By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
WILLINGBORO – In the beginning, Anakia Keeton said the giving was a way to fill the terrible void she felt inside after losing her husband and a twin daughter within three years of each other.
Now her nonprofit Visual Angels, Inc. is growing and reaching out into the Burlington County community more than ever with bigger plans down to road to counsel and help young men and women on a regular basis.
“I want you to be able to see the blessings,” Keeton said the organization that started informally in honor of her surviving twin daughter Olivia. “Some people don’t have faith because they don’t see where their blessings are coming from. To me, if you can see people helping, others will help others.”
Keeton, who works full-time as a corrections officer, saw her husband Andre Keeton die unexpectedly at 52 from exploratory surgery in 2012. In 2015, Keeton gave birth to two girls, but one, London, suffered from what she described as a rare hernia died shortly afterwards.
“I was in such a black hole,” Keeton said of that period in her life. “I didn’t know if I was coming or going. As I was giving, it was just a feeling in your soul. Just talking about it brings me so much joy. Seeing a smile on people’s faces who don’t have it. Just a little help goes a long way.”
Giving became not only a way to show Olivia, who is now 4, how to spread joy, but became the ultimate way of healing from such devastating losses. Even the name of the nonprofit has significant meaning for her.
“I didn’t know what name to give it so I just prayed about it,” said Keeton, playing off the idea of people visualizing their blessings. “Visual Angels came to my spirit. To me it was deeper.
That made since to me. I thought of angels because my husband is an angel. My daughter is an angel. They’re angels to me.”
While Visual Angels has been an official 501(c)3 nonprofit since January, Keeton’s group giving dates back several years ago with community Christmas toy giveaways that she funded out of her own pocket.
“Everything was named after Olivia,” Keeton said. “The first Christmas giveaway was Olivia’s Christmas Giveaway. Now it’s all under Visual Angels.”
With a faithful group of about 15 volunteers who she calls “her stone,” Visual Angels has steadily made a bigger imprint in Willingboro. Last May, the organization sponsored a successful Women’s Empowerment Conference.
On Saturday (June 20), it will hold a fish fry fundraiser. A schoolbook bag giveaway and haircuts will happen at Salon DUO on Sept. 4. Her annual Christmas giveaway is already set for the Kennedy Center on Dec. 14. Visual Angels has also taken up donations for leukemia and the military.
“I want a building so we can do counseling for people who need it,” Keeton said of her future plans for Visual Angels. “Right now, I’m working out of my house. If we can get a building, we can help more people and do different programs for young women and young men who need help in society.
“They really need a lot of help. We’re trying to do a ‘Dress for Success’ program. If we had a building, we can do a little more than what we are right now.”
Keeton said in the long run she hopes her giving can be an inspiration to others and encourage them to pay it forward the way Visual Angels has.
“I sleep, eat, dream, walk to be a positive role model for others,” Keeton said. “I love helping others, especially the younger generation. I really do look forward to helping and being an inspiration. It makes a different. I can’t change the world. I just want to make a different.”
She already has with Visual Angels.
Photos courtesy of Anakia Keeton