a) I'm passionate about causes I believe in and I want to spread awareness
b) I want people to know this charity exists and the good it brings to the world
c) I want people to donate or support the charity with non-monetary donations in kind if they are so moved to
I hope you're out there stumping for your pet causes too. We don't think twice about sharing a photo of dinner or a gym check in, but we consider refraining from charity posts because we might seem braggy? Don't even. If you're posting about charity for altruistic reasons like normal, good human beings, please keep posting about these worthy organizations and the important work they're doing. If you're posting about charity work to pat yourself on the back or act like you're better than others, you're going to get a hot poker shoved straight up your ass by karma. Your motives are up to you to work out.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program: the Covenant House Sleep Out.
Friday night we arrived at Covenant House at 7 for a Sleep Out. We were voluntarily going to sleep outside for a night to raise awareness and money for homeless teens. We were handed papers that had half hour workshops on them. I was tired from a long week. Irritated. Hot in the building. Listening to the staff and the over 18 kids at Covenant House speak about what their lives were like snapped me out of my petty grievances pretty quickly.
One of the things that struck me was how they describe life on the street as your body either being in a constant state of flight or a constant state of fight. The adrenaline that is not a rush but a consistent flow. After one night of sleeping outside - in a contained parking lot with a cop in front of it, with cardboard for shelter and a warm sleeping bag, which is more than these kids have on the street - I really cannot imagine how they go through their days. And yet that's exactly what they do - they get up, they make themselves presentable, they go to school, they hold down jobs...all while trying to figure out where to sleep that night. And with adrenaline that never stops rushing through their system. I don't know about you, but I feel ill after adrenaline bursts. What if I felt that all the time?
These are not the homeless people most of us see in our minds - dirty, smelly, incoherent, mentally ill or on drugs or drunk. These are kids that were forced out by circumstance or because their parents changed the locks and told them they had no more homes. They are kids that do their best to hide in plain sight and not be fingered as homeless.
After sleeping out one night, all day Saturday I was off of my game. My brain was fuzzy. My heart was racing. This is meant to mimic how there is no sound sleep on the street - every steetlight, every car that goes by, every loud noise...my own subconscious let me know I was exposed all night, even though I was surrounded by 40 other people, a fence, and a cop. What is it like for people who don't have those safeguards? Not too fucking good.
These are the kids we all point at for wanting a hand out. We wonder why they can't stand on their own at 18, 19, 21...how do we expect them to when no one taught them the skills to survive in normal life? And surprise! Not one of these kids that I heard talk on Friday night wants to live off of the system. In fact, even after all they've been through, they want jobs and positions that will enable them to HELP OTHERS in their community. THEY were worried about US sleeping outside for ONE night. The difference between a life of crime and depravity on the streets and a life as a productive, contributing member of society is a place like Covenant House. They show these kids their worth and praise their resilience. The first girl I heard speak said "I know no matter what happens I can rely on myself. I learned that here."
This is a program and a place and people I can get behind. Covenant House does not stop at offering an immediate safe harbor. They strive to move each young person forward down the path to an independent adulthood, free from the risk of future homelessness. Every young person receives individual attention from caring adults who are ready to lend a hand up to a better opportunity.
I could go on forever praising Covenant House and their role in the lives of these kids. They are the only shelter for kids under 21 with families who can't or won't care for them. I know, you're thinking 21, shit they should be on their own...coming from where they're coming from, it's about 100 times harder for them to be on their own at that age than it is for 95% of us.
Covenant House feels less like a shelter and more like a family home that's also a school of life. They teach these kids how to get on another path. Covenant House also attempts to help the kids outside its walls, doing outreach on the street in the most dangerous neighborhoods. They are also the leading member of the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition. I left on Saturday morning thanking the universe for the existence of Covenant House and crying much of the way home. The stories I heard and the experience itself was really emotional.
I also left knowing that I have found a cause worthy of my time and money, a place I want to spread the word about. Thanks to our friends Joe & Catie for putting our team together and putting Covenant House on my radar.
For those who want to know more about the tenants Covenant House operates on:
The first workshop was structure. Street life is very unstructured. Covenant House has curfews, phone rules, and wake up rules (6:30 a.m.). As a person who only functions at my best with a routine, this spoke to me. How can you have a routine if you're going through every day wondering where you're going to sleep that night, if the few possessions you have are safe, where your next meal is coming from, where you might use the bathroom? You can't.
The second workshop was immediacy. Young people are welcomed without question or cost. The foremost goal is to provide quality services to youth in need in an immediate fashion. That means no long intake forms. No need for ID. Unsafe, right? Something I didn't know: most kids are kicked out of their homes without ID. Some have previous foster families hold their birth certificates for ransom. You're 18, get a job, right? Pretty hard to do without any identification. I would not have known how to go about getting my ID if my parents withheld my birth certificate and social security card. One of the things Covenant House does is get these kids proper identification so they can navigate life...and the job market.
The third workshop just about broke my soul. It was sanctuary - a safe haven from the street is one thing, but the important thing is that Covenant House emphasizes the inherent worth of these kids. Many of them arrive at the door without anyone ever making them feel like they're worth anything. We have all made mistakes. Most of us have a support system that let us know that we are not our mistakes. These kids don't come from that. The two that spoke in this room just astounded me. A tall black kid without a father since he was seven, killed in the drug trade. An aunt who molested him. A mother who beat him with every available object, and when he was 16 demanded that he face down a gang with guns to be a man and protect his family. He had nowhere to go except Covenant House and now he's going to college to be a nurse. And he was quick to smile and joke...after all that bullshit. A girl with a psychologist father who put her in the hospital more than three times. A mother who kicked her out starting at 13 and banished her for good at 16. She slept under slides in Camden, was assaulted on the street, and hospitalized again. She went to the state and was told they couldn't help her. She ended up at Covenant House, got her dental assistant degree and is going on for more schooling. She was so passionate in her belief that she is in charge of her life and what she becomes, not her past. Her voice shook with emotion but she was resolute. I was so proud for her.
The fourth workshop was value communication - communicating values which are life enhancing and not destructive. Kids know they need to lie, cheat, and steal to survive on the street. Covenant House enters into a relationship with them based on honesty, love, trust, and respect. Simple, right? Not if you didn't grow up with those values.
The final workshop was choice. Covenant House's goal is to empower the young people they serve. They must choose to enter this relationship freely and choose to change how they operate in life.
Covenant House is 99.9% publicly funded and a little under $3,000 from reaching its goal of $100,000 raised from this sleep out. If you are inclined to donate, please click here and if you're local to a Covenant House, check out the link above for in-kind donations.