First published in the May 13 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Mary Donnelly-Crocker has run Young & Healthy for 32 years, and, as she prepares to retire next month, she’s had some advice which would align with lessons shared by religious leaders gathered last week for the South Pasadena Prayer Breakfast.
Donnelly-Crocker told a crowd of more than 100 people at the Oneonta Congregational Church in South Pasadena last week that she wanted them to think of her as “the compassion cheerleader.”
“It’s good for you. It’s good for others. Sometimes [compassion] makes you laugh, but it always makes the world a little better,” she told them during a speech that began in the morning fog and ended in sunshine. “
“I wonder if each of you could pivot just a little. I challenge you to notice that surly teenager, but now, with more kindness. Pay attention to the adult who seems to become unhinged in the grocery store line, but next time, with little more love,” Donnelly-Crocker said. “Let’s shift our thinking just a tad. Let’s lose that thought, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ Let’s all take a deep breath and say, ‘What happened to them?’ It’s not that hard. It works. We just have to practice it.”
Donnelly-Crocker said that during her time as executive director at Young and Healthy, a Pasadena-based organization that serves the working poor, she has also faced some personal “odd twists” in her life.
In particular, through a series of tragic events, a great-nephew with special needs would become a permanent part of her family after she and her husband had become “empty nesters.” She said that when that happened, she had to adjust, get help and find support, while still going to work every day at a place where she saw hurting families.
“Sure, I have some of my own dark moments of overwhelm,” she said, “but time after time, love, hope and compassion wins if we let it and if we practice it.”
Donnelly-Crocker has been with the organization since it was formed in 1989 to provide high-quality health care for uninsured and under-served children and their families in the Pasadena area and to improve the quality of life for local children. It has cared for more than 30,750 patients since it began serving the community.
Donnelly-Crocker said she was learning these lessons before she and most of the organization had ever heard of COVID-19, which, for more than two years, caused an immense amount of trauma in society. Human brains, she said, most often function best when things are predictable, things feel in control and people feel safe.
“COVID,” Donnelly-Crocker said, “is none of these things. And we have felt out of control and unsafe. No doubt it has been a rough couple of years for this world of ours.”
One thing that has remained predictable is that the prayer breakfast has continued in South Pasadena into its seventh year. It was held just before the pandemic shut things down in 2020 and then was held in the outdoor courtyard at Oneonta last year.
Since 2016, the group has raised more than $20,000 for local charities and programs that actively support prayer and service to the South Pasadena community.
Religious leaders individually offered short prayers for the community as part of the hourlong program, which was also attended by local government and school officials.