Lindsay Opper Pays Tribute to Her Mom With Gala Speech

Letter from Lindsay Opper to her mom, Cheryl Opper, founder and executive director,
School on Wheels of Massachusetts
November 16, 2017

In 9th grade, my mom brought in a new family member to live with us: School on Wheels of MA (SOWMA). After school, I would get off the bus and come home to backpack supplies dropped off on our front porch, a basement that looked like a CVS and various people gathered around our kitchen table. Many of nights I would walk downstairs to turn off the living room tv (located directly below my bedroom).

The living room was where my mom continued to work on grants & other important SOWMA materials late into the night. It become a nightly ritual for me to come downstairs and turn off Tom Bergeren’s booming voice as he announced the next Dancing With The Stars contestant eliminated. I then would clear the Lean Cuisine from the coffee table, remove my mom’s glasses from her sleeping face & set her laptop aside. Never once did my mom wake up the next day and complain about her massive workload or how tired she felt. Instead she would wake up re-energized. Ready to go out and be a voice for the kids.

It’s that voice that has led the charge to go from being a small nonprofit that tutored 20 children a week to now having served over 2500 students. My mom has attended over a dozen college graduations each time with the same enthusiasm as the first.

She has spent the past 13 years being a voice for each and every SOWMA kid. When she goes to a local speaking event, she wears an invisible cape displaying every child’s name she is fighting for. Whether it’s the ability for a 5th grader to have all of the necessary materials for their science fair project or a 1st grader to have a new Minnie Mouse backpack like all of the other kids on the first day of school, each dollar has meaning to her.

And as many of you know my mom has the superpower ability to get you to volunteer for something before you even realize what you’ve just signed up for. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I was younger that I said “ok mom enough already”. Like the time I brought a new guy over to our house and my mom sat down in between us, gave him a SOWMA brochure and began to ask what his company did to give back to the local community. But now that I have grown up (& we no longer live together) I now recognize how much her voice has truly made a difference.

For the past 13 years School on Wheels has been my moms driving force for getting out of bed every day. Therefore it is no surprise that retiring is really hitting her like a deep loss. Mom, I want you to know that while you may be retiring your passion lives on.

13 years equals 4,745 days in which you have spread the mission of School on Wheels to break the cycle of homelessness. All of this time you have created a new cycle- one with thousands of messengers spreading your word.

Just look around this room tonight. Every single person here has told someone about School on Wheels. One of them may have told a coworker on the way out the door tonight who may later become a tutor while another person may tell their nephew who will decide to make School on Wheels their bar mitzvah project…From loyal NECN news watchers inspIred by the SOWMA story in the early morning hour to former students that have turned into tutors to the SOWMA past/current employees, the voices of the School on Wheels children are alive and well. Each one of us proudly wears a piece of your superhero cape and will continue to spread your message far and wide.

Except one sentence will change. One day the average age of homelessness in MA will no longer be 8 years old and that will be in large part due to your voice- the founder of School on Wheels of Massachusetts and mine and many other’s superhero.