LaTroy Hawkins grew up in the shadow of the steel mills of Gary, Ind., a strong-willed grandfather the foundation that Hawkins was able to build upon. A man who taught Hawkins that the value in life is to face the challenges and overcome them, not drown yourself in self-pity.
Having passed on a basketball scholarship to Indiana State to sign with the Twins out of high school, Hawkins will tell the story of being sent back to rookie ball his second year with Minnesota and calling his grandfather to tell him of the decision.
“Where are you going to live?” Hawkins’ grandfather asked.
“With you,” said Hawkins.
“Not with me,” said the grandfather. “Quitters don’t walk through my front door.”
Message sent and received.
Now retired, after a big league career that covered parts of 21 years, Hawkins is enjoying the benefits of his baseball career, but he has never forgotten the lessons of a young age, and he continues to look for challenges that will not only make him better, but make the world a better place to live.
What began as a chance meeting a little more than four years ago between Hawkins’ wife, Anita, and Debra Nixon-Bowles, the founder of an organization called Women Called Moses, has grown into a strong commitment from both Anita and LaTroy Hawkins to provide emotional, physical and financial support for Bowles’ organization that is considered “an underground railroad” for victims of domestic violence.
When Women Called Moses holds its annual benefit dinner on Sunday night at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at least a part of the celebration will be the recent donation from the Hawkins family — a home in the Dallas area that can be used as a safe haven for domestic-abuse victims, and will house up to 12 families.
“There is a conference room where they can have intake sessions, and they can have classes because of course the kids can’t go to school if they are running away from dad because dad will go to the schools, so [the shelter] will have teachers come in and have classes for the children,” LaTroy said.
“The backyard is amazing. I can’t wait until they finish it because it will be a nice tranquil area for the kids to play. They put in a new 8-foot security fence.”
For Anita there is a special feeling of accomplishment. She, after all, was a victim herself of childhood molestation. That is what attracted her to Hawkins’ program after that chance meeting.
“I went to the gala four years ago blindly,” said Anita. “I was invited, but I didn’t know what the organization was about. Then I heard Debra’s story. I was amazed but also embarrassed that she had been fighting for eight years [at that time] trying to build her organization.
“She’s in the trenches. She doesn’t just talk about what needs to be done. She does it. She’s out there getting these women out of their houses where they are being beaten by boyfriends, husbands. She is using her own finances to put these women and babies in hotels, motels, wherever she can get them placed in an emergency.
“She invited me to come to her office, and I left that gala to see what she was working on. I had come up with an organization I called Find One Reason to Smile, and I wanted it to have a purpose. I wanted to do a coffee-table-book series, where it would have chapters with somebody discussing that One Reason to Smile in their life. I wanted the book to be where people could share the stories of their triumph over trials, tribulations, diversity. But I didn’t want it to just be a book. I wanted it to serve a purpose.”
Enter Women Called Moses.
“I did a GoFundMe and wanted 100 percent of the proceeds to go towards Women Called Moses, and in 60 to 90 days I raised $16,000 for Women Called Moses. That was when I launched Find One Reason to Smile. And I literally had to search for Debra to give her the money because she was in the trenches with the women. I told her, ‘I’m trying to give you some money.’ She said, ‘People don’t normally hunt you down to give you money.’
“She really didn’t know me. I shared my story of things I went through in my childhood, teenaged years from child molestation rape, being a teen mom, the whole nine yards. She was like, ‘Wow.'”
Anita’s childhood challenges help her lend a hand to others in similar situations today.
“A lot of people will volunteer, but to be able to identify with the women, an understanding of what they have gone though, gives you a better chance of them opening up to you,” she said. “Prior to last year I would go to the events and galas by myself. I ended up on the board of directors.”
And last year?
“I went to the gala,” LaTroy said.
And he stepped up to provide support.
“Debra had the ladies who had been through domestic violence tell their stories to the audience and it was …,” said Hawkins, pausing to stay in control of his emotions. “There was a beautiful young lady, walking around with a cane. She was blind. Her husband hit her in the head with a boot because he couldn’t find his other boot.”
Three months later the damage created by being beaten with the boot left the woman blind. But with Women Called Moses she does not feel abandoned. She has a support group.
And with the help of Anita and LaTroy Hawkins there is a feeling Women Called Moses will take another step forward. It will have the first shelter home in the south Dallas area — the only area of Dallas that had been without one. Anita feels that will open other doors for the organization.
“I think [Debra] will have more assistance if she has something tangible,” she said. “If the government can offer assistance of some form she can show them she has a home for the women, a tangible base of operation.”
It is an effort by LaTroy and Anita Hawkins to address a problem to make life better for others.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.