18 Years of Empowerment

            As the ink birthing these serifed letters dries, Spare Change News celebrates eighteen years of continuous publication in Greater Boston. Amid myriad tumultuous moments—which have included many sterling success stories as well as some disappointing setbacks—the newspaper has unfailingly rolled off of the presses. Although many have passed through the low-ceilinged hallways of our basement headquarters—I am one of a long series of men and women who have inhabited the role of editor—Spare Change has never drifted from its mission to empower people by providing an economic opportunity and a forum for the amplification of voice.

            In case you are not yet familiar with the history of Spare Change, here is a brief synopsis. The paper was founded in 1992 by a group of then-homeless individuals and one housed advocate. It began as a monthly publication, later printing biweekly, and continuously maintaining circulation numbers between 7500 and 12,000 per issue. Numbers of enrolled and active vendors have fluctuated over the years, with about 90 currently enlisted. Spare Change has prided itself on promoting diversity in its editorial content, and although its primary focus is on issues surrounding poverty and homelessness the publication is devoted to promoting dialogue about multiple realms of social justice and advocacy for marginalized peoples.

            Spare Change News recently commemorated the significance of 18 years of work towards job creation and voice elevation with a Gala and Silent Auction, held at the Inn at Harvard on May 8th. The event was widely hailed by guests as successful and the numbers reflect such an interpretation—the gala raised over $3000 for the organization and enabled Spare Change vendors, staff and Homeless Empowerment Project board members to network with the forty or more community members in attendance. And while we are satisfied with the result of the auction, we are also eager to employ what we have learned towards planning an improved event next spring. For photos of the 18th Anniversary Gala, see page 8 of this issue. Also, please refer to page 16 to see a list of donors and winning bidders to whom we owe gratitude for their generous contributions to the silent auction.

            Culturally, the number 18 commands substantial meaning. In the United States, this is the age at which people are bestowed with the rights, privileges, and responsibilities attached to American citizenship. We can vote, enter military service, marry without parent consent, buy lottery tickets—in many ways, we are expected to comport ourselves with a measure of maturity commensurate with entrance into adulthood. In a similar way, at eighteen Spare Change celebrates its coming of age, a rite associated with the desire to reinvigorate a connection to its past while simultaneously expanding its vision for the future.

            Senior vendor Charles, who sells Spare Change at Park Street, hopes for a successful future for the newspaper, in which “people will recognize that it’s more than just what the title says.” Charles’ sentiment echoes that of the organization generally—we want to raise public awareness that Spare Change does not mean giving charity to panhandlers. Instead, our vendors are self-employed workers who sell a product that reflects their personal values. Our vendors are striving to improve their own lives, meanwhile giving back to their communities. As vendor the Reverend Edward puts it, “The paper is not just for us to sell. It’s for us to help the homeless. That’s my purpose.” Rev. Edward gives a portion of the money he earns from sales to the church and for medicine, food and clothing for homeless individuals in his community.

            After 18 years, Spare Change continues to be foremost about its vendors. As long as these dedicated men and women continue to devote their lives to self-empowerment and building their families and communities, the newspaper will remain strong. In parallel, the community members and advocates who comprise our organization will persistently strive to provide stability and support, and to create expanded opportunities for vendors. Together, we look forward to the next eighteen years, with the bittersweet hope that in the future homelessness and poverty will no longer be the plague that necessitates employment programs such as street newspapers. Until then, Spare Change will continue to raise its voice.

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