Tuesday, March 10, 2009

From a Mother and Daughter

My daughter and I volunteered for a half day shift. I pulled her out of school for the morning (during finals week, yet!!). I knew that, given her early teens age, our universe of tasks was small for the event. But I saw it as an opportunity to teach the young in a community. To my knowledge she was the only young teen present. The most vital take-away for her was the sense that there is no difference between us & "them". Is that not the most critical message for the young? We talked so much that day about her reactions to the event. Even though our role was relatively small (crosswalk guides), the messages she received as a young member of the community are priceless. We chatted in the car (on the way to school afterwards) about how the physical setup showed respect, about how there really is no difference between us, how circumstances create situations & not inner character, how every role in the event contributed to the whole (she was especially fond of the hair cuts!!).

I am grateful to the organizers & all the others that worked towards the Project that, while my mission was fairly simple & discrete - to provide an opportunity for my daughter -- I came away with so much! My hope for next year would be to consider how to include the youth in the community (perhaps during those 6 months Dan refers to in his write-up). We want to be a part of next year's efforts so keep us on your list. Thank you so very much...

Annie & Madeleine Stewart

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The survey says...

We surveyed our volunteers for their thoughts about the event. Here are some of their responses:

“I was moved by the variety of people that I saw at lunch. I liked talking with the guest, making eye contact, getting smiles back. I was nervous about the event, but am not now and would gladly do it again!”

“Meeting and learning about each individual—the stories were sobering, the people were inspiring.”

“Obtaining a genuine sense of community, of getting together, something I haven’t felt for a long time.”

“What I enjoyed most about the event was getting to meet people. I do not know many people who are homeless and I made connections that I will always remember.”

“Seeing walls come down between the two sides.”

“Community support for an important segment of our population.”

“Personal interactions and friendly community spirit, also, the breaking down of stereotypes!”

“The homeless Vets I was able to give information to about the many benefits they have available to them through the Vet Center.”

“The community demonstration of caring, and the level of appreciation of the people served.”

“I felt that it put a face to homelessness, and erased many stereotypes about who the homeless are and what they look like. I felt like we made a difference in people’s lives, and that we were able to provide them with a sense that there are people who care about them and want the best for them, despite their circumstances.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Your Most Important Possesion

A man is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has.

My dad always said "The greatest possession you have is the 24 hours directly in front of you and what counts is not the number of hours you put in, but how much you put in the hours. We witnessed just that, how much was put into the short hours from 7-5 on that Thursday. We volunteered not knowing what to expect and wound up forgetting our own problems by helping someone else with theirs. There's a HUGE difference between giving advice and lending a hand. This turned out to be "Soul Food" for us and we are forever grateful to the staff and all the volunteers who brought this together. What is moral is what you feel good after and we are still feeling good weeks after this project.

-Claudette & Maggie Johnson

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Medical Provider's Story

I knew the moment I read the advertisement for volunteers for Project Homeless Connect in my church bulletin that I was being called personally to be used in a mighty way. I am a medical professional, and my career is also my purpose in life and for this I am blessed. Daily, I get the opportunity to not only assist those seeking medical care, I get to touch, encourage and bless each and every individual I come in contact with.

Being involved in mission work with the homeless population in the past, I know well that you take away more then you can ever give. I was delighted to get the chance to have the opportunity, in this town that I love, in which I was born and raised.

I was part of the outreach in which Northwest Eye Physcians was donating their staff, doctors and supplies to those with visual defects. I will never forget one of our first patients. This gentlemen was overjoyed upon his checkout, barely able to see without squinting upon our first meeting, he was now leaving with a new set of eyes and a new outlook on life. His smile was wide and his gratitude was overflowing. With his new eyes he exclaimed that we were beautiful ladies and that he loved Jesus. He then gave my partner and I a card with a scripture on it for the book of Jeremiah, his last two cards that he wanted us to have for blessing him, little did he know he blessed us. I now carry the card I was given in my car as a constant reminder to have a new, fresh outlook on life daily.

There were many amazing guests that touched us throughout the day. I made a point of heading out for lunch, to join the other guests/volunteers. I found myself next to a conversation that helped me understand the issues facing the homeless better. During lunch I found myself next to a pleasant 51 year old gentleman. The hand he has been dealt in life has been far from a fair one. Placed in foster care at the age of 3, separated from 7 siblings. Orphaned until the age of 7. Placed in a foster home. Abused. Neglected. No guidance, onto a life of crime. 2 felonies. Prison. A record. Then homelessness. This man desires to work, he is strong and proud. He does not like handouts. He is looking for a break. He does temporary work, but the jobs in this economy are becoming harder and harder to come by. Every employer does background checks and no one is willing to give him a shot. He is unable to overcome the mistakes of the past. Mistakes I feel were made by a person who was not properly cared for and guided. I felt hopeless for him. We ended our exchange with him telling me despite all the negative, he wakes up daily with a smile. He also told me he doesn't have it as bad as others with mental illnesses, physical disabilities. He lives in his van, others are out in the cold.

During our conversation a man, genuinely touched by the outpouring of the day stood in front of the dining room. With a trembling voice h e praised the volunteers that reached out that day. He stated he felt more love and compassion on that day then in any other time in his travels. It brought tears to my eyes. Did this man not know that they did more for us that day, than we could have ever done for them? For this experience I will be eternally grateful. Looking forward to next year with great anticipation.

-Tawnya Heredia

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Week and Day Out

I clearly remember the moments before the first wave of guests entered the Depot Market Square that Thursday. The dignitaries were finishing up their speeches to volunteers and I couldn't stand still because the adrenaline was flowing in my system. Up until then, everything that we were doing was just theory. Would the systems work? Would splitting the event across three venues turn into a disaster? What if hardly anybody showed? What if a thousand people did?

A core group of about a dozen people had been working on putting together the first Bellingham/Whatcom Project Homeless Connect for over six months. Towards the end of that planning, it felt like being on a rocket that was burning its fuel as fast as it could so that it could break free from gravity. It was not uncommon to have hundreds of emails every day or for the phone to ring endlessly. The only thing I can compare it to is working on political campaigns. You have a team, everyone has roles, there's a goal line in sight and you're there to win. Making PHC happen was like that. 

- Dan Hammill

Tell Your Story About PHC

We created this blog because a lot of people had incredible experiences on January 29. Many of you have shared some of them in the comments section of the survey that you took. We realize that there wasn't a lot of space there, so we started this blog to tell your stories about Project Homeless Connect. 

Send stories to bellinghamphc@gmail.com

If you haven't taken the survey yet, you can find it here: http://www.cstonestrategies.com/homelesscount/vexit/