It’s funny when you get hope and inspiration, especially when it comes from the unlikeliest of places. A couple of months ago I was contacted by a man named Shimshon Stu Siegel. Shimshon is the Director of a program out of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass called Impact Boston, for which High School students from around the country come out for the summer and volunteer and learn about nonprofits that address the needs of those less fortunate. Shimshon had actually wanted us to be one the participants a year ago, but at the time SCN was going through it’s own little crisis.
So this year when he called I was actually surprised, figuring why would someone want to be involved with such an unstable organization? But we were in much better shape this time around and I felt I owed him this. We met and planned everything out. The program would take place for one week at the end of June, but by then I didn’t know if I actually wanted to do it. By mid June, HEP was in the middle of hiring an Executive Director and as the time approached for him to take the reins my main thing was to get him settled in so I could walk away.
Truth be told folks, I was tired. For nearly three years I had been the interim ED, and this last year had taken a toll on me. I’d turned 50 the year before. As I thought about my friends and family, I didn’t know if I still wanted to be Board President, let alone ED. I had a lot to think about, but backing away from this commitment was something I couldn’t do. How bad could it be, I thought. It’s just a bunch of kids who would probably lose interest real quick. I’d go through the motions and go home.
Boy was I wrong. They came into the church with Rachel, their group leader, and after introductions they asked questions. By the questions they asked and the attention they showed, I could tell this group of youngsters was eager to learn all about homelessness. When Norman, one of our Vendor Supervisors, and I informed them that they will experience what it feels like to panhandle, they didn’t blink an eye.
We went to the Park Street area of Boston. They spread out with their cups and homemade signs and went to work. As the day wore on, the effect of what it was like to be on the street and begging for change set in. They were not only amazed at how cruel people could be, but also how also how kind they can be as well. But what really shocked me was the reaction of the people who saw these kids. It was as if for the first time people realized that homelessness knows no age or color. Even the police stopped and talked to these kids.
At the end of the day, they decided to donate the money they made panhandling to Bridge over Troubled Waters, which works with homeless children who are around their age. Also, thanks to Norman they were able to go there and talk to someone their age that was homeless. The next few days were great as the kids eagerly learned all that they could about homelessness, and about us. They liked being around us as much as we enjoyed having them.
On their final day with us, the youngsters went out and sold papers, and their enthusiasm was boundless. A couple of days later we went to a luncheon for all the students of Impact Boston, where we heard and saw some moving stories from kids and the people they worked with. Yes, I’m biased when I say that our kids had the best video, which you can see on our Facebook page. We said a tearful goodbye to them, and we all miss them.
As for me, well like I said, you never know where hope and inspiration will come from. It came in the form of these 12 great kids and their team leader, Rachel. By watching and listening to them it made me realize that I need to keep fighting to end homelessness so the generation after me will keep fighting too. I will stay Board President of HEP as long as they need me to, and though my role will lessen somewhat, I will still be here. And to those great bunch of kids, thanks.