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Advocacy with a view

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Despite what the Drifters song from the early ’60s claims, Shonna Jordan has found that life up on the roof is not necessarily a paradise that’s trouble free.

Ronna Jordan stands in her tent on the roof of Treadworks, a Farmington tire store, where she has spent the past week as part of a campaign for Houses With Hope.

“One year it hailed on me and rained so hard my whole tent flooded,” Shonna said. “One year it was so windy my tent blew across the roof. It’s not a vacation.”

During the last two years, Shonna, 37, dedicated some time to living on a roof in Farmington to raise awareness about homelessness and raise money for Houses With Hope, a nonprofit founded by her mother, Ronna Jordan, to build homes for orphans in Kenya and to battle homelessness right here in New Mexico.

In the past the idea of the Get Mom Down campaign was to set a fundraising goal and have Shonna stay on the roof until that was achieved.

“The last two years I didn’t come down for two weeks,” Shonna said.

When you are doing everything from showering to taking care of other bodily functions on a roof, two days, never mind two weeks, is tough.

So, this year, things were different. Ronna, 60, went up on the roof of Treadworks, a Farmington tire store, this past Sunday, and on the same day, Shonna settled in on the roof of Motiva Performance, an Albuquerque high-performance car shop on Montgomery NE. Now, working on two fronts, they set a goal of $200,000. But whether they get that or not, Ronna and Shonna are coming down today, Mother’s Day.

Shonna Jordan is shown in her Albuquerque home before embarking on a seven-day stay on a local roof to raise awareness about homelessness. She comes down today, Mother’s Day. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“It is my vision to do this all over America and have moms doing it the week before Mother’s Day,” Shonna, the single mother of two sons, said. “I want this to be a movement. I just want people to find something they are passionate about and give back.”

Birth of a passion

This all started in 1998 when Shonna, a Farmington High graduate, was attending Vangard University of California in Costa Mesa and playing softball for the university team. She went to Kenya that year on a trip sponsored by Athletes in Action, a Christian sports ministry. There, Shonna and her teammates used softball as a vehicle to meet the Kenyan people and learn about their lives and their challenges. Shonna was stunned by Kenya’s many orphans, a product of poverty and the AIDS epidemic.

“AIDS is what causes the orphans,” Shonna said. “But political corruption keeps the people from getting the resources they need. When I got home that year, I told my mom that we have to do something about the orphans.”

Ronna Jordan is shown with two children on one of her frequent trips to Kenya as part of the Houses With Hope foundation.

Ronna, the daughter of a Baptist pastor and for many years a Christian singer and recording artist, is no stranger to mission work and charitable causes. In 1999, Ronna and a team of volunteers accompanied Shonna to Kenya, where they devoted their time to learning about and working at a orphanage.

“I was touring the orphanage and a caregiver was taking a baby out of a crib,” Ronna recalled recently during a phone interview from Farmington. “I said, ‘What’s that baby’s name?’ They told me the baby had just come in that morning, but that they were thinking of naming it Shonna. Then it got real personal. They did not know that was my daughter’s name. Shonna was not with me just then. I didn’t feel it was a coincidence.

“Homeless children just don’t belong to the United Nations or some other agency. They belong to all of us. What a difference we can make when everybody steps in and does something.”

Since then, Ronna has traveled to Africa three or four times a year. In 2003, she founded the National Day of Care, a nonprofit whose purpose was to make people aware of the orphan crisis and recruit people, churches and organizations to provide orphan care. Over the years, as the nonprofit’s goals became more mission specific, it was renamed Houses With Hope. The mission now is to build homes for orphans and disadvantaged families in Africa and provide assistance to victims of humanitarian crises in the United States and around the world.

Shonna, now an Albuquerque resident, said recognizing needs closer to home is an important element of Houses With Hope.

“It took me going half way across the world to get a passion and a love for people in need,” said Shonna, who has logged four trips to Africa. “But I don’t want to make going to Africa a field trip. I want to help people next door, too.”

This year, the local beneficiaries of the Get Mom Down campaign are Barrett House, an Albuquerque emergency shelter for homeless women and their children, and Four Corners Home for Children, an emergency shelter for Native American children in Farmington.

Some of the money will go to Kenya to build homes for widows who are caring for orphans. Ronna said those homes, built in traditional African styles but with sound, metal roofs, can be constructed for $400 each. So far, she said, 1,200 of these homes have been built.

Funds will also be provided to meet other needs of the Kenyan people.

“People who get the homes still need to eat, send their children to school and get clothes for them,” Ronna said.

‘Concrete camping’

Even though Shonna and Ronna stay on the roofs the entire week of their campaign, their social interaction is not limited to one-sided chats with pigeons. In fact, in order to bring more attention and funds to the effort, activities were planned for the Motiva roof this past week.

Two women who have been helped by Barrett House were expected to visit with Shonna on Thursday morning. A dog yoga class (yoga in the company of pet dogs) was scheduled for Monday night, and a meditation and essential oils class was set for Saturday morning. And family, friends and other supporters stop up regularly to visit Shonna and Ronna.

“We have lots of people who brings us food and help when the weather gets bad,” Ronna said.

Oh yeah. The weather.

“The only thing that is really tough is the weather,” Ronna said. “It is totally unpredictable.”

As Shonna and Ronna were preparing to move onto their respective roofs a week ago, an unsettled weather pattern was moving toward New Mexico, threatening to bring severe thunderstorms to Albuquerque and points east.

“It never fails,” Shonna said. She also noted that she had been told that 58,000 cars pass her one-story perch on Motiva’s each day. She won’t be getting away from “all that rat-race noise down in the street” as the Drifters’ song promised.

“Camping in the woods can be serene and beautiful,” Shonna said. “But camping on a roof is not glamorous. It is concrete camping.”

Even so, Shonna and Ronna know that no matter how hot, cold, wet, windy, noisy, gritty or otherwise unpleasant it gets up on the roof, they have much more than people who are really homeless.

“It gets a little noisy and you don’t get much sleep,” Ronna said. “But we have tents, sleeping bags, food and water.”

More importantly, they have an end in sight and a home to return to when they come down today.