As some of you know, I participated in Covenant House’s Sleep Out last week. It was an eye-opening experience, and reminded me of so many things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday. A roof over my head, plenty to eat and a family who loves me. I made the commitment to participate in the Sleep Out in support of one of our new For Momentum clients. But what I experienced in the process brought new lessons, insights and experiences I’ll remember forever. And, I’m thankful.
We started out the evening with a candlelight vigil in Times Square. Hundreds gathered to remember the 1.6 million kids who are homeless in America. Did that make you take a double take? 1.6 million. OMG – MILLION. Here in the United States. Unfathomable.
Following the vigil, we went to Covenant House’s main New York facility located near Port Authority bus station and the Lincoln tunnel. There we had a chance to meet some of Covenant House’s kids and hear their stories. Many think (myself included) that teens are homeless because they ran away from home. The fact is that the majority are pushed away or thrown away. Here are a few stories. There is Muriel, who spent her teen years mired in a trafficking ring. Keith, whose mother killed his father when he was only a toddler, then abandoned him to foster care. Creionna, a single teen mom. Megan, a gay teenager who was kicked to the curb by her family when she came out. Paulie who had to fend for himself beginning at age 13 when his family imploded. And, I learned a new vocabulary word too. Vamping. Vamping is the practice of walking around all night, like a vampire, to avoid sleeping in the dark. As one of the kids I met explained, “I prefer to vamp at night and sleep in the day. At least in the daylight maybe someone will help me if I get attacked.”
After spending some time with the kids we headed outside for the sleep out. I found it hard to fall asleep, laying on a piece of cardboard above a slab of cement, surrounded by 150 others in New York City, listening to the traffic and night noises. The temperatures plunged as the night wore on, and despite my multiple layers of clothing, long johns, wool socks, hat and sleeping bag, I was freezing. And I felt so guilty. These kids don’t have the luxury of a sleeping bag when they are hiding out to find a safe spot to sleep. And, my night of symbolic unity can’t come close to the challenges they face in real life. I knew it was just for one night – they don’t. I knew I’d get a nice hot shower and warm breakfast the next morning – they don’t. And, most importantly, I knew I was safe – they don’t.
So, this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful. Thankful for the roof over my head, plenty to eat and a family who loves me. And, I’m thankful for the Covenant House kids I met and lessons they taught me. I’m thankful that my own 22 and 18 year old children do not need the support of Covenant House and will never experience what these kids face. Chances are that if you are reading this blog post, you are in some way affiliated with cause marketing. We are a lucky group – we get to make a difference for others with our work, and for that I’m thankful too!
I urge you to pick a charity you’re thankful for and help them make a difference. Not because it’s your job, but because you’re thankful. If you’d like to learn more about Covenant House, click here. If you’d like to help Covenant House’s kids, please join my effort here.