Serving the community that served her
By Mariah Thatch
Then Muncie Central senior, Wilisha Scaife stepped off the city bus and scurried into a nondescript government building. The high school senior couldn’t dawdle. She needed to pick up her son in an hour, and the details of several assignments crowded her thoughts.
She walked into the Family and Social Services Administration office. A woman at the desk hollered at her through the crowd, “Can I help you?” Startled and embarrassed, Scaife, looked up: “Nope not one more day, you can’t help me anymore.”
She marched home, but her mom insisted Scaife humble herself and go back. Scaife did, several times, and was greeted—each time—with:
“Social Security number?”
“Are you in school?”
“Do you work?”
“Who lives with you?”
“How much money do you make?”
“Does your boyfriend live with you?”
“I know that experience is where my passion for being and advocate for families, especially those who are marginalized, came from,” said Scaife, over 20 years later, she is the director of family engagement for Muncie P3, an after-school enrichment program supported by Ball State University. “I was just so tired of how I was treated and watching others be treated, all for $230 worth of food stamps. But you do what you have to for your family.”
A Teen-aged “Grown Up”
Scaife and her husband of 23 years, Robert Scaife, started their family earlier than expected when Wilisha, at 17, welcomed son Jauwan into their lives. Wilisha Scaife worked at a beauty shop to pay her way through college, and Robert headed to fulfill his obligation to play college basketball in Temple Terrace, Florida.
23 years later, the high school sweethearts are “making it” in every sense of the word. Scaife works daily to empower children and Robert serves as pastor of Union Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Muncie. Life is good, but the two never forget those days of struggle. It’s part of their story, and it fuels the couple to support people in their time of need, which “everyone has at some point,” Scaife added.
“Being unmarried when we had Jauwan, I thought we wouldn’t be accepted. I wasn’t always, but my church welcomed me and became another parent to me,” Scaife said. “In my church and with my family, I was still somebody. With so many people supporting me, I couldn’t stay down.”
Finding Support in the Church
Union Missionary is among dozens of churches in the area that offer support to members and the greater Muncie community, which has the highest poverty rate (32.2 percent) of all Indiana cities. Several churches, including Friends Memorial Church and High Street United Methodist Church, operate robust food pantries to help feed Muncie families.
As the pastor’s wife, Scaife she has assumed a leadership role in maintaining the Union Baptist’s strong sense of community and outreach efforts. But support is about more than food pantries and clothing drives, it’s about being there for people—even with a smile or prayers — and knowing what they need and when, she added.
“One example: We feed everyone at every funeral. Families going through trying times should not worry about where the next meal will come from, and we have some amazing cooks, so we put them to work,” said Scaife, who often takes Ball State out to eat after they visit the church.
The church tried to maintain a food pantry a few years back, but the effort proved unsuccessful. Scaife said the lack of participation was in part due to pride, “Parents don’t want to admit that they can’t feed their families or indicate that they need help,” she added. “They may drive out to another community to access services, but they didn’t want to air their issues in their own backyard. I understand that.”
Growing up, Scaife watched her mom work tirelessly to avoid assistance. That dedication to family and grit has continued to inspire Scaife, as she helps others gain the education and confidence to lead productive, positive lives.
“My mom worked all day as an LPN, then came home and ironed the families clothes and made dinner, doing everything in her power to make sure me and my brother would not suffer just because we weren’t as well off as everyone else,” Scaife said. “She guided me as a mother and offered unending patience and understanding during my difficult years.”
The Struggle that is Healthy Eating
Scaife said the Whitley Community—bordered by McGalliard Road, MLK Jr. Boulevard and Manor and Gavin streets—has less of a problem with food insecurity and more of a problem with healthy eating. With so many fast food options, many families find it cheaper to feed their kids on the go, which Scaife said is a shift from when she was growing up.
“We never ate out. My stepdad and mom took us to Wendy’s one day, and I looked at the burgers wrapped in foil, then turned to my brother and said, ‘We are rich! It’s almost like we are in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory,’” said Scaife, who was about 9 at the time.
She is hopeful the health among residents will increase as more education and assistance is offered throughout the community. But, Scaife said, those messages need to come from within. People living in Whitley need to tell their stories and model healthy cooking and eating, for instance.
“Our community has resources for families, but it’s often in the form of well-meaning people who come into the community without a sense of who we are or connections that would give them context. Again, they mean well, but it can sometimes seem like there’s judgment in the form of ‘education’ about how we should be feeding, teaching and loving our kids and families better,” Scaife said. ““Neighbors need to hear from neighbors so it takes away the stigma of needing assistance, and it shows that we’re all in this together and we’re all willing to roll up our sleeves and help.”
Chicken Corn Chowder
This Scaife family favorite. This meal is/was prepared when the family had some extra money. The recipe was able to feed the family of five and leave leftovers. Her children claim that it’s better the second day.
- 5-6 cans Campbell’s Chicken Corn Chowder
- 2 packages Knorr Creamy Chicken Rice
- 3-4 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 F. Season chicken breasts (as desired) and bake them for about 45 minutes, depending on size/weight. When the chicken has cooked for about 20 minutes, cook the rice. Pour cans of chowder into a large pot, then heat to warm.
Remove cooked chicken from the oven, and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Add cut chicken and cooked rice to the pot with the chowder, then season with pepper and salt, as desired. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes before serving. Enjoy!