GREECE — Everyone’s heard about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, but what about spending a night in someone else’s box?
That’s exactly what nearly three dozen local teens did Sept. 25, when they spent the night outdoors at St. Lawrence Parish, sheltered only by cardboard appliance boxes. The goal of this chilly endeavor, said St. Lawrence youth minister Donna Gray, was to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless as well as funds for Eastman Commons, a proposed supportive-housing community for formerly homeless people.
The supportive-housing model helps people transition back into housing from homeless shelters and combines safe, attractive and affordable housing with access to such on-site services as case management, social services, health care, job training and other skill development. The community eventually will house 80 tenants, who will live independently and pay rent.
“It’s a wonderful program. It gets people off the streets and back into homes. That’s the goal for Eastman Commons, to give people the opportunity to not be homeless again,” said Alison LeChase, director of youth ministry and CYO at Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, and one of several youth ministers who helped run the Sept. 25 event.
St. Lawrence hosted the Sept. 25 event, but the 34 teens in attendance hailed not only from St. Lawrence, but also Peace of Christ; St. Mark, St. Charles and Our Lady of Mercy parishes, Greece; Holy Cross Parish, Charlotte; St. Pius Tenth Parish, Chili; St. Thomas More Parish, Brighton; and Blessed Sacrament, St. Boniface and St. Mary parishes, Rochester. Across town but with those teens in spirit, more young people also spent the night in boxes at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Mendon for the same cause, Gray said.
“We’re here to put ourselves into the whole homelessness experience,” Gray told the teens at the beginning of the evening. “We’re here not only to experience it, but to take action to solve the homelessness problem.”
The teens accomplished that in part by raising $1,524 for Eastman Commons. The participants had been asked but were not required to solicit donations for Eastman Commons and bring them that evening, Gray said. They also learned more about the issue of homelessness through a visit by Eastman Commons representatives and a presentation from LeChase, who told the teens that each night 750,000 people in the United States are homeless.
“Half of those people on the streets are families. It’s not just the adults. It’s not just the old wino there on the corner,” she remarked.
Those statistics are sobering, but the teens can make a difference, LeChase told them. In fact, just being present that night was the first step toward making a difference, she added.
“You’re making a change. You’re standing up. A lot of kids your age don’t have the ability or the will to stand up and listen to God’s word and go forward,” LeChase said. “Spread the word. The biggest thing you can do is spread the word and spread the awareness.”
Sixteen-year-old Danny Buonaugurio of St. Lawrence said he at first thought the idea of spending the night in a box sounded different and cool, and he was looking forward to sleeping in the large box he’d equipped with a garbage bag for a door. After LeChase’s presentation, he realized that for the less fortunate sleeping in a box was a fact of life, not a novelty.
“I couldn’t imagine going from sleeping in a house to sleeping in that box there,” added fellow 16-year-old and St. Lawrence parishioner Hayley Ettaro as she pointed to her box.
Sixteen-year-old Ryan Posadni of Our Lady of Mercy said he decided to participate in the evening because it sounded like a fun way to gain community-service hours for school. By the end of LeChase’s presentation, however, he’d gained a newfound respect for homeless people. He and Hayley said they’d always been a little scared of homeless people in the past, but LeChase’s presentation helped them gain sympathy for the homeless.
“It’s not their fault that they’re homeless,” Ryan said.
“I think now when I walk by or I see a homeless person, I’m not going to be scared of him. I’m going to try to be more forgiving,” remarked 16-year-old Clayton Stanley of St. Thomas More. “I knew there was a lot of people that are homeless, but I had no idea there are that many.”
“I always thought (the homeless) were people like alcoholics and drug addicts,” Danny noted.
“I had no idea there were so many homeless families,” said Mitch Wolf, a 13-year-old St. Mark parishioner.
“It could be us,” added his 13-year old brother, Carl Wolf.