I LOVE THE FIRST OF THE MONTH!
If you are new to reading It’s Just Life – Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary the first of each month is a very special time. It is the day that I count up the comments made on the blog during the month and make a donation based on those comments to a charity or cause. It is also the time that I announce the new Comments for a Cause for the next month so it gets pretty exciting around here.
This past month we have been talking about gardening and focusing on the Highland Youth Garden in the Hilltop area of Columbus, Ohio. My buddy, Bill Kline, has been involved with the garden for some time and is one of the biggest advocates there is for getting good quality produce into the hands (and tummies) of the children in that area.
Not only does the garden grow fabulous produce it also helps the children learn how to prepare and cook the fresh items. It is an amazing ministry and is touching the lives of children, their families and the many volunteers who oversee the garden. You can read my post about it by clicking here.
So it is with much excitement that I report that Chris and I will be giving a donation of $357 to The Highland Youth Garden to help with their efforts. In addition to comments here on the blog and those made on Facebook that I tried to keep track of we had a couple of donations of money given to us by folks that we gave items away to from our house in Iowa. We will be adding an additional $250 to our total gift because of those donations of money that were given to us. Thank you to all who have commented tirelessly this month. If you would like to make a donation of your own please feel free to mail to:
Highland Youth Garden through their fiscal agent, Gladden Community House, 183 Hawkes Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43223
The cause for August all started when my friend and former co-worker, Jen Hedrick, posted something on Facebook about something called Conversation Tees. The short story (you can read more by clicking on the website) is that these two guys, Rob and Tom were homeless and came up with a brilliant idea for t-shirts that feature one word and one word only. Words that inspire conversations.
I loved the story of these two guys in Raleigh who found a way to turn their situation into a business. After buying a couple of the shirts of my own I did a little more digging and found this fabulous GoFundMe campaign called Bus Passes and Birthday Songs that has been a part of Rob and Tom’s life as well. I did some more looking around and found the creator of the campaign was Stefan Youngblood who is the Director of Contemporary Worship at Edenton Street UMC in Raleigh.
This story just keeps getting better and better and as I conversed with Stefan via emails I knew that this was the perfect Comments for a Cause for August.
What he is doing is making a difference in the lives of homeless people in the Raleigh area and beyond. The GoFundMe campaign page states the following:
The “Bus Passes and Birthday Songs” project is simply a mission to provide help and hope for the homeless in my city and beyond: HELP, through weekly and single-day free bus passes; HOPE in personalized birthday songs, a very special gift for those who often remain nameless, much less hear their name in a song written just for them.
Homelessness is such a huge problem that I used to think that there’s nothing I can do to make a difference. I was wrong. In meeting real people and making real friendships at shelters for the homeless, I found that these 2 small avenues of help and hope could have a powerful impact. Witnessing a woman become overwhelmed with emotion as she heard her name in a song written to honor her birthday was an experience beyond words. She thought everyone in the world had forgotten her. And providing free bus passes for individuals in need of transportation to job interviews, work and doctors appointments can actually change someone’s life.
In my interview with Stefan I asked a few questions. Yes, it may be longer than my normal post but bookmark it to come back to later if you don’t have time to read it all now because I guarantee you this man has a heart for the homeless and a heart for making a difference in the lives of others.
1. Obviously one of the biggest success stories in your area is the story of Rob and Tom. What is your biggest hope or dream for the homeless in the area?
Number one is that they would be seen, and treated as individuals rather than a group. As in “all black people are”… or “most hipsters are”… My hope is that 1 by 1 they would find a friend, and a relationship with someone who cares. Some are “lifers” on the street, but I’ve found plenty that are just in a bad temporary situation.
2. How does the Birthday Song Blessings work?
An elderly homeless woman said to me one day, almost in a whisper, “Stefan, today is my birthday.” She seemed so lonely, so down, and hopeless. I had already been establishing relationships by sitting with these folks, who now were becoming friends. I decided to make her a birthday gift that didn’t weigh down her 3 plastic grocery bags and beat up knapsack that kept all of her belongings. She had a cell phone as most do, and I recorded a song with her name in it, and texted it to her while also sending a link so that if she did have family somewhere she could have them click the link and hear a song created just for her. The first time she heard it, I simply played it on my computer with her listening through a set of headphones.. Her eyes welled up with tears, and mine did as well. I knew I couldn’t stop there.
I should stop and say that the true inspiration was my mom and dad calling all 8 children (1 have 7 siblings) and singing on the phone EVERY birthday. Everyone deserves that. At Christmas the shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes, and city streets are filled with church groups, and well meaning people determined to give back to the less fortunate. I’ve simply found a small way to do that at a time where many of these “invisible” people don’t get the spotlight that they do at Christmas. Other state and national organizations go a step further by throwing birthday parties for homeless children, men, and women. These are some of those:
We are currently extending our birthday greetings far beyond Raleigh to other major cities.
3. Walk me through how they benefit the homeless. Does the money raised through the purchased songs buy bus passes or actually give birthday songs to the homeless folks? Or both? 🙂
The answer is both. I’ve hired several musicians and singers to assist in creating, producing, and sending these recording gifts. The songs usually sell for $9.99 each online at www.celebrateyou.today, but our limited time funding helps us to produce more songs, build our database of names, and enable more individuals to receive a unique gift on their birthdays. We actually use funds for everything from bus passes, to meals, etc. The practical combined with the inspirational is why we call it Help and Hope.
3. How do you see others reacting to the homeless in your area?
This is VERY dear to my heart. At Christmas, the homeless are seen. Often times however, people just don’t know what to do. I had lunch at the soup kitchen with Joy today. She makes jewelry out of old beads and copper wire. She’s kind, and resourceful. She froze during the winter. Michael is a street poet I met and have been helping. He’s now off the street and working. There are many stories. Do they acknowledge them and engage or do they act like they are invisible? I regularly bring some of them to church to sit with church members hoping the 2 worlds will meet. Many people may not know, but I met a family of 6, sitting in the dirt one Saturday. Refugees from Congo. Spoke no english. Afraid, and barely hanging on. I told them to be there the next day and I’d come back for them. I knew if I got them into church, the Christ in the hearts of church folks would kick into action. I wept as I watched 2 of the older girls in that family being videotaped last week to teach choreography for tomorrow’s worship program to 300 kids at the ESUMC VBS.
4. If you had one piece of advice for anyone on how to make a difference in the life of a homeless person what would it be?
Think of them everyday of the year like you do at Christmas. If you can’t help the whole system, find one small way to help. I’m about to start providing bikes for some of the homeless I know. It’s a small thing that simply helps them get around. Many of us have old bikes in our garage that can be like a car to many of them.
So now you see. You get it. You can understand why I have to be a part of this and hopefully one day when I go to visit Aaron in Raleigh I can stop in and meet Stefan in person and maybe spend a few hours in his world with him learning what it means to be in ministry. For every comment made on ANY post during the month of August Chris and I will donate 50 cents to the Bus Passes and Birthday Songs project. Please, if you feel led to donate on your own simply click here to go directly to the GoFundMe secure website to make an easy online donation. Be a part of the ripple. And if you do nothing else today – watch this very short video.