Issue...
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He isn't a professional athlete, but along with his brother, Greg Vlosich (BA '07) has built quite the reputation in the sports world.
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Nicole McGee (MA '10) revels in giving used objects a second, third or fourth life.