Home Sweet Home: Thibodaux Tour of Homes helps fund outreach in Uganda

The wrong half of the month
December 10, 2014
Raceland man’s time, skills, smiles turn negatives into positives
December 10, 2014
The wrong half of the month
December 10, 2014
Raceland man’s time, skills, smiles turn negatives into positives
December 10, 2014

A Thibodaux-based charity is making strides to help house children in Africa.

Refuge 127 Ministries is embracing the spirit of Christmas with its annual fundraiser to help raise money for children in Uganda, a central West African nation.

The non-profit organization hosts its eighth Tour of Homes Saturday. Onlookers will tour four Thibodaux residences, taking in Christmas displays.

Taking part in the tour is something of a tradition for Nicole Wiley, whose home is included in this year’s tour.

“We had a group of 10-15 girls that made the tour a girls’ night out. We would go out to eat afterward,” Nicole explained. “Two years ago, one of my good friends was part of the tour, so I got to know Lacey (Melancon, who is co-founder and secretary of Refuge 127 Ministries) a little better.”

When Lacey called seeking tour participants, Nicole gladly volunteered.

“I think Christmas is a time where you like to open up your heart. It wasn’t until I had kids that I realized not everyone is as fortunate,” she said.

Among Nicole’s prized displays is a nativity scene.

“It was given to us as a gift for our wedding,” she said. “We always look forward to putting that up. We have it set up on its own table. It takes up a nice amount of room, but it doesn’t knock you in the face.”

Tickets for the Refuge 127 Ministries event are $30, which includes catered food from Cashio’s and other local companies.

Proceeds from the tour benefit the non-profit group’s effort to build classrooms, dorms and a church for children in Uganda.

Sisters-in-law Vera and Mandy Holloway conceptualized the holiday-focused Tour of Home years ago. The two love decorating for Christmas, and intended to donate sales from tour tickets to a local charity.

Intent on helping children and widows in distress, the group initially donated to the Terrebonne Parish Juvenile Detention Center.

“We wanted to throw them a Christmas party and donate whatever we could,” Vera said.

When Refuge 127 Ministries officially became a non-profit in 2012, Vera, who serves as vice president of the organization, went to work.

Eight years later, the event has become a December mainstay.

“The first tour of homes had 35 people show up. Our biggest crowd has been 250 so it is growing every year,” Lacey said. “When we started in Uganda, this became our biggest fundraiser of the year.”

Refuge 127 is in the process of constructing a complex that will serve more than 550 Uganda children. The organization is in the final stages of completing its sixth building.

Tour participants will see firsthand the progress the group has made on the project. The tour begins at House of Prayer Church where participants will see where money raised is spent.

“We recreate Uganda with pictures and things we bring back like water jugs to give them a small taste what we experienced,” Lacey said.

Nearly $120,000 has been spent on the Uganda project to date. Lacey said once it is complete, the complex will cost roughly $200,000.

“When Mandy first went, there were two buildings and it was just a shell of a building. There was no roof or flooring,” Lacey said. “Now we are completing the sixth building. Our next goal is to start putting things in those buildings like bunk beds, desks and mosquito netting. We can give these kids a better living situation.”

It was about 10 years ago Mandy first felt a calling to help Africa.

“I was going to church and God put Africa so heavy on my heart,” she said. She told only her husband Shay of the moment.

“The feeling never left,” Mandy said. “After 10 years of wanting to, I went. Everything on TV or every book I read to my children, Africa always seemed to be involved.”

She said seeing it for the first time was surreal because of how bad the conditions were. So much aid was needed.

Mandy encountered youngsters living in three shells of brick buildings with no clean water and only receiving a single meal daily.

Frustrated and overwhelmed, Mandy walked back to bus and prayed.

“I got in the bus and I was like, ‘God, I thought you were going to show me what my purpose was.’ His response was, ‘I just did.’” she said.

When Mandy returned to the United States, people were immediately moved by the photos and stories she shared.

“You can’t walk away without being moved to do something about it. I went there to help them, but honestly they changed my life forever. It was the most powerful experience,” she said. “I will go back until God says to quit or we are done and He wants help somewhere else.”

It is the 550 smiling faces of those African children that help Mandy maintain focus.

“All of them are running alongside the bus shouting, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Amen.’ It is so surreal. They are leaping, jumping and cheering. They do not normally see outsiders. When you walk, they are all hugging you and you feel the love,” Mandy explained. “They don’t want you to cry because they don’t want you to feel bad for them. They will tell you, ‘It is OK.’ For me, the unselfishness these kids have is so moving. They love without walls and reservations. It is amazing.”

Mandy’s first encounter was visual; Lacey Melancon’s was auditory.

Driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, Lacey heard a sound that still resonates. It was the voices of hundreds of children singing and laughing as they ran alongside her bus.

“It was an amazing and awesome sound. They are so full of joy. There is always a smile on their face. They are so full of joy. You get hit with the awesomeness of it, but you are also hit with the gravity of it,” Lacey said. “You see all these children in one place living in these conditions with smiles on their faces.

“There is a mixture of emotions. You come away blessed because of their joy and the love they have. In turn, you are the one getting blessed because of the type of children they are. It is what God calls us to do. This just so happens to be the way he is using me.”

Lacey’s first visit was in 2010.

“When you get there, you get a true understanding of your purpose being there to do what I can to help these kids have better food, housing and whatever I can to help,” she said.

Lacey, Mandy and the Refuge 127 crew will return to Africa on Dec. 31.

It will be Vera Holloway’s first trip, although she’s been working on the project for years.

“The timing was never right (to make the trip) because I had young kids. I feel like I have been so involved for so long,” she said. “I am excited to experience it first hand. I want to see what else I can do to help expand what we are doing.”

When asked about meeting the youngsters she’s helped, Vera was moved considering it.

“I get chills just talking about that. I have been raising money for so long. It has become part of my life,” she said. “My kids talk about Africa because they see the work we are doing there. It is part of our family. It is surreal that I will be there in less than a month.”

To learn more about Refuge 127 Ministries or to purchase tickets for the Tour of Homes, visit www.refuge127.org or call 985-446-0206.

Mandy Holloway (at right) is pursuing her calling by help the children in Uganda with hopes of giving them better living conditions. Refuge 127 has raised nearly $120,000 for the cause.