On Labor Day, September 1, 1986, Laura Schroff, a thirty-five year old ad executive with USA Today in New York City, had planned to take clients to see the U.S. Tennis Open. Heavy rain that morning canceled the Open and she found herself with nothing to do so she left her luxury Manhattan apartment at Symphony House on 56th Street and went for a walk.
That same morning, a few blocks away, eleven year old Maurice Mazyck woke up in a 12’ by 12’ room at the Bryant Hotel, a run-down welfare building that housed drug addicts, alcoholics, and gangs. He shared the small dirty room with his three sisters, several uncles, and drug-addicted mom and grandmother. Maurice put on his grimy burgundy sweat suit, the only clothing he owned, and headed to his usual busy street corner at the intersection of Broadway and 56th Street, where he panhandled for money, hoping to be able to buy something to eat.
As Laura’s walk brought her to the intersection where Maurice was panhandling he spoke to her, “Excuse me lady, I’m hungry do you have any spare change?” All too familiar with the homeless in the area asking for money, Laura barked, “No,” and kept walking. But as she started across Broadway she stopped, turned around, and walked back to Maurice. It was the first time she had seen a child begging money for food. She told him, “I am not going to give you any money, but if you are hungry, I will take you to McDonalds.” They both had a cheeseburger, fries, and a milk shake.
For the next four years Laura and Maurice met every Monday. Initially they met at 7:00 PM at the same busy corner and went to McDonald’s. On their fourth meeting, Laura bought Maurice his first steak at the Hard Rock Café. After a few months, she began to cook for him at her apartment. One Saturday in November, Laura got a call from Maurice, wanting to know if they could go to McDonalds. He was in the lobby of her apartment and hungry. Laura discovered that he had not eaten since Thursday.
As their relationship developed, Laura bought Maurice new clothes. She offered to give him lunch money so he could eat at school. He refused the money but asked if she could make his lunch and put it in a brown paper bag. “Why a brown paper bag?” she asked. Maurice explained, “When I see kids with their lunch in a brown paper bag, I know that somebody cares about them.” Thus began a tradition of Laura making Maurice’s lunch each day and leaving it in the lobby of her apartment so he could pick it up on his way to school.
One weekend, Laura took Maurice to her sister Annette’s big house on Long Island. It was the first time Maurice had ever left the city or been inside a house. He enjoyed riding bicycles and playing on the lawn with Annette’s three children. But the thing Maurice remembered the most about that weekend was sitting down at a big table as a family and enjoying a meal. On the drive back to Manhattan, Maurice told Laura that when he grew up he would have a big table where all his family could eat together.
Laura gave Maurice his first real Christmas present. She took him to his first Major League Baseball game, bought him his first bicycle, and gave him something that he had never had – love and hope. Although Maurice dropped out of high school, he later completed the GED and got his diploma. He completed the two-year college program at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. While there, he worked with a prison-to-college pipeline program.
After college, Maurice got a job as a security guard with Doar Security Company in New York, and within six months he was promoted to supervisor. Then he decided to start his own construction company with a desire to refurbish old, dilapidated New York City apartment buildings. Today Maurice and his lovely wife Michelle have seven children ages eight to twenty three. Maurice’s biological mother died in 2000 from years of drug abuse. Maurice and his family try to get together with his adopted mother Laura once a month. She often comes over to Maurice’s New York apartment where they sit as a family around Maurice’s big dining table.
Laura and Maurice know that it was their destiny to meet at that busy intersection on that Labor Day almost thirty years ago. Maurice says, “At that moment, she saved my life, because I was going down the wrong road. The Lord sent me an angel. Without her, I would not be the man I am today.” Laura gave him the courage to believe that his situation could get better. She says, “Whatever I gave to Maurice, he gave me back ten-fold. He taught me courage, the true value of money, thankfulness, and the real meaning of love.” Laura has captured their story in the beautiful book An Invisible Thread. Proceeds go to support Partnership Share: No Kid Hungry.
“You are to pay special attention to those who by accident of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” St. Augustine