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Difference Maker: Etta McCarthy

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Paths Cross for a Reason...

Every once in a while, we cross paths with people who make us say, “Whoa, that is a remarkable individual”. Not because they climbed Everest or they have 3 doctorate degrees, but because they exude the hope that our communities so desperately need.

Sometimes these people are motivated by “doing good” or believing in earthly kindness. Others are motivated by faith. This is Etta McCarthy.

I met Etta at Eagle Valley Middle School while we were both volunteering for the Youth Power 365 Summer Camp lunch service. We were treated to chicken tenders and pasta salad after serving about 45 young people. Etta ate her lunch with a few kids in the cafeteria. I noticed how interested she was in these young people. Her comforting voice and selfless conversation intrigued me and so we chatted.

Her story begins in Wal-Mart. But before telling that story, you need to know that Etta started working with young people as a member of her church and leader of a youth group called the J-Team. The J-Team had been asked by the Salvation Army to provide food for a family. Etta left her phone number with this family seeing that they could possibly use more support, especially the 6 year-old daughter who we will call Tina. At Wal-Mart, 2 months later, Etta ran into this family and reaffirmed her willingness to help the family out.

Before Etta knew it, and after establishing a fun, healthy relationship with Tina, Tina’s mom needed a serious surgery. Tina ended up moving in with Etta for 4 months and served essentially as a guardian. This meant going to school meetings, volunteering at school, and providing everything that Tina needed. After the initial 4 months, Etta then cared for Tina 6 days out of 7. Who does this? How can an individual find time and energy to raise another child after having her own? Remarkable. Just remarkable.

Kids need friends and Tina found lots because everyone wanted a part of “Grandma Etta”. These friends, either as church activities or family activities, went on camp outs, trips to Denver, and they even went to California. All of this was alongside Eagle County activities like movies, ice cream, plays, musicals, and just plain fun. All of them had an adult who modeled kindness, love, and giving back. But, Tina, she is the one who was special to Etta and Etta was special to her. At almost 21 years old now, Tina is very busy with life, Etta and Tina still talk, text and meet up for lunch occasionally.

Can we all be Etta McCarthy? Maybe, but probably not. Across time, more than 50 kids have had Etta in their lives. Some for a short time, and other for a long time. Etta would like to encourage other seniors to get involved with the community and specifically with youth. She says it will enrich their lives and young people can learn from the wisdom of the aged. In her mid-seventies now, Etta is taking it easy. Still volunteering whenever possible, you might cross paths with her as I did. Be sure to thank her.

Written by Sandy Schroeder, Director of Community Engagement for Mountain Youth.

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