In 2009, Anita was living in the YWCA Domestic Violence Center. While experiencing alcohol addiction and homelessness, she had lost everything, including her ID and birth certificate. After attending a benevolent program at Downtown Presbyterian Church, Anita met a couple of guys wearing Contributor gear. When she asked them about the paper, Anita was immediately interested, met founder Tom Wills and got trained to start selling that same day.
Anita describes herself as a natural born entrepreneur, and her eight years with The Contributor have only solidified her skills and passion for business. Before getting involved with the paper, she sold flower arrangements as a small business owner.
“Some people go to school for it, some people are willed for it through family. I’ve been blessed to be my own businesswoman. I could open up a business just like that,” she says.
Anita has been selling The Contributor at three different locations in Nashville, including Vanderbilt University and most recently, Trader Joe’s in Green Hills. For the first couple of years, Anita sold at the Justice A.A. Birch Building, where she struggled with rejection and avoidant customers.
“People were seemingly rude and uncaring. They thought, 'you’re beneath me,' and carried get-out-of-my-way type personalities.”
Yet, Anita stayed, revealing that she felt placed there by God as an assignment for the season she was in. It was there that she became friends with lawyers, police women and men. She was empowered by the people who bought her papers. “I began to get blessed, blessed by the people who used to pass by me," Anita adds.
Over the years, Anita has dealt with domestic violence and alcohol abuse. To keep face for The Contributor and for personal health reasons, Anita attempted to quit drugs and alcohol cold turkey in 2010 and then again in 2011. This year, she has landed her longest period of sobriety yet at 16 months. And eight years later, she’s still selling the paper, having taken only a few weeks off after health complications that surfaced two years ago.
In March 2015, Anita had a heart attack and subsequent surgery that put her out of commission for a month.
“I started experiencing pain in my chest and neck that felt so bad I feared I was not going to be able to make it.”
Despite the pain, Anita kept on selling. Eventually, her blood pressure revealed high risk of cardiac arrest, and she was rushed to the hospital. Anita saw her surgery and quick recovery as a second chance in life. She had grown up with a mother who struggled with bad depression and mental illness.
“When you surround yourself with a lot of stuff like that it can show up in your life.”
Anita became resistant to pills and refused her medication after her open-heart surgery in March. After a brief slip back into alcoholism, Anita returned to The Contributor and got connected to one of the paper’s founders, Tasha French, who became an accountability partner and friend. Tasha and others on The Contributor’s staff and volunteer team helped shape Anita’s story of recovery. Anita shared her immense gratitude for volunteers like Penny who offered her an Igloo cooler as she continued to sell the paper during her recovery.
As a microbusiness woman, Anita says, “I present me when I sell the paper.” The Contributor has become a part of Anita’s ministry. While selling near Vanderbilt University, Anita was told that she had one of the biggest classrooms right there on the corner. For Anita, selling the paper means so much more than the money. It is the relational and spiritual growth she’s experienced since starting that has made her so grateful for her time with The Contributor.
“In my pain and displacement, I was able, by the grace of God, to find housing, drive again with a vehicle and give back.”
For almost a year now, Anita has assisted in raising a five-year-old boy, determined to keep him in school and care for him as her own.
“The school and his teacher recognized my dedication, and presented me with a certificate of recognition for going beyond the call of duty in this child’s life!”
Anita continues to advocate for those experiencing the struggles of homelessness, addiction and domestic violence. She has learned to stick with it and is encouraged by her faith and personal revelation with Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Anita adds, “Addiction, crazy, homelessness and sickness is right around the corner. All this stuff knows your address and it’s coming.”
As the staff, volunteers, consumers and vendors work together to make The Contributor work, Anita has expressed passion and appreciation for all that the organization continues to do for people in Nashville.
“I just want to thank Chip, Andrew and Amelia on staff, and volunteers Becky and Patti. I continue to write and sell because of them.”