A Coatesville Effort That Proves No Matter Your Differences Everyone Can Help Others

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    Steven Abi Richa (left) holding a decorated paper bag filled with household items next to Chris Batton (right)

    Steven Abi Richa and Chris Batton

    “He is a character,” says Shannon Watson. “Are you an Eagles fan babe?”

    “Yeah,” says Steven.

    Shannon Watson provides life skills training and support for people with physical differences and disabilities. One of her clients is Steven Abi Richa, 45. A dark haired, wide smiled guy with a sense of humor.

    “He is amazing,” says Shannon, “He has an amazing compassion for people.”

    Steven Abi Richa in a wheelchair in a hospital putting stickers on a paper bag
    Steven Abi Richa in the hospital creating a “Steven’s Bag”.

    Shannon says Steven was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder that makes it hard for him to control his body so he uses a wheel chair to get around. The condition also makes it hard for him to communicate using language. But Steven’s mind is sharp.

    “He understands everything that everyone says and he understands not just English, but also Arabic,” says Shannon, “yeah — he’s a smart guy.”

    Steven loved going to his day program and having activities. But when the pandemic hit all of that stopped. Shannon says the difference in Steven was clear right away.

    “He was becoming depressed and was developing some challenging behaviors because he was bored,” she says.

    “All of this started because she went to look for something for Steven to do,” says Mary Kirk, a longtime friend.

    Kirk nominated Shannon and Steven for the Good Souls Project.

    “So it was a very simple, small project, and I think their initial goal was maybe, you know, like 10 bags,” she says, “It’s just been incredible how much stuff we’ve done.”

    The “project” simply involved Steven packing bags for Shannon’s annual charitable effort for Christmas. But he did so well that Shannon created a project just for Steven. She called it Steven’s Bags. Steven will decorate paper bags with paint, stickers or drawings and fill them with items for the house less.

    “We [fill them with] applesauce fruit and seeds and usually there’s a bagel, peanut butter and pouches of tuna fish with packets of mayo and mustard to go with them,” explains Shannon.

    Shannon Watson (left), Steven Abi Richa (center), and Ann Kirk (right) decorating and filling "Steven's Bags" with some decorated and finished bags hanging in the background behind them
    Shannon Watson (left), Steven Abi Richa (center), and Ann Kirk (right) decorating and filling “Steven’s Bags”.

    She says they gave the bags to Chris Battin who ministers on Streets of Kensington to distribute there. They also provided bags to centers in Coatesville. At first, Shannon, Mary, and Shannon’s friend Ann Kirk footed the bill, along with Steven’s family. But the effort grew so large, they took it to Facebook. Now there’s a Steven’s Bags Facebook group with nearly 300 members who pitch in by decorating bags and donating items from an Amazon wishlist.

    “They pick what they want to help out with, and it’s sent directly to me,” says Shannon.

    The best part is Steven has hit the road with Shannon and the Steven’s Bag crew to hand out the bags in Kensington himself.

    Steven Abi Richa in his wheelchair outside in Kensington helping to hand out "Steven's Bags"
    Steven in Kensington helping hand out “Steven’s Bags”.

    Reporter: Did you like going to to Kensington?
    Steven: Yeah.

    Reporter: Did you like meeting all the people there?
    Steven: Yeah.

    “I’m just happy to see him happy,” says Shannon, “He’s a completely different person than he was a year ago.”

    Rows of packed up and completed "Steven's Bags" on the floor
    Completed and packed up “Steven’s Bags”.

    Together, they’ve produced more than 300 bags for Kensington and scores more for Coatesville. And the effort is growing.

    “This bag project, he’s really made his own,” says Shannon, “he’s met a lot of the people…and he knows that he’s making a difference in other people’s lives. So it’s huge. It’s absolutely huge.”

    Shannon Watson (right) with daughter Daniel (center) and friend Ed Porter (right) in a car
    Shannon Watson (right) with daughter Daniel and friend Ed Porter.

    “Every time you turn around, she’s helping someone else who really needs it,” says Mary Kirk, about Shannon, who is helping Steven help others. “And she recruits other people to help too.”

    Steven Abi Richa at a table working with two other volunteers to fill and decorate "Steven's Bags"
    Steven Abi Richa working with other volunteers to fill and decorate “Steven’s Bags”.

    That’s why Mary says, Shannon is a Good Soul. And Shannon says Steven is too.

    “He just sees people in need and wants to help” says Shannon, “and it just kind of goes to show you that anyone, no matter what their differences may be people can do something for someone else.”

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