Describe your path to Reconciliation Services. I’d eaten in their cafe several times on Friday nights. One day I was standing outside their bookstore and one of the staff asked if I would come inside and help with the food pantry. Back then they kept the door locked so instead of sitting around I got up and opened the door for people to come in. I became the doorman and I’ve never stopped! I’ve volunteered here for four years now. Being here makes life better, I love the workers, everything about this place. It’s a community. Everybody knows everybody so it’s nice. I get coffee and snacks for the people who come in and sit down and chat with them. I find out what they need, tell them about our services, and share some things about my life. We have a lot of fun!
Tell me something about your life before RS. I was the youngest of eight until my mom took on my sister’s three kids, then there were eleven of us. I had six sisters and four brothers in front of me. We lived on 29th and Norton. My brothers were all skaters but that wasn't me. I had a bike and chased girls! School was a block and half away and it was fun, until 8th grade. Then they started to bus us out for school. It was rough, I woke up one day and said I’m not going there any more. I dropped out of school in eleventh grade and went to Job Corps.
So you’re sixteen and working… Yeah and I’m ripping up and down the streets in bad neighborhoods doing bad things. I’m mad and angry with life. I got into drugs and went to jail for a while. Then I lived homeless for a few years and slept in abandoned houses or buildings, but here’s the thing… I always kept a job! I’ve always worked and I’ve always kept myself up. My attitude was, I may sleep in abandoned buildings but I ain’t gonna go to work smelling. I always kept soap, a towel, a washcloth, a change of clothes and a toilet roll. I could always find a place to wash up because I could pay someone. I’d give them $20 for a bath. Or, when things were tough, I’d get to work early and wash. I never went back to my family, that was my ego and my pride. They never knew what I was going through. Yeah, living homeless was rough and because of my drug habit I was hungry plenty of times.
I’d never put anyone down for being homeless. I know what it’s like to be in that trap. That’s why I like working here at RS. I get to help and be of service, make life better for people and do something good. Here’s the thing: if you walk down the street and see someone in a doorway, go to the store and get him a sandwich, crackers, a bottle of water or something. I tell people who don’t know no better, “quit telling the homeless to get a job. It ain’t right. It just ain’t right!” For some people there ain’t nothing out there. Hand them something. Feed a person instead of judging them. Give them something to eat, just help them in some way instead of looking down at them and telling them they’re bad. You never know when you’re gonna need help. One day it could be you!
Who has made the greatest impact on your life? There was this old man in Arkansas… I looked up to him. I was down there running loose and he said to me, Jay, when you learn to respect yourself, you’ll be able to respect others!
What has been the most challenging thing in your life? Getting off drugs and making that change. One day it dawned on me that I should keep my money in my pocket. Here I was walking around with nothing, while the guys I gave my money to were walking around in new tennis shoes and driving sharp cars. I thought to myself, “why don’t I keep my money in my pocket?” I should be walking around in new tennis shoes! I looked at them, I looked at myself and I thought, I need to make a change. I quit the bad neighborhoods and began to get my life straightened out. I started to walk a straight line and try to do what’s right. I’ve stopped going through life mad about what I don’t have. There’s no point! I’d just end up feeling sorry for myself. I’m grateful for what I do have. I thank God for my life and I’m happy. I’ve just celebrated my fifty second birthday and I’m happy! You couldn’t pay me to wake up mad!
What advice would you give to people from what you’ve learned? Don’t drop out of school; don’t do it, it’s not worth it. I thought it would make me feel bigger to leave school, but it didn’t. I tell kids nowadays, “little ones and big ones stay in school and don’t do drugs because the streets will eat you up!” If you don’t stay in school in a few years you got nothing. There’s a bunch of sharks are out there and they are ready and hungry to suck the life out of you and make money doing it!
What does life look like from here? I’m gonna continue to do my care assistant job, help out here at RS and stay happy! I’m a big kid at heart. I like having fun and making people smile and I like working hard. I get to do all that here at RS. Working here gives me meaning and purpose. It’s a place to serve and belong. It’s my family, my community and I get to help others like I’ve been helped. It’s a place to make people feel special!