Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Does HEAR US Do?

A good friend asked a legitimate question: What will HEAR US do with the money you're trying to raise
I looked at our website, as if for the first time. Even though I created it. Hmmm. The mission statement,
The HEAR US mission is to
...give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth...
produces poignant films and books that are used by educators, social service personnel and other audiences to call attention to the invisible crisis of millions of families with children and young people who struggle without a place to call home;
>addresses audiences at conferences, university and college students, and a variety of gatherings to foster a greater understanding of homelessness;
> facilitates media connections for homeless families/youth, and is quite active on social media, shining a light on the need to repair the torn safety net that leaves millions--babies, toddlers, school kids, teens and young adults, and adults-- on the streets.

This gets at the general idea of what we do. And I have always been reluctant to be specific, for good reason I think.

To better understand, let me explain one thing. HEAR US Inc. (, a national nonprofit, is a VERY unique nonprofit. I've been part of the nonprofit world (my bio, PDF) since the mid-80s. And I know that mission statements and goals/objectives are part of the landscape of the millions (?) of nonprofits scrambling for support. But, HEAR US is different. How?

Well, pretty well no one does what "we" -- I, the sole employee -- do. Having spent more than the past quarter century working with homeless families, youth and adults, I've heard bazillion times some form of: Homeless kids (families)?? I didn't know we had any! ... Aren't all homeless kids in foster care? ... They just live in big cities, like NYC, Chicago... and so on. HEAR US responds to that significant gap in awareness in a variety of ways.

I've worked very intensely with schools grappling with the reality of homeless students in their midst since way back in 1990. I've advocated with countless families/youth so they could get into school. I've seen educators' lack of understanding. And I've been deeply involved with successful efforts to change laws to better serve homeless families and youth.

And I chose to toss my life to the wind in 2005 (the year HEAR US was formed) to make sure more people, especially school personnel, would have more awareness of and sensitivity to kids and families in homeless situations. And in the process, to be flexible enough to be involved with relevant advocacy efforts, respond to a local crisis, or lead the charge for an invisible, essential cause.

I sold my townhouse and got rid of most of my stuff, purchased (with my own funds) a small motorhome to serve as my home/office/wheels, and set out to do what I had never done before, make a documentary of kids sharing what their experience of homelessness was like and what school meant to them. That film, My Own Four Walls, is now the best training film ever for schools. (the 4-min trailer, )

Because of how things work, I was able to connect with Professor Laura Vazquez, a documentary maker at Northern Illinois University. She and I teamed up to make the feature-length documentary, on the edge: Homeless Families in America,  which has won many film awards and has been shown on PBS.

I've made lots of other short films, too many to mention, that help homeless kids and families. I've given countless presentations from Congress to Cub Scout leaders. I've advocated for families who've contacted me with a problem related to their homelessness that no one else seemed to be able to help with. I've rattled cages of politicians and policymakers. I've "comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable"  by my writing, my social action, and my presence.

It's not quite as haphazard as it seems. It's just hard to know how to say what this matching grant of $10,000 will be used. My board will tell you I'm frugal to a fault, so it won't be wasted.

It will keep me doing what I do...being that sometimes lone voice in the wilderness that is focused on making sure homeless kids and families don't get lost in the shuffle. My entire being is dedicated to that. And I "suffer" for taking the unconventional path of not having a well-defined, specific mission statement.

But those who know me know I won't give up doing what I'm doing or let myself be defined by a funder's priorities (when they differ from our mission). To sum up, what the money will do will help me continue to

  • Advocate
  • Chronicle
  • Educate and otherwise 
  • Respond 

to poverty issues as they affect the millions of homeless children and their parents/guardians, and unaccompanied youth who are too often invisible and underserved. That's it! I'm an ACER!

And I'm deeply appreciative of the people who continue to believe in what I do...because it's a mission bigger than me. Without you (that supporter who believes in me), I am nothing.