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“It was heartwarming to have first-hand interactions with ‘my friends on the streets,’ hear their stories, and learn lessons from their lives.”

How the Pandemic Sparked My Passion to Help People Who Are Homeless

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 “Words may speak volumes, but the little actions we do connect us all.”

In 2020, our world was upended by unprecedented and unforeseen circumstances. No scientist, no doctor, or world-renowned epidemiologist could have predicted what awaited the globe in March 2020. On March 13, 2020, the government quarantined friends, families, and businesses in their homes, condos, and apartment complexes. As the government stood by for updates regarding the status of the COVID-19 virus, we awaited the call for release.

During the pandemic, my family and I noticed several homeless people living on the streets of Atlanta. As we walked in nature, we found joy in seeing that the homeless, despite what was going on, pressed on resiliently and made the effort to go about business as usual without allowing their situation, on top of the pandemic, to change their countenance.  

The Hidden Homeless

According to the Atlanta Mission, “More than half a million people currently meet the definition of homeless in our country.” In Atlanta, most of our homeless population would be considered the “hidden homeless.” Given the topography of Atlanta, many homeless individuals reside in the ins and outs of hazardous areas, such as underneath bridges and inside dilapidated buildings. Due to this, many people can consider them out of sight, out of mind, and an easily avoidable problem. That being said, I feel, as humans, they should be cared for, loved, and acknowledged despite their living conditions.                                                                                                        

The Genesis of my Passion

My passion for the homeless originated from a point within the depths of my heart. Honestly, I believe that it was an innate passion that lay dormant for many of my elementary school years. When I spoke to my mother, Shamonda Strother, she confirmed my beliefs about my passion. As we conversed, I realized her love for the homeless passed down to me. “At the age of 13, the highlight of my Thanksgiving day was waking up early and excited to go feed the homeless,” she says.

Unknowingly following in my mother’s footsteps, I participated in many homelessness initiatives with my church and the local Atlanta Community Food Bank during my middle school years. Even though I served people who are homeless in these programs, I still felt distant from them, since I never met or spoke with those I impacted. It just seemed like something was missing no matter how many care packages I packed or food I sorted. 

 

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My Friends on the Streets

The puzzle pieces all fell into place on March 13, 2020, the first day of quarantine. When, for the first time, the world stopped, I began to reflect more deliberately on my past and focus on ways to come out of the pandemic better than I started. One of my first conclusions from isolation was the importance of family and exercise. 

Prior to the pandemic, my family and I were busy with work, school, friends, and extracurricular activities, so we did not spend as much time together as we could have. Because of this, during the pandemic, I decided to spend quality time with each of my family members. In the summer of 2020, I began taking hikes with my mom on the Chattahoochee trail or along the streets of Atlanta. During our hiking marathons, we noticed more and more homeless people strolling the streets. Soon, we began bringing money on our hikes to distribute to our “friends on the streets.” In the rare quiet of the streets, we noticed they felt more comfortable speaking with people like my mom and me. 

It was heartwarming to have first-hand interactions with my “friends on the street,” hear their stories, and learn lessons from their lives. One day, my mom and I gave money to a homeless person while going on our daily hike. When we hiked back home, we saw him again at the MARTA bus stop with a transformed expression. He approached us ecstatic about the food and supplies he bought with the money we gave him. Without us asking, he showed us everything he bought and gave us a heartfelt thank you. From that simple thank you, I received one meaningful message: Words may speak volumes, but the little actions we do connect us all. 

Wisdom From The Streets

From my experiences with my friends on the streets, I have come to four different conclusions. First and foremost, express gratitude for the blessings that have been given to you. Although they lacked food, water, and shelter, they were grateful for what they did have as well as what they were given. Due to the busyness of life, we often tend to forget the things we do have when faced with obstacles or just going about everyday life. Television personality and entrepreneur, Oprah Winfrey, once said, “Be thankful for what you have. You’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” 

What I’ve Learned

Because of modern culture, we constantly update phone models and Instagram statuses to match with the newest trends. Sometimes, this can leave us always wanting more and forgetting what we do have. Be sure to find joy amidst seemingly dark circumstances. There are always bright stars of positivity in the dark skies of life waiting to be found.

Additionally, we should all remember to live in the moment. One friend on the street who I met in the suburbs of Atlanta, told me, “You all are living in the matrix and trying to keep up with society’s standards. I am at peace, since I take each day as it comes.” Always try to be present and get all you can from life since you only live once. 

Finally, as Al Green and Annie Lennox once sang, “Think of your fellow man, give him a helping hand.” Your impact may not be publicized, but it will be recognized by the individual whose life you touched. Ultimately, we must all search our hearts to discover our passions. Once you have found yours, work to be the change you wish to see in the world. In my opinion, we can never have enough of that. 

The pandemic was an obstacle but also an unconventional opportunity to change how we approach our lives moving forward. Now, as we transition back into the busyness of life, we should intentionally carry these nuggets of wisdom with us. Moving forward, make sure to leave space for memories. If the quarantine has taught us anything, it is that time is precious. Like money, time can be spent anyway you like, but it can only be spent once. Moreover, work to be a blessing to someone else each day. 

This past year also exposed and magnified an often-overlooked truth: Everyone has their inner demons or a hidden pain. So as we advance into the year of 2022, think about how others feel and, if you can, work to make their day a bit better or simply put a smile on their face. 

And most importantly, remember to always find the silver lining. Each day will have its own struggles, but it will also have opportunities and golden nuggets that you can implement in the future. 


VOX Media Cafe reporter Genesis Strother, 15, is a rising sophomore at North Atlanta High School who loves to participate in all things related to the fine arts, which includes everything from baking to video production.

Photos and video by Genesis Strother, VOX Media Cafe

 

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