My first experience with a homeless person was being told not to talk to them.
Not because my family didn’t want me to, but because I wanted to give the young girl sitting outside of the Philadelphia Zoo my silver dollar from the train ride over. My grandfather sees homeless people every day on his commute to New York for work everyday said said that it was best not to give them money.
Being 7 years old at the time, I was stubborn and turned away from my grandfather and told my mom that I really, really wanted to give the girl my special coin. She looked apprehensive but couldn’t help but feel compassion for the teenage girl herself.
I eagerly grabbed the bag and my mom’s hand and started making my way over to the girl, she flipped a piece of hair out of her eyes as we approached.
I shyly handed her the bag of grapes as my mom explained that I wanted to offer her some of our snacks. The girl flashed me a bight, toothy smile that I couldn’t help but return.
“Thank you,” she told us, as quickly popped a grape into her mouth. The next one that she took off the stem, she rolled over her K-9 companion that was laying by her side.
My mom had begun asking her questions like how old was she, 18, and where was she from, Philly, and the more she talked the more I warmed up to her and wished there was more I cold do.
When my family told me that it was time to move on and go inside the zoo, I paused before releasing my mom’s hand and rushed over to the girl, palm extended.
“Here,” I said, “You can have this too.”
“Thanks,” she said, smiling up at me. “Have fun at the zoo.”
I nodded and ran back over to my family and grabbed my grandpa’s hand on one side, and my mom’s on the other.
That was the story that Dr. Alexander told when he presented me with one of Rowan College at Burlington County’s most prestigious honors, its Civility Award, in 2018 for my dedication to the community through my blog.
At that point I had already interview a half dozen people for Naming the Homeless and raised enough money on GoFundMe for carepackages to make the project self sustainable.
When I began taking journalism classes at RCBC one of my professors recommended that we start a project on our own, and that it should be something that we’re passionate about.
Since that day at the Zoo, I had always been passionate about the issue of homelessness, but never knew how to make an impact other than a few dollars here or a granola bar there.
I decided to marry my passion for community service and by passion to give a voice to the voiceless by creating Naming the Homeless, and sharing their stories to start re-humanizing the homeless and raise awareness.
It’s been almost three years since then and now I have a whole community of people supporting my project and asking how they can help make a difference too.