Pat Maddox, volunteer, Friends of Refugees - December 2009 - Best of Atlanta - Atlanta Magazine

Pat Maddox, volunteer, Friends of Refugees


Pat Maddox has never left North America. Now that she’s seventy-one and living on Social Security, she probably never will. Which is all right, because she lives in Clarkston. The world has come to her. In 1996, Maddox, a home-healthcare nurse, began delivering surplus bread from Publix to the town’s many foreign-born refugees. Unable to speak their languages, she communicated with smiles and hand gestures. This is the danger of giving a little: You suddenly find yourself giving a lot. Soon they were inviting her in for tea. And they found a way to ask questions. What does this letter mean? Where do we get food stamps? How will we pay the electric bill? Miss Pat found the answers. Sometimes she paid the electric bill herself. She let people stay in her basement. To her, it was all part of obeying God’s commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. God made no exception for Bosnian neighbors, or Vietnamese, or African child soldiers. She drove people to the doctor and the dentist. She took girls to the ballet and boys to see the Hawks. Her Friends of Refugees organization grew with the population. Youth groups came from Virginia and Texas to help run her summer camps. Resumes took shape over fresh coffee at the “Cafe Clarkston,” a computer room especially for immigrants. Teachers volunteered for Mommy and Me classes, where everyone learned English together. One day a volunteer said, “Miss Pat, how do you respond to all the needs?” And she said, “Well, as I’ve reached out, some of the refugees have reached back. And the ones that reach back are the ones you pour your life into.” —Thomas Lake

Photograph by Joe Martinez