Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tongue-tied Trouble-maker, Awed...and Grateful!

I am rarely at a loss for words. But on 4/27/12 at the Bridge Communities Celebrating Women, Transforming Lives luncheon, I didn't say what I'd like to say. So let's see if I can take a shot at it now.

The Transforming Lives award is what they gave me. Yeah, perhaps they can make an argument for that, but it's a one-sided case. What I'd say is my life has been transformed. Since I've been on this crazy-as-a-loon venture called HEAR US, a seven-year journey to raise awareness of homeless children and youth, I've met some inspiring people. They've transformed me from a narrow-minded former shelter director/homeless advocate to a rabid pit-bull advocate.

How could I be anything else? Not if I have been listening and observing the incredible efforts of these families and youth to not only survive homelessness but to thrive in spite of it. I could fill blog after blog with story after story of intrepid parents (mostly moms)  and youth who make me look like a wuss when it comes to persistence.

I have been honored to stand by their side as they've tried to move mountains of federal, state and local bureaucracies that caused/perpetuated their homelessness. What help I've been, and we've shared some success, has kept me sane.

I've witnessed the unconditional love of parents when their kids, well, messed up. Kids that others would toss to the streets find their deeds punished but their personhood intact. This from parents who've many times have known intense rejection from their parents.

I've been showered with blessings, grace, support, encouragement, and lots of opportunities as Tillie, my beleaguered home/office on wheels (gotta be a more fitting name for RVs when recreation plays no part in the vehicle's life) and I traversed over 140,000 miles of the amazingly beautiful and revealing back roads, strewn spaghetti-like over our great nation. The lion's share of the well-wishing comes from the families and kids I meet.

I've had people toss money in Tillie's window. Folks I know who have little to spare put HEAR US in their budget as monthly online donors. My high school English teacher, a Joliet Franciscan sister, gives me "gas money" when I stop to mooch electricity from their parish's aging parking lot light pole.

Audiences of every ilk, from colleges in California to the tarnished halls of Congress, have responded to the stories I've been honored to share via My Own Four Wallson the edge and YouTube. I wish I could take full credit for these documentaries, but nope. My video guru, Laura Vazquez out at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb gets buckets of credit. She and her students, past, present and hopefully future, have shaped my fledgling film efforts.

Kind and generous people have donated impressive sums of money to support these films. School districts, shelters, youth groups, religious education programs from Florida to Hawaii have purchased HEAR US stuff which goes a long way to keeping me rolling. Social media fans did a powerful lot of clicking to earn HEAR US a $5000 gas card from CITGO this past fall. Facebook friends fling encouragement and interesting stories my way.

Yeah, the HEAR US board deserves heaps of kudos too. Just being my friend doesn't cut if for the board. They've had to go way out of their way to make this implausible approach to running a nonprofit organization work. And besides that, they've had to encourage me when things seemed, um, a little goofy.

Before you go accusing me of devising a brilliant scheme to garner attention to homeless families and youth, let's back up. I'm the instrument. No matter how "brilliant" this might be, it's nothing without the trust, confidence and articulate openness of the countless people--kids and adults--that I've filmed. When they risk it all to let me into their lives, I hold that as a treasured jewel that I'll "show off" but protect. Media friends old and new have covered the HEAR US saga, shining a light on homelessness in ways that can only help, like the incredible coverage we got on this issue from HufPo last week.

With homelessness likely to be with us for quite some time, I won't be able to rest. I'll end this with Bridge Communities' founder and poet laureate Mark Milligan's poem he penned for me:

for Diane

Fit a camel
straight through the
eye of a needle?
Hard to do, hard to think about.

But it must get easier
to contemplate the Kingdom
if you actually sell all--yes all--
of your stuff.
Your precious stuff.

Every do-gooder's dream come true.
Sell your stuff.
Hit the road. 
Do something really strong--
Kerouac with a cause.

Trouble-making, film-taking, idea-baking, politician-shaking
Advocating, demonstrating, agitating
She is just a Troublemaker.

Tell the truth, tell it loud,
tell it often, tell it proud.
It's about time they hear us.

Hear Us Now!