Last week I met "Ned," a doggedly cheerful twenty-something who recently lost his housing when he and his girlfriend broke up. "She kept the apartment," he explained. Now he sleeps here and there in Seattle’s University District. Over coffee as we sat on a bench outside a neighborhood church, Ned told me of his plans to get his GED "or maybe even a high school diploma," with help from Seattle Education Access (SEA), a few blocks away. He’d made his first appointment there for the next day.
Ned isn't interested in staying at the shelter for young adults a few blocks away. He patted his sleeping bag. "I'm not afraid of sleeping outside. I'm pretty comfortable with the outdoors. Lived in the woods after my dad kicked me out of the house. I was 7 at the time."
"You were a handful, huh?" I asked.
"No, my dad just couldn't be around kids. When he and my mom divorced, my brother went with my mom. She couldn't take both of us, so I stayed with Dad. After a while he couldn't stand having me around anymore and kicked me out. I lived in the woods behind his house. Sometimes he left food for me on the back porch. I stole apples from his trees. I can live anywhere."
A few days later our paths crossed again, and I asked him how his appointment at SEA had gone. "Great!" he said, and pulled a fat preparation manual for all the tests out of his backpack. I told him that I enjoyed occasionally tutoring students in GED course work. When he didn't look interested, I added, "But you're a pretty independent guy." His reply: "Yeah, I'm independent enough to ask for help when I need it. What's your phone number?" I wrote it on the inside cover of his book.
Today I saw Ned again. I said hello, but didn't mention tutoring or anything related to it. Two hours later my phone rang at home: "Do you have any time this week?" He and I will meet for an hour of tutoring on Thursday.
My point is that a few brief friendly encounters begin to feel like a relationship. More can be built upon it, because people need each other, and because most of us love more readily than we hate. It's a wonderful life!
Please consider donating to an agency that helps at-risk youngsters go to school, such as Seattle Education Access. Or invite one homeless person to meet you each week for coffee at a cafe. You can make a difference over time with homeless young people. They and their lives are still open to change! Ideas about how to get started are at Freestyle Volunteer.
But you already know that getting started is pretty simple. It starts with "Hi!" and a smile and a minute to spare.