Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Kentucky Life

April 16, 2014

People who aren't from Kentucky and haven't been there only know of a few things Kentucky: Churchill Downs, KFC, The Louisville Slugger Museum, Muhammad Ali, and college basketball are the only things mentioned. Seeing as how the only thing on there I really care about is college basketball, I'm going to share what it was like being a UK fan on the west coast.

I brought 7 Kentucky shirts with me when I moved out here. Needless to say they are the shirts I wear the most. People have asked me if UK is Kansas. Outside of Kentucky, you must call the University of  Kentucky, Kentucky. UK is easily misinterpreted as the United Kingdom or any schools that start with K. I brought the "Box Filled" shirt (which simply has the years Kentucky won basketball championships in boxes) that I got after the 2012 championship. Every single person asks what it means. Growing up I never realized how big of a deal Kentucky basketball was to the state. In case you haven't thought about it, we have no big names in any sports. Football? Cincinnati. Baseball? Cincinnati. Soccer? Europe (cause the MLS is a joke and Columbus is too far away to count). Hockey? What's that? You mean the Thoroughblades? Basketball? Kentucky. Kentucky way more than any NBA team. We bleed blue.

Things that you don't think about for those who live on the west coast as Kentucky fans: a 12pm game on a Saturday means being awake by 9am, you have to ask the sports bars to change the channel to the one with Kentucky on, not UK (see how annoyed I am by this), and you are most certainly not always surrounded by friends. Throughout the season I felt so weird. I attended a UK Alumni group a few times to watch games. This was nice, but not exactly what I expected.; old dudes and their wives who didn't know anything about Kentucky except the colors.  I could read KSR and see how the city was reacting to an up & down season, but not feel it. I visited the Schrader's at USC to watch a couple of games. This is really nice. The few people who still bleed blue.

Throughout all this, I can say that Kentucky basketball kept me sane. It kept me grounded through thick and thin. From January to March, I was running on an extremely odd and exhausting schedule. Watching the basketball games gave me something to look forward to just days away (sometimes more due to the inability to watch them live). Watching the boys made me feel back at home, especially when I'm screaming at my laptop in my room.  They kept me going and helped me make it through some of the hardest of times. I know that wherever I go I'll keep a special little cut on me somewhere so I can continue to bleed blue. It was a great run boys. Maybe next year?

Go Big Blue!

-John

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14, 2014 - 10 Things You Might Not Know About Homelessness

In conjunction with the internet fad of making lists, I decided to make one myself. Here are 10 things I learned from my time in LA working with homelessness so far.

1. There are plenty of food options.
Being homeless in Hollywood sucks. That's for sure. But there's one thing that you won't go short of. Food. Through all the agencies serving here, our friends experiencing homelessness can easily eat 3 meals a day. Don't feel obligated to buy someone food on the street.They'll be just fine.

2. Socks are in short supply.
Think about it. If you were homeless, you'd walk everywhere. You'd likely not be doing laundry that often. You'd worry more about jackets and blankets early on. But after time, your socks get completely ruined. Have you ever gone more than a few days without washing your socks or wearing new ones? They get ruined quickly. Instead of buying that person some food, ask if they'd like some new socks instead.

3. Showering isn't as hard to come by as you would think.
From all the guests in the shelter, only a few struggled to find somewhere to clean themselves (mostly for health issues). Sure it's inconvenient to go somewhere to shower, but they're not that hard to find. From leaving the shelter, our guests were able to get showers at two different places (five days a week) within a half mile. If they really felt they needed a shower, they were able to take one. One guest even had a 24-hour gym membership solely to use the shower whenever he felt necessary.

4. Having a cell phone is very common.
Of the guests in the shelter, less than 5 did not have cell phones. It was the easiest way to keep in touch with case managers. Cell phones were watches. It was one of the few items that guests were attached to.

5. You can be vegan and homeless.
I really didn't believe it when I met the vegan homeless woman. But yes. She did it. Through all the meal services in the area, she was able to find places that served what she could eat (or just be extremely picky while eating). She too did not struggle to fill her stomach every night.

6. Women can be more troublesome.
Men were not the most problematic. Of all the disputes that occurred in the shelter, women were involved in almost all of them. When living on the streets, women usually spend their time with men, not other women. When living in the same space as other women they feel threatened.  It's an interesting dynamic. But again, think about it. It makes sense.

7. The majority people of experiencing homelessness smoke.
 My advice on not becoming homeless: DON'T SMOKE. It's a big expense. Know that I absolutely cannot say smoking leads to homelessness or homelessness leads to smoking. It's simply something I've taken note of.

8. Building a relationship with someone is way better than giving them money.
 This is a view that I hold strongly. Sitting and speaking with someone, getting to know them, will benefit a person significantly more than handing them $5. When experiencing homelessness, you don't have as many friends with whom you can share your story. It's a time of mental distress. Seeing someone going through this is so painful. Once you become friends, you can help more than you realize by encouraging positive behavior. If you smoke, try offering a cigarette to a friend on the street. Talk with them. See how they are and where they've been. You'll be amazed by some of the stories you might hear.

9. Words are important.
Duh John. Without them we couldn't communicate. What I mean is how we speak with one another. If you greet someone on the street with, "How are you?" you might be disappointed with the response. Instead, try saying, "Hi, I'm [insert name here]. It's great to see you today." Starting with a positive comment is rarely followed by a negative one.

10. Homelessness is an experience, not an adjective.
Adding "homeless" to someone's description is just like adding "white" to my description. There are so many different "white" people in this world, it really means nothing. The same goes for homeless. There are so many people. So many stories. Just because someone is living on the street doesn't mean they are any less of a person than you. Homelessness is an experience. Just like having a rough day. It is not something that you should instantly think less of a person for.


There's plenty more to share, but this is a good start. Thanks for all the support. I couldn't be here without you.

-John

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 18, 2014 - Rounding the Last Curve

Rounding the Last Curve

There are less than 2 weeks left in the winter shelter! I've slept poorly, missed meals, worked 15 hour days, been kicked by a guest, called the police, called an ambulance, had to settle disputes, and take down and set up 25 cots before and after meals.  It's some of the most exhausting work I've ever had the pleasure of doing. It makes working at a camp look like babysitting a sleeping 7 year old. I've struggled to make it through at times, but am still standing, just tired. You know you're tired when people you've just met say, "Man you look tired. Is there anything I can do?" But that's it right there. It's the part that keeps me going. It's what makes being a part of the church worth it. It's that unconditional love.

People in Hollywood tend to be in their own world. They don't care as much about others as you see in the Midwest or South. It's hard to get used to at first. People don't acknowledge you on the sidewalk or even hold doors for you. But when it comes to the churches of Hollywood, they know how to show their compassion. They know how to care.
FPCH Winter Shelter

Every night at the shelter a different group of volunteers from one of the local Hollywood churches comes to serve dinner. One of my roles is to explain to them what the shelter exactly is and what they'll be doing for the night. These volunteers have never met any of the guests, but always come in with an attitude of peace, care, and love. Not only do they act this way to the guests, but to the other volunteers and me. It's really nice to meet and know people who truly care for others and act on their feelings of love. It's something that I feel I can always work to improve upon and challenge everyone to do.

And now for a touching video that's not really related to anything I just blogged about but reminds me of all us YAV:




-John

Friday, January 31, 2014

January 31, 2014 - Dweller Retreat and Winter Shelter update

Dweller Retreat and Winter Shelter update

The winter shelter is almost halfway through. We consistently have about 20 guests and I can see changes in those guests in the short time they have been here. I'm planning to share a story once the shelter has ended, but until that time I'll keep you in suspense.

But hey! One of the DOOR retreats was this past weekend. We took the 5+ hour trek to the tiny town of Copperopolis, CA. It's about two hours east of San Francisco, surrounding Lake Tulloch.

This retreat was planned entirely by us. We spent the first day simply traveling and exploring the area surrounding Copperopolis. Jamestown, one of the million California Gold Rush towns, was our first stop. Really quaint, but on a Thursday evening practically empty.

The second day was my favorite. Two hours east of Copperopolis is Yosemite. On the drive in you go through this long tunnel. Once you emerge, the view is absolutely spectacular.



We did a few hikes, took some photos, stood in the snow, ate too many chips, and got to explore such a different part of California.





Day 3 was spent in San Francisco. Ghiradelli Square, Lombard St, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other places were seen. Tons of fun.


It was a spectacular retreat; one that I'll remember for the rest of my life. Being out and about throughout California, we got to see God's creation in a different form. I am so thankful for all the support. I'll keep you updated.

-John

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January 12, 2014 - The Winter Refuge Shelter Begins!

The first week of the shelter has passed. So what exactly am I doing? I'm the coordinator for an 8-week winter refuge shelter hosted by First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Ecclesia, Hollywood Pres, Reality LA, and Broken Hearts Ministry fully fund and put on this blessing of a shelter. At it's peak it can hold about 30 guests and is in the same space that our feeding programs occur in the church. During the evenings we have dinner and a ministry time; time for volunteers to spend with the guests. My duties are to make sure the nights and mornings run smoothly, letting volunteers know where everything is and how the night or morning is supposed to go. Seeing how every day we have different volunteers, it makes for a tiring job to say the least.
My time isn't only with the volunteers though. In just a week I feel so close to our guests. There's not much I can share about them, but I can say that they are definitely some of the greatest people here, making this place what it is. I'm super thankful for this time and for the opportunity to be here.
I have a few long weeks ahead, so keep me in your prayers!

-John

Saturday, January 4, 2014

January 4, 2014 - A New Year

The start of new year is often a time when people reflect on their past year. So sure, I'll do that.
Things I did in 2013:
  • Went on a ski trip with 9 of my best friends
  • Traveled to Cedar Key, Florida for spring break
  • Graduated from the University of Kentucky
  • Got accepted into the YAV program
  • Worked at Burnamwood one last summer
  • Moved to Hollywood, CA
  • Started working for First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
  • Saw my best friend get married (congrats you two)

My time at home for Christmas was spectacular. I loved seeing so many bright faces and catching up with all those in my past. Just look at us.
Christmas Eve 2013 - MSPC
Whew.  Now on to 2014.

Going into the new year people often make resolutions. Yeah there's watching what you eat, exercising more, being nicer, etc. But my resolution really started when I moved out here. Instead of a resolution, it was more of a goal. And the goal was simply to open my eyes more; to understand the world around me.

On New Year's Eve I had the pleasure (sarcasm) of traveling from KY to CA. With a flight delay, crying babies, and an oddly crazy lady, the flights were nothing less than exhausting. Upon landing, I figured that I wouldn't be able to bring in the new year as most do. I just wanted to get home, and in doing so would require traveling through the city probably past midnight. As I meandered through all forms of public transit, I had hopes that I would make it before the clock struck 12, but it kept looking more and more unlikely. Around 11:50 I got off the train that is just a mile north of my house. The bus to take me home from there would not come for 90ish more minutes, and I decided to walk with disappointment on my face. As I walked south on Vine I heard the countdowns. 5-4-3-2-1. Loud noises everywhere. I probably fist pumped the air or something. I continued my walk to encounter a man I know from my work at the church. He's sitting on the sidewalk alone, doing his thing, seemingly frustrated. I acknowledged him and wished him a happy new year. A smile appeared on his face and he responded, "Thanks man. You have a good one too." I made it home safely and promptly fell asleep.

Something as arbitrary as a clock striking 12 brings people to celebrate. But there's more in life to celebrate than the changing of time. We should be celebrating the little things in life. The next time you step into the shower and it's warm, celebrate. The next time you go into your home and the heat is on, celebrate. The next time you have the opportunity to debate which jacket to wear, celebrate. When hot food is put in front of you, celebrate. The next time you have a conversation with your best friend, celebrate. Not everyone in this world can celebrate those things. For my friend on the street a simple "Happy New Year" was enough to turn his frown upside down and celebrate. Fellowship can be one of the greatest things to celebrate. Instead of celebrating all that you've done in a year once, celebrate all that you've done in a year 365 times. Maybe even go try and do something for someone else to celebrate. I promise it will make for a better day. Happy 2014!
(How many times did I use the word "celebrate" in that paragraph?)

-John

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December 12, 2013

I feel like I've skimped out recently on blogs. Sorry, but this one is better.

So what is it like in December in LA? While most of you have had a snow/ice storm, the lowest it's been here is the upper 30's. It rained a day too! Pretty miserable right? The high today was in the mid-60's with a couple of clouds. I sure can't complain about the weather. But it really doesn't have that Christmas feel quite yet. Even though I see Christmas trees on top of cars, hear carols playing on the radio, and see lights on sky scrapers, I have yet to feel that Christmas spirit. The Christmas season is just different out here. Not bad by any means. Just different.

FUN STUFF REWIND:

Two Weekends Ago:

Annie came to town! (I forgot to get a picture with her. We only Snapchatted. Sorry) We went to an open recording session at CUT Recordings. Stoll Vaughan (Lexingtonian) performed some stuff. Loved spending time with Kentuckians and hearing familiar sounding music.


Two Community Days ago:

We went to a place called Travel Town. It had all sorts of mobiles (like automobiles) with an emphasis on trains. Can't say that I expected to have as much fun as I did.



Last Weekend:

After reading the book Toxic Charity (read it now or else don't read it now), the deacons at FPCH have decided to do their best to do charity with the most benefits. This year they hosted a store with items (that were donated) priced at 20% of their original price. This is a way for the less fortunate to purchase presents for their family and friends without feeling like they are receiving handouts. The festivities were abound with a live jazz group, photo booth, and tamale luncheon!

From left to right: Eliou, John (me), Andy


This week:

Community Day! We went to Forest Lawn - Glendale. Originally planning to view a stained glass exhibit, we found ourselves exploring a mausoleum and enjoying the green things (there aren't many of those in LA).

Not only did we go to Forest Lawn, but we also went the Americana at Brand to see what a shopping center looks like during the Christmas season here. The tree was over 50ft high and there was a trolley that ran through the area. It felt like a movie.
From left to right: Freddie, John, Tara, Laura, Chantel, Brent

Yesterday:

Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to Chantel. She will be leaving us this Saturday, and it has been a challenging time for all of us. However, last night we went out for dessert as a farewell from DOOR. She has been a blessing and has taught us all so much. She will be missed!
Charlotte (Matthew's daughter) fell asleep during the festivities.

The winter refuge shelter starts January 5. We will be housing about 30 guests, giving them dinner, a place to sleep, and breakfast each day for 8 weeks. One of my duties here is to coordinate this shelter. We divide the volunteering into 4 blocks, giving churches two weeks to volunteer in the shelter. Along with being there during the mornings and evenings I will be ensuring that volunteers are present each evening and morning, a task to say the least. Busy busy every day.
Me making over 1000 copies
You've got to smile through the little things. Otherwise they won't be as fun.


My time here so far has been such a blessing, but I sure can't wait to be back home for Christmas.
Thank you all for your support!

-John