I am one of the more recent additions to the Door of Hope team and my time here has just begun. With just a few days remaining until I complete my third full month, I can already see that I have begun to invest myself into the work that goes on. As a result of throwing myself into the game like the rest of the staff, I have already learned so much.
I have met so many special people here at Door of Hope. Some of us here, nestled away in the third floor offices, do not directly work with the families who have chosen to embark on the journey from homelessness back to self-sufficiency. We do however have the honor of supporting those who do.
Program staff consists of program directors, after-school program directors, on-site therapists and case managers. It is their job to assist, coach, cajole, motivate and encourage our residents and their children through the different phases of our program, to help them navigate the difficult path from the desolation of their past to the promise that lies within their grasp. They have a difficult job, but that’s not the hard part.
The hard part comes when they become emotionally attached to the lives in which they have invested in. The reality is it’s inevitable.
I often wonder if our program staff can see their own emotions as we on the periphery can: the excitement that exudes from all of them when a parent gets a job; the joy of seeing a child become student of the month; or the quiet sorrow when someone fails a drug test or takes a step backward. Every person who works at DOH, or gives money, time or prayers has either directly or indirectly helped transform a life. We feel the happiness in good moments and the pain in bad ones, but our program staff, who are on the front line, feel it even more deeply.
A recent conversation with a close friend led me to examine my thoughts. Relaxing in his backyard, I was trying to explain to him my recent transition from the music industry to Door of Hope; it didn’t make any sense to him. He looked at me quizzically and in a dreadfully calm tone said, “You can’t get rid of homelessness so there is no point to what you guys do.” Our conversation labored around that statement for the rest of the evening. Even hours later, as I was getting ready for bed, his comment was still stuck in my head. Not only was it the callousness for human suffering that bothered me, but also the dismissive attitude that attempted to minimize the work of those who have dedicated their lives to this cause – because even in my short time at Door of Hope, I can see what happens here, every day.
As I lay in bed, I drifted back to a story my Youth Pastor had told me years ago, and I think it sums it up best.
Early one Saturday morning a father and mother decided they would take their 3 young kids to the beach for the day. The kids were very excited when they heard the news and hurried to grab their bathing suits. Boogie boards, towels and everything else was crammed into their minivan and they started their trek towards their beach adventure. Settling close to the water, the kids jumped straight into the ocean. Further down the beach was an area that was fenced off: the night before an unusually high tide left in its wake a mass of sea life on the beach. Thousands and thousands of oysters, and other shellfish littered the sand. The youngest of the kids wandered into the mass of dying sea life and started one by one throwing them back into the ocean. The rest of the family saw him but figured he would get tired soon and return. Over an hour later the father noticed his son was still at it. Though he told him that lunch was ready, the boy continued. A few more hours passed and his brother and sister invited him to build sand castles, but he continued on. Sometime later, his mother took him a snack and asked him to come roast marshmallows with them, but he continued.
The sun began to set and the family started to pack their things. The father went to get his son, who looked exhausted, but was still enthusiastically throwing oysters back into the ocean. ”Son, we’re going home now,” said his dad. ”Just a few more minutes,” said the boy as he hurled another oyster into the water. The exasperated father said, “You’ve been at this all day and there are still thousands left. You’re never going to be able to throw them all back. Why does it matter?” The little boy paused and looked at his dad sadly. Slowly he bent down and picked up another oyster and pointed it at his dad. In a quiet voice he said, “It matters to this one” as he tossed it back into the water.
There is an old saying – a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Never has a phrase been so true than here at Door of Hope. With my own eyes, I have seen the uncertainty and fear that masks the faces of new families, as they begin their journey…
If you come visit our Door of Hope house in Pasadena, you will see the faces of many of our Door of Hope families that have been captured on our “graduation wall.” However, you will not see uncertainty. You will see joy and pride and accomplishment reflected in every face. Those who were willing to take that first critical step, pressed on toward the goal: hope for the future. Graduation ceremonies are very emotional – bubbling with laughter and overflowing with tears of joy as the families, staff and everyone else shares their fondest memories of the transformation that has taken place within each family member.
These joyful people are a far cry from those who entered our house broken, and left, restored.
We have families who have been stable and happy for many years now; their kids were babies when they left Door of Hope and are now graduating from high school and preparing for college. For these children, being homeless is nothing more than a faint memory. The cycle of homelessness for them has been broken. It’s true that we may never be able to get rid of homelessness, but what we do here does matter. It matters to this one.