Since her two kids were little, Shawna Lyons and her husband have made it a point to teach their children the importance of volunteering and giving back to the community. As her children, Ansley and Ryan, grew older, each of them used their “servant’s hearts” to help others in their own, unique way.
“My mom’s philosophy is: ‘If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to want to do it,’” said Ansley, a junior at Alliance Academy. “She’s not going to just sit there and force me to … do all this community service if I don’t want to do it myself.”
Shawna and her daughter grew closer when she started participating in pageants six years ago. Through pageantry, Ansley discovered her passion for helping others.
Ansley said each person who competes in pageants is typically encouraged to pick a “certain platform,” or a cause they can support. She started volunteering with the Susan G. Komen Foundation because her aunt is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Ansley said that her aunt and her mom would do the three-day walks whenever they could.
“That’s where I started my community service journey, with my mom and my aunt,” Ansley said. “And it’s just really evolved from there.”
When Ansley entered high school, her passion for fighting food insecurity blossomed.
“You know that people go to school on free and reduced lunch,” Ansley said. “And when you’re a kid, you see that but you never really understand what that means.”
Ansley said that one of her goals is to take her passion nationally, and she hopes to someday help a foodbank in every state by encouraging residents to donate boxes of cereal.
Shawna, who has been a teacher in Forsyth County for more than 10 years and has seen food insecurity existing in public schools, was more than happy to support her daughter in the cause.
Shawna and Ansley came across Meals by Grace in July 2020 and say they fell in love with the nonprofit’s mission, staff and volunteers.
“Lord, if I had known when we [first volunteered] what I was getting myself involved in, I would’ve been just blown away,” Ansley said.
Shawna and Ansley started as regular weekly volunteers, working with others to fill a need during Sunday services wherever they could find one. They worked with volunteers and staff members such as Ryan Wallace, chief development officer, and Suellen and Stephen Daniels, co-founders of Meals by Grace.
When 400 Life magazine met with the Lyonses at Meals by Grace, Wallace said he was “just so grateful” for everything Shawna and Ansley have done and was especially proud of Ansley and her drive for helping others.
As time went on, the duo were eventually asked to be lead volunteers for Sunday services and now assist with setting up, unpacking delivery trucks, repacking food in bags for residents and breaking everything down. Shawna said the entire process can take about three hours each week.
Ansley said she believed she and her mom had somewhere between 50-75 hours of community service at Meals by Grace since last summer.
Shawna started off as “just a chauffeur” for Ansley when she was younger, but through the years and her time at Meals by Grace, Shawna has found her own passion for volunteering. She said that she still likes to let Ansley take charge when it comes to volunteering and pageants, but that she is “always happy to be a support for her.”
“Ansley and I [lead together] which can be interesting … as mother and daughter,” Shawna said. “But most of the time I let her take the lead, and I support and explain what we’re doing next to keep the teams moving. Ansley does a really great job as a leader, though.”
Shawna talked about one of her fondest memories of Ansley in pageants and volunteering.
“I had left to go pick up an item for somebody [at a pageant] … and the next day, [people] were talking about how Ansley was on the floor helping another child whose hem had ripped,” Shawna said. “She was helping her tape her hem. And they said she always had a kind word for everybody.”
Shawna said that she was proud of her daughter for being “kind and gentle” and was pleased to find out that she had later been awarded with a cash scholarship of $150.
“Most kids when they get $150 or money that’s just given to them, they spend it on whatever,” Shawna said. “Ansley divided her money into thirds and … helped people instead.”
With her money, Ansley bought cereal boxes for Meals by Grace, supported Jordyn’s Project by buying ‘Be Kind to Everyone’ bracelets and gave a donation in the name of one of their pageant friends in honor of recovery.
“So [Ansley] had taken her money that she had been given, that honor that she’d been given, and turned around and spread it back into the community,” Shawna said. “Which, at 14, not every kid would think to do.”
Both Shawna and Ansley said they hope to continue volunteering with different organizations when Ansley goes to college, either together again or separately, and keep their family values of helping others close to their hearts.
“I’m just so very thankful that I get to experience [volunteering] with Ansley and get to do this and work with her because I think it helps the community, but it also helps our personal relationship,” Shawna said. “We’re very close.”
Meals by Grace is located at 3540 Keith Bridge Road in Cumming. Sunday services are held at Midway United Methodist Church at 5025 Atlanta Highway in Alpharetta. To learn more about the organization, please visit www.mealsbygrace.org or call (404) 426-4055.