Pausing our phone conversation to order an iced water with lemon, Ayana Dior Lindsey ’18, too, feels the summer heatwave (arguably, even more so) down in New Orleans. It is a sweltering mid-July day in New York and, sitting down to a laptop sticky with heat, I begin a conversation with one of the most admirably humble, benevolent students I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Ayana Dior is the founder of Ayana’s Christian Helpers (ACH), and with her charity having expanded to multiple cities (covering namely New Orleans, New York City and Los Angeles), it seems almost fitting that this interview should be a bistate one.
“I wasn’t doing all of this out of self interest; I wanted to organize a place where I could not only help those in need, but also help those who were looking for a way to volunteer.”
ACH is a charity founded by SJC nursing student Ayana Dior Lindsey in 2014. ACH offers assistance to the less fortunate across the city through various food and clothing donations. Most recently, ACH were on-hand in New Orleans, setting up two tables under a bridge to distribute food to over 80 impoverished citizens. In the coming weeks, ACH will be collecting food to hand out to those in need on the subway in NYC. (If you’re interested in volunteering, email Ayana at firstname.lastname@example.org, and to make a contribution, visit https://www.generosity.com/
Back to her old stomping grounds, New Orleans is both her hometown and the original location of ACH, and Ayana remembers the charity before its rise. “It was just me in the beginning,” she recalls. With generosity seeming to be of second nature to her, she has always embraced life with a humanitarian approach — volunteering with her family during the holidays, sparing change for the homeless and so forth. Although many would ascribe these charitable acts as sufficient for their Christian duty, Ayana wanted to do more. It was one thing for her to help others on her own accord, but how could she make a more substantial impact? Assenting to the age-old adage that there is power in numbers, Ayana established ACH the summer before she became a student at SJC Brooklyn.
In short, it is a foundation rooted in volunteer work: “We feed the homeless, volunteer at dog shelters, pray for those who want prayers, volunteer at nursing homes — there’s no charity work that we won’t do!” If her passion is in any way an indicator of ACH’s future, rest assured that the foundation will continue to grow. And since the recent launch of its official Instagram page, there has been a wave of support for ACH. Its new social media publicity has paved way to new volunteers, but Ayana hadn’t always been on board with trademarking her work.
“I didn’t want to put a brand on it,” she remembers. “I wasn’t doing all of this out of self interest; I wanted to organize a place where I could not only help those in need, but also help those who were looking for a way to volunteer.”
Photos by Christopher Horne Photography
Ayana found that there was a large interest amongst the youth in helping the less fortunate but, more often than not, this interest was unheeded for lack of opportunity.
“If people grow up doing this, helping a person— it can change both people’s lives. You don’t know what situations these volunteers are coming from, and maybe the charity will provide the positive community that they need.”
“Half of the time, these kids would be calling places trying to figure out how to volunteer, but would be talking to an answering machine.” So, Ayana organized ACH as an inclusive community for volunteers to come and, well, volunteer. As more people heard about her foundation, more people approached Ayana expressing interest in her work and from there, ACH’s network of volunteers began to expand. Both her mother and boyfriend urged her to make a brand for her charity to both fund the projects (majority of which were financed out-of-pocket) and to encourage more people to volunteer. Ayana was reluctant to do so but her hesitancy, indicative of her inherent humility, was overridden by both her mother and boyfriend and now, ACH’s Instagram page now has more than one thousand followers.
The key to successfully organizing volunteer work, Ayana insists, is persistence. Especially with an increase in the number of volunteers, things don’t always go as planned but, “I have to go with the flow.” One Easter, after those who volunteered to help her make goodie bags all cancelled on her, she had a choice to make: would she abandon the project altogether, or would she distribute the bags solo? “You have to be committed,” she says, having chosen the latter.
When discussing the future of ACH, Ayana is optimistic. “I want to help as many people as we possibly can.” And, in a fascinatingly compassionate turn of logic, she explains that her charity is not just about helping the less fortunate. “I want to get as many youth to join as possible,” she says. “If people grow up doing this, helping a person— it can change both people’s lives. You don’t know what situations these volunteers are coming from, and maybe the charity will provide the positive community that they need.”
Although her plans of a worldwide scale for ACH have yet to come into fruition, her next project moves north of her hometown. She plans to pass out packaged food on the subway in NYC and, with her enthusiasm being contagious, I agree to help, hoping that the weather will be a little cooler.
If you would like to contribute:
If you would like to contact Ayana: