For Camden’s Children, She Fills the Empty Hearts Left Behind
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Betty Matthews, one of Horizon’s 2019 Outstanding Volunteers, makes sure that children who’ve lost a parent or sibling to violence don’t miss out on life.
By Brigitte Hickey, Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility
Horizon General Counsel and Senior Vice President Linda Willet (left) presents Betty Matthews (right) with Horizon’s Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Don’t tell Betty Matthews that the cycle of inner city violence can’t be broken.
Matthews spends hundreds of hours a year volunteering for Camden-based Saving Grace Ministry, which provides counseling, education and most importantly, hope and love, to children who’ve lost a parent or sibling to sudden violence. For her work at Saving Grace, Matthews was recognized by her peers as an Outstanding Volunteer for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.
Saving Grace was founded in 2013 by Matthews’s niece, whose husband was murdered. At the time, she couldn’t find any support for her grieving daughter in Camden. “Parents need tools to help their children deal with this kind of trauma,” said Matthews. “My niece just hit a brick wall, so she decided to create a program herself.”
That’s where Saving Grace comes in, helping fills the holes left behind. The organization provides money to pay for football uniforms, weekend getaways with mentors, or a dress to attend prom. When children lose their father or mother to violence, they can also lose out on many important moments of youth.
City of Camden Anti-Violence Walk
“My job is to make these kids feel that they’re not missing out on anything,” said Matthews, known to the children of Saving Grace as Aunt Betty.
One girl wanted a headstone for her father’s unmarked grave instead of Christmas gifts. “She didn’t even know where he was in the cemetery,” said Matthews.
Matthews helps organize birthday parties and holiday celebrations. She also decorates and sets up for the organization’s annual Purity Party, a combination fashion show, dance and educational program beloved by the program’s teens.
“We get the girls dresses to wear, get their hair done, the whole nine yards,” said Matthews.
It’s important for these children to have positive experiences when the rest of their lives can be chaotic, explained Matthews. “Kids will lash out at school, but not because they’re bad kids. It’s because sometimes they’ve been placed in new homes, and their parents aren’t there,” she added.
A life built on selflessness
Taking care of others, Matthews said, is just part of her identity. “My mother had an expression: Never give to get,” said Matthews. “Don’t be selfish and God will take care of you.”
Betty Matthews at a Saving Grace event
She’s carried that spirit into her work at Horizon. She serves as a clinical care case manager for the Horizon NJ TotalCare program, which provides services to members on Medicare and Medicaid at no cost to them. She stays in touch with dozens of elderly members, helping to make sure they get to their doctor’s visits and get the most out of their benefits.
When Matthews found out she was selected by her colleagues as an Outstanding Volunteer, she cried. “I don’t do it for the glory,” said Matthews. “I’m just glad I get to be able to talk about Saving Grace and engage more people in its mission.”
While some of Saving Grace’s funding is provided by local churches, most of the money Matthews spends for the children’s activities come out of her and her fellow leaders’ own pockets. But next year, she knows where she’ll be getting extra funds: Horizon.
That’s because Horizon offers its employees the Dollars for Volunteer program, which matches employees’ charitable contributions dollar for dollar.
Horizon also offers its employees a paid day off each year to volunteer and organizes a strong volunteer program called Horizon Cares, which sees more than 500 employees volunteer thousands of hours of their time each year.
Last year, when Matthews had to be hospitalized for a medical condition, her fellow volunteers at Saving Grace showed up to support her. “They walked in right behind me,” said Matthews. “That’s when you see what a family is. It doesn’t have to be just blood-related.”
To learn more about Saving Grace Ministry or how you can help, visit https://cmdsavinggrace.wordpress.com.