Teen Feed is launching into what I think will be a really incredible process. We’ve just unveiled our newly-renovated office space, a space that was designed to help those we serve feel comfortable and invited to connect with us. We also just launched a new strategic plan that will carry us through the next five years. I am particularly excited to be at Teen Feed right now, and I feel fortunate that I can share in the lives of those we serve. What better time to remind ourselves why we are committed to doing this work…
I’m currently reading an amazing book called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté. It focuses on his work in Vancouver, BC with homeless people facing chemical addictions. There are many reasons that I highly recommend this book, but a major one is that Dr. Maté creates a very human perspective on drug addiction. He makes an eloquent presentation that his patients have experienced immeasurable pains that very few people could understand and turn to drugs as a way to escape the daily horror and turmoil that is their life. In a world that looks down on addicts, he calls the reader to first see people that are traumatized…people who, like all of us, just want to survive and cope with the pain of life.
One particular passage of the book has really stayed with me. “When my addict patients look at me, they are seeking the real me. Like children, they are unimpressed with titles, achievements, worldly credentials. Their concerns are too immediate, too urgent. What they care about is my presence or absence as a human being. They gauge with unerring eyes whether I am grounded enough on any given day to coexist with them, to listen to them as persons with feelings, hopes and aspirations that are as valid as mine. They can tell instantly whether I’m genuinely committed to their well-being or just trying to get them out of my way. Chronically unable to offer such caring to themselves, they are all the more sensitive to its presence or absence in those charged with caring for them.”
Wow, what an epic challenge to remain committed to the homeless youth we serve! It’s not enough for me to just order ID’s or to hand out housing applications with an idle, “fill this out and get it back to me.” It’s not enough to shuffle around plates of food or to pass out socks without an accompanying hello and a smile. The youth we serve at Teen Feed have incredibly accurate honesty meters built in. They have to…many of them have not had the luxury of being surrounded by supportive, caring friends or family for most, if not all, of their lives. They can immediately tell, even in a simple hello, whether our staff and volunteers care about them or are just there to build themselves up. In the six years I’ve been working with homeless youth, I can think of so many times where they have called me out for not being genuine and have invited me to join them in a place of deeper honesty and beauty.
What will make our nice, new office and our ambitious strategic plan successful is our commitment…our heart. My teammates are so passionate and deeply committed to the youth we serve, and I consider myself so fortunate to share my Teen Feed journey with them. But, my teammates and I can only carry the direction of Teen Feed so far. You, the greater Teen Feed community…volunteers, donors, friends, family…you are what will help Teen Feed go from good to great. I envision our commitment to youth as a series of concentric circles around them…they are always at the center. No matter how “close” you are to those we serve, your continued commitment to caring for our youth is as vital as it ever was. Continuing to give your time and money, making nutritious meals, investing in real relationships and never, ever giving up on the potential our youth have…this is how you will help us ensure that our youth have the best possible chances to meet their future off the streets. Let’s get started…