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A Heart in Bloom

Helping the homeless, a life’s calling

Cathy
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Gaye Jackson, Jackson Price

Jackson Price, 16, comes by his caring nature from mom Gaye Jackson, who helps the homeless through nonprofit Entryway Houston. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Gaye Jackson exudes an energetic glow, eyes full of sparkle and passion, her smile as soothing as a warm ocean wave. She’s a people person. There’s an electricity to her hugs, a visceral connection, as if she’s powering up the recipient with positive, megawatt vibes. 

She’s always felt a sense of service, even as a florist many years ago, through the power of flowers. 

Bringing a smile to a face with a lush bouquet. Etching lasting memories for a bride.

An artist’s instinct animated her 25-year floral career. She was the go-to shop, Gaye Jackson’s Flowers in The Heights, offering arrangements that were anything but cookie-cutter. The ubiquitous symmetrical dome of blossoms? Not her thing. With a keen eye and deft hand, she’d create unexpected juxtapositions – wisps, bursts, and combinations of blooms – crafted like a poem for the person in mind.

Victoria Majdecki, Gaye Jackson

Victoria Majdecki (on left), who went from a shelter to a job and home through Entryway’s job training, is all smiles with Gaye at their annual luncheon, held at the Junior League of Houston.

“Artists can paint. My palette is arranging flowers. That was my gift,” says the Tanglewood resident. “I was never that FTD kind of florist. If somebody had said ‘Make this bouquet look like that picture,’ I probably would have revolted. Everything I sent out had to be unique, special.”

Births, graduations, weddings, anniversaries. Deaths. She was an emotional emissary to people’s highs and lows in life.

And she’s still on the front lines, serving people, albeit, in a different way. “This is my last chapter, kind of like my directive, my calling,” she says, of a mission that stirs her soul. Helping the homeless.

“It’s my heart.”

Tony Steptoe, Gaye Jackson

SUCCESS STORIES Nonprofit Entryway partners with the apartment industry to provide jobs and homes for the situationally homeless. Tony Steptoe gets a thumbs-up from Entryway Houston’s executive director Gaye Jackson and other participants, upon news of a job offer and home.

Gaye sits in her den this chilly day, fireplace blazing, her dachshund, Mabel, burrowed under a blanket at her side. She’s talking about her role as executive director of the Houston chapter of the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, Entryway, a program that partners with the apartment industry to provide homes and jobs for the situationally homeless – people who lost housing due to job loss, domestic violence, a medical emergency, natural disaster, a myriad of reasons.

The program, in several cities, acts as a bridge between the apartment industry and social service sector, matching participants with mentors, providing job training, and connecting them to job interviews at multifamily properties that discount their housing costs, also waiving the deposit and first month’s rent. Houston’s CORT Furniture gifts participants with furniture, bedding, pots and pans, all household needs. Placements in the program receive 65 pounds of food twice a month through the Houston Food Bank’s stability program. 

“Gaye is the right fit to lead Houston’s efforts,” says Entryway CEO David Williams, the Make-A-Wish-America former chief executive who 40 years ago helped found the Houston Food Bank. “I think the first thing I saw was how entrepreneurial she is, having that floral business that was very successful. She’s very people-oriented. She wants to make an impact. That’s the kind of person you want representing your organization.”

Entryway opened its Houston chapter in June 2021, with Gaye as executive director. She hit the ground running. “Part of my job is to go around and convince industry partners that if they hire one of our people, they are going to get the most grateful, hard-working, determined people they’ll ever get. Because they are wanting that hand-up, to keep that apartment and that job. Their families have been unsettled. All they want is stability. They are so grateful and work hard!”

“She’s an angel. She’s my angel,” says Victoria Majdecki, now a maintenance technician for Arise Equity Management, one of Entryway’s industry partners. Majdecki and her son Jayden, 7, were new to Houston a year ago when she found herself with no place to go. She had been staying in a shelter with her son after ending a 20-year relationship with his father that turned toxic. “I had to call the police on him for domestic abuse,” she says.

Gaye encouraged her through the training program when doubts started creeping in. “If not for her, I don’t know where I’d be.” Jayden’s school is across the street from their apartment, the perfect setup. Costs of after-school care aren’t needed, as he stays in her office with her after school, doing homework. “When I’m off work, we go to our apartment together.”

“The fact that she’s so happy almost brings me to tears,” says Gaye. “She’s been a rock star in her job. They just love her. As a single mom, I know how important it is to be there for your child, to pick them up from school and be there every single day. I worked my job around that, and now Victoria can do the same thing. 

“I have a friend who is a mentor to Victoria,” she continues. “When Victoria and Jayden moved into their apartment, they were crying. We all were crying. That friend turned to me and said, ‘I get it now, Gaye. This is your payday.’”

“I’m proud of my mom and how she’s always helping others,” says her son Jackson, 16 – full name, Jackson Price – from Gaye’s second marriage. Gaye had Jackson at age 50. “My pride and joy.”

“I really think it has impacted me and rubbed off on me,” says the sophomore at Strake Jesuit. He took an American sign language course during summer camp and is interested in starting a club to teach it. “I think it would be a good thing to raise awareness about it. And it’s so fun to learn.”

Keith Carter, Tony Steptoe

Tony Steptoe (on right) and Keith Carter (on left), Entryway Houston's first placement who celebrates his second anniversary as a maintenance technician with IMT Cinco Ranch in April, had a lot to be happy about at the program’s Homecoming Harvest Luncheon in November.

Just as Jackson learned kindness and giving from his mother, Gaye learned subliminally through her parents, Faye and Frank Jackson. “I saw it every day,” she says. 

Faye, 95, living with Gaye now, has retained her kind demeanor through the years. “She patterns the way someone should age,” says her daughter, blowing a kiss at her mom. 

As if on cue, little red wiener dog, Mabel, streaks through Faye’s bedroom, intent on getting her share of affection. “She kind of runs the household,” says Gaye, laughing. “And she’s Mom’s protector. She loves my mom. My mother has always had this great spirit about her. She was creative, did things for people all her life, was very involved in the church. She’s just a giver. Need a casserole? She was that person.”

Her dad, in the steel business, had anything but a steely personality. Kind to the core. “When he died, I heard all these stories from people about his generosity. They were both that way.” 

She named Jackson after the family surname, in honor of her father, who died decades ago, at 67. “Jackson’s first name is my last name. It’s a good name,” she quips.

“Dad was always so supportive, always told me I could do anything I wanted to do,” says Gaye, who pursued a psychology degree at Texas A&M. “I wanted to save the world.” But the idea of flowers danced about in her head. She had worked part-time for a florist while a student at Spring Woods High School. Loved it.

“I was doing flowers for friends, parties, people getting married. I thought ‘I can do this! And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll get a real job.’” 

It worked out. And during the lowest of times, it was her solace. 

She married in her early 30s. Mr. Wonderful, she called him. “He swept me off my feet.” Under a cascade of balloons at a Denver hotel, he proposed.

Their marriage was short-lived. He died by suicide.

“I think the more we go through, the more understanding and compassion we have for others,” says Gaye. “When life throws things at you, you keep going. And sometimes you must look for ways to distract.” 

The young widow threw herself into work. “That’s when my business grew so much,” she says of her shop that eventually morphed into three locations. “I didn’t mind working weekends because I was sad. I didn’t want to stay home because I was sad. I put my energy into my flowers.”

All the while, nonprofits always tugged at her heartstrings. She sat on the board of Houston Hospice for many years. They cared for her dad – indeed, the entire family’s needs – when he was dying of colon cancer. “They taught Mom how to write a check. Dad had always done that,” she says of the organization.

A couple of years after his death, Gaye approached the hospice board. “I remember telling them ‘I really want to do something for you, like an event of some kind,’ and they said, ‘We tried it once and we lost money.’ I said ‘No! We aren’t going to spend money on it, we are going to raise it!’ And we did.”

She called up noted businessman Jim McIngvale from TV’s Mattress Mack ads, asking him to auctioneer the event. He did, flashing his “We will save you money!” wad of cash. The gala was a success, earning $40,000, a sizeable sum, considering this was three decades ago when the concept of hospice wasn’t as well known.

“That was the start of me thinking ‘This is what you can do if you try.’ Get great people and friends to help and you can do things. It snowballs. It works.”

Buoyed, she and a group of friends operated a volunteer group for several years, Friends for Kids, raising money through events and parties, gifting the proceeds to charitable children’s organizations. Volunteering in this way was her beacon. “I knew I would one day work for a nonprofit,” she says. “I always knew that.”

Eventually, she phased out of the floral business. It was a great run. Top wedding florist for nine years straight, one of the fastest growing businesses in Houston for a time. But another chapter called.

Gaye Jackson, Jackson Price

LIKE MOTHER, LIKE SON Gaye Jackson’s passion for helping others has trickled down to her 16-year-old son Jackson Price, who feels a sense of service in his future. And their little wiener dog Mabel does her part as the most loyal protector and instigator in the family. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

She remarried in her late 40s, moved to Dallas, and became a mom. As a florist she had worked closely with brides, organizing all facets of their big day. So, wedding planning fell comfortably in her lap in her new city. And she coordinated her Dallas neighborhood’s annual Swiss Avenue Historic District Mother’s Day tour. She divorced when Jackson was quite young, moving back to Houston in the middle of his first-grade school year.

Gaye’s heart of gold is as transparent as a clear, glass windowpane, say Dallas friends and neighbors.

Mezzo soprano singer Virginia Dupuy, one of the nation’s finest concert and recital voices, and a professor at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, can’t sing Gaye’s praises enough.

“Gaye has more energy than anybody I’ve ever known. And she truly has a servant’s heart,” says her Dallas neighbor. “She is super passionate about human rights and helping people. She exudes that love with everybody. She is so fearless with this task, helping the homeless, that she has taken on. She certainly has had challenges, but she’s able to maintain her vision through all the ups and downs and I think that is just an amazing characteristic.”

Challenges have, indeed, built strength and resilience, says Gaye, who underwent successful treatment for breast cancer just a few months after taking on her role in the homeless program. 

Faye Jackson, Gaye Jackson

A SUBLIMINAL KINDNESS Compassion and giving are stamped in Gaye Jackson’s DNA, qualities she saw in her mother every day growing up. Faye, 95, lives with Gaye now, an incomparable duo, full of warmth and laughter. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Gaye recalls a drive with Virginia, where the calling to help the homeless was minted on her heart, like a stamp.

“We’d gone to see a neighborhood of tiny houses built for the homeless in Dallas. 

“I looked at Virginia and I said, ‘I don’t know why exactly I’m going back to Houston, but I’m going to do something for the homeless there.’ It stayed on my heart. And it didn’t happen for a while when I got back to Houston. It was eight years later. But here I am now!”

The stars aligned, positioning Gaye in just the right place to help a whole lot of people, says military veteran Tony Steptoe, who lost his home and job while hospitalized for a prolonged illness. His smooth-as-silk voice spent years behind the microphone as a radio broadcaster, a job he lost when the station changed formats. “Lost my apartment, too. I remember people saying ‘I’m just a couple of checks away from being homeless’ and that’s true. That’s how long I lasted. Two checks.”

He remembers meeting Gaye at the beginning of the Entryway program’s training program. She embraced all the participants with hugs. “I was standing next to another participant and asked ‘Did you feel that? Did you notice that, or was it just me?’ This woman really cares. It was that powerful.”

Tony graduated from the program and now has a full-time maintenance technician job for Oak Leaf Management and lives in Lake Jackson. He’s just minutes from his 12-year-old son and a grown daughter. 

When his phone pings, sometimes it’s Gaye. “She asks how the weekend went, what I’m doing. She’s an angel, a true friend.”

Gaye, modest, isn’t in it for praise. Helping the homeless is the mother lode, her richest source of happiness, she says.

 “It’s just my little piece. I’m blessed to have this opportunity. It makes my heart sing.”

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