Belleville

Her mother’s death left her broken. A homeless man sparked her compassion and a movement.

Project Compassion founder speaks at last year’s Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Belleville.

Rachel Jackson, executive director of Project Compassion, was the guest speaker at the annual Belleville Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in 2018.
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Rachel Jackson, executive director of Project Compassion, was the guest speaker at the annual Belleville Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in 2018.

Rachel Jackson was driving to work when she saw a man’s legs hanging out of box.

Her first thought was that he was dead and she would have to put up with the hassle of calling the police.

But the man was alive. He just didn’t have a home.

And then Jackson was inspired to take action.

“Is this truly where he slept last night?” Jackson thought to herself as she realized she had slept in a warm, comfortable home. This experience led to her efforts to help the needy and homeless by creating the non-profit organization Project Compassion, which is now based at 6609 W. Main St. in Belleville.

On Wednesday morning, Jackson gave the keynote address during the 53rd annual Belleville Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast at the Scottish Rite at 1549 Frank Scott Parkway. She told the crowd of 550 about what happened to her and urged them to help others.

Leave your footprint. Let people know you were here. Let people know that you came and you changed and you impacted the world.

Rachel Jackson, founder of Project Compassion

She punctuated her speech with this message: “Are you brave in your position? Are you bold with your power? And are you courageous in your leadership? Take this one life and be willing to impact the world and to make a huge difference.”

Jackson said she was 19 when her mother died.

“I was a broken 19-year-old, recovering from the devastation of losing my mother,” Jackson said.

“I had lost all my sense of hope. I lost all my sense of direction. And since this is a prayer breakfast, we can talk about God. He and I just weren’t going to speak anymore.”

But that morning when she saw the homeless man awakened her.

020718DH Mayor speaks
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert speaks during the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

“I felt something that I hadn’t felt since losing my mother and that was compassion,” Jackson said. “I wanted to do something.”

She went home that night and urged her family and friends to join her mission.

“Listen, I don’t like to see people sleeping on the street and hanging out of boxes. And if that’s where they have to be, let’s do something to help them in their situation.”

They started out by distributing sandwiches and blankets. Jackson was 25 when she established Project Compassion in 2005.

Jackson, now 37, said her nonprofit group has four employees, including herself, and a volunteer base of 2,500. Jackson, who is the executive director of the group, said one of her next projects is to open a café for women and children who can’t afford to dine out. She also plans to offer free laundry services.

Listen, I don’t like to see people sleeping on the street and hanging out of boxes. And if that’s where they have to be, let’s do something to help them in their situation.

Rachel Jackson, founder of Project Compassion

You can find more information about the group on its Facebook page and at projectcompassionnfp.org.

The group says it assists young women and youth who are considered low income or in jeopardy of becoming homeless. It strives to enhance the lives of people through education, compassion and empowerment.

Jackson’s efforts have received national attention. She was on “The Tyra Banks Show” in 2006. The organization also has been featured in magazines, including Ebony, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine O, Southern Living and Glamour.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert praised Jackson for her work.

“Rachel, your words are inspiring,” Eckert said. “The way you’ve spent your life helping others is fabulous and I hope that we can continue to partner as ... we all work together to make Belleville stronger and better each and every day in the future.”

Jackson told the crowd about the time she met with Eckert after the city had rejected her plan to open an office in a neighborhood on Benton Street in 2011.

“He said, ‘The city needs it. I want it. We can support it. But you’ve got to leave your footprint. We’ve got to see your work.’”

A year later, she was able to open on West Main Street. And on Wednesday she echoed Eckert’s comments.

“Leave your footprint,” she said. “Let people know you were here. Let people know that you came and you changed and you impacted the world.”

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