Debbie French

A Life of Intentional Acts of Kindness

Posted by Nancy Lee on April 13, 2024

     Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

                                               1 Corinthians 13:7 (ESV)

Since my last two blog posts on the subject, I have pondered more about “Random Acts of Kindness.” Most of us would agree that random acts of kindness are wonderful and make the world a better place. I myself have been blessed by random acts of kindness, like the time my daughter and I, both dressed in long skirts, were stranded with a flat tire. A local mechanic answered our call, changed our tire in less than ten minutes, and was on his way adamantly refusing to let me pay him.

But there are those, like Shelly in my last two stories, whose acts of kindness are not occasional and random, whose entire lives are characterized by “Intentional Acts of Kindness.” (If you missed those stories, you can read them here and here.) When I returned to New York from Florida after interviewing Shelly, I decided to search for others who fall into that category. I did not have to search far. Debbie French from Ilion, New York, is one example.

I met Debbie in 2022 while I began volunteering at Willow Network (formerly Care Net) pregnancy care center in Ilion, New York. With her Long Island accent and a boldness mixed with joy, Debbie pours love and encouragement into the lives of men, women, and families who come to the center for services. Her duties include answering the phone, greeting walk-ins, guiding clients through virtual parenting classes, counseling, helping clients to shop in the boutique, and planning events for special occasions like Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. She sometimes represents Willow Network as a guest speaker or manages an informational table at a community event.

What is most remarkable to me is that Debbie is a volunteer. She has been working two days a week at Willow Network for sixteen years. Sixteen years without receiving a single penny for her services. Also remarkable to me is that Debbie suffers from Lupus. She struggles with chronic pain and weakness, yet, despite what kind of day she is having, twice a week, and more often when needed, she shows up at Willow Network to bless others.

When Debbie is not at Willow Network, she is volunteering in other places. Debbie spends about six months of the year planning for the Ilion Days Princess Pageant, a local annual event. She has been the chairperson of the committee for nineteen years.

Debbie also volunteers in multiple ways at her church. She taught Sunday School and helped with the food pantry for years. She oversees their annual Women’s Tea and Vacation Bible School, acts as a liaison for Willow Network, and helps however she can. She loves to invite people to church and to encourage them to get involved.

Besides her formal volunteer work, Debbie has an incredible network that reaches deep into the fabric of our community. I was amazed when the two of us manned a table for Willow Network at a “Trunk or Treat” event held at a local clinic. She knew every single person who came to our table.

“He used to live down the street from me.”

“He was one of the kids my son coached. Look at him now, grown up with kids!”

“She used to go to my church, and I haven’t seen her for months.”

“I work with her on a committee for Ilion Days.”

And on she went with her explanations of how she knew each person. She would chat with each one, ask them for updates on their lives, give them words of encouragement, and hug them as she said goodbye. 

I asked Debbie what motivates her to spend her life giving to others. “Volunteering is what keeps me going,” she said. She explained that God has done so much for her, and she wants people to realize that God is always with them through anything they go through, even if they rebel like she did.

“Because I have been there, I can relate to most of our clients at Willow Network and others in our community.” She laughed and continued. “People would not believe the person I used to be. At one time I would go out partying every night. I have escaped abusive situations, lost an ex-boyfriend to an overdose, and was hunted down by another ex-boyfriend after he got out of prison. I was a single parent and had to fight the court system for custody of my son.”

She went on the explain her experiences with infant loss. “I should have had a large family, but I only have two children—a daughter and a son. I lost one early on to abortion. I lost twins at six weeks, and a beautiful fully formed baby boy with ten fingers and ten toes at seventeen weeks.”

Two years after losing her son, God blessed Debbie with her daughter. Debbie was determined to raise her right and started bringing her to church and Sunday school. Her car broke down, and Debbie and her daughter started going to a different church with her friend. Debbie felt at home at her new church from the beginning.

“The more I interacted with Christian people, the more I felt God pulling me closer. After a couple of years, I wanted to get baptized, but I fought myself for a year because I had been baptized as a baby.

“When I was finally baptized and went down in that tank, I literally left everything in that tank. When I came up, I was gung-ho on sharing everything God had done for me and how the Holy Spirit had taken my anxiety away. I was just so confident in what Jesus had done in my life.”

Still grieving over the loss of her son, Debbie confided in a friend from church. Her friend invited her to a Care Net banquet, and Debbie signed up to be trained as a volunteer. Part of her training involved taking a class, “Forgiven and Set Free,” which helped her heal from her infant losses and find peace. Debbie received extensive training which prepared her to volunteer as a Client Advocate.

“My friendship with Jesus is the most important thing in my life,” Debbie said. At times she is tempted to fall back into some of her old ways, but she is careful to avoid any situation that might bring about temptation or compromise. “The Holy Spirit is always there saying, ‘Don’t you dare!’” 

Debbie wants to bring people hope. “I want people to know that God never gives up on them and that their life can get better. Look at my example. If I can change, with God’s help, anyone can!”

Do you know any one in need of parenting or pregnancy resources? Connect with Willow Network (