by Shel Silverstein
What a strange wind it was today,
Whistlin’ and whilin’ and scurlin’ away
Like a worried old woman with so much to say.
What a strange wind it was today.
What a strange wind it was today.
Cool and clear from a sky not grey
And my hat stayed on but my head blew away—
What a strange wind it was today.
The weather in Denver can change in an instant. Winter days can be 70 and sunny or crazy winds and blowing snow. While this is a mere inconvenience to most, for a homeless kid, it is a battle.
On the streets, a good coat can mean the difference between a good night’s rest and a sleepless night. The difference between frost bite and warm fingers and toes. The difference between being wet and cold for days on end or warm and dry. The difference between sickness and wellness.
A couple weeks ago, we said that we were in need of winter clothes, and look what you, our donors, came up with! Thank you! You have made a difference!
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For more information and to keep updated on needed items, click here.
A cool breeze danced across the dark, rippling waters of Puget Sound as I walked along the waterfront, stopping for a moment at Pier 59 to soak in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city of Seattle. Tourists bustled through Waterfront Park, stopping to browse the array of knick-knacks and trinkets that populated the tables of merchant tents. Enormous freight ships cruised slowly from the Port of Seattle against a majestic backdrop of the mist-covered Olympic Mountains. As I began walking to meet a few friends for a seafood lunch on pier 57, I crossed the path of several homeless men and young train riders. I flashed a quick smile at them as I walked by, observing their crudely made cardboard signs and chiseled crafts.
I had flown to Seattle for a greater portion of the week to be a groomsman for a friend’s wedding in the nearby suburb of Kent, Washington. This week away from Colorado also served as a welcome break from the busyness of life and work in Denver.
Over the course of the previous month, I had started to become frustrated with my position and responsibilities at Sox Place. Though I could say that I generally enjoyed my job, the last few weeks had begun to push me to the limits of my patience. I currently work as the director of the screen-printing shop at Sox Place, Sox Place Screen Printing, working to employ and teach job skills to the street youth of Denver. While my position certainly provides a sense of fulfillment and purpose, it also requires a significant amount of patience, understanding, and flexibility, much of which I do not always consciously (or willingly) practice. My current employee, Joe Joe, had been testing my patience, and training had been going pretty slowly, costing a fair amount of time and money to the company. And though I went to school for business management, I often feel severely inadequate and inexperienced when it comes to running a small business, especially when it involves a skill that I have never learned before.
Over the course of my trip in Seattle, I began to wonder what it would be like if I didn’t work at Sox Place. I tend to run away from circumstances that I find difficult, even for something as trivial as what I had been dealing with. My imagination wandered as I began to fabricate a life for myself in the port city that I was exploring, somehow justifying a move away from my home in Denver and my current job.
It seems silly, even foolish, that I had even thought about leaving even for a moment, but as God has been revealing to me, these tendencies are only a result of my humanness and the countless imperfections that come along with such a state of being. God has been pushing me towards seeking wisdom, and not simply understanding. He has been pushing me to grow from my mistakes, rather than allowing me to strive for constant perfection. He has especially been rather fond of using my unique position at Sox Place to humble me, even to the point of breaking.
Prior to my trip to the northwest, I had made an agreement to sell a scooter to Louis, one of the street youth who utilizes the services at Sox Place from time to time. He had become homeless through some unfortunate circumstances, but he had been working diligently to find a way off the streets for the past several months.
“All I need is a form of transportation to get to work,” Louis had explained to me earlier. “Even if it’s a cheap moped, that’s all I need to get this job back.”
Louis had actually been hired at a high-paying job, but his supervisor quickly fired him due to safety issues once he discovered that Louis had been riding his 20” BMX bike two and a half hours to a job in which he was required to operate heavy machinery. This caused Louis to quickly lose hope once again, spiraling into a continuum of constant negativity and hopelessness.
Prior to that, a family friend had given me a scooter to sell in order to help support me financially, but it required some work in order to get it up and running. The scooter sat in my apartment parking space for weeks since I hadn’t really had time to figure out how to have it repaired without spending too much money. As Louis and I were in the middle of this conversation, I quickly realized that I had found the perfect potential owner for my scratched up, broken down scooter.
After some negotiation, Louis became the proud owner of a well-used Strada Eurojet. Using his extensive mechanical background and little bit of elbow grease, he had the scooter up and running within a matter of days.
I remember his expression when he learned that I would be giving him a scooter. “The light at the end of the tunnel is so bright, I have to close my eyes to see,” Louis would say. And it was bright indeed. He had found a sliver of hope to hold onto, and that was all he needed to pull himself out of homelessness.
Every day I struggle to quench my pride. I have an extremely strong desire to know exactly how to do things, and how to do them well. In running the screen printing business, I have been forced to learn as I go and make an obscene amount of mistakes as a result. I was forced to start from scratch. I knew absolutely nothing about the industry upon being hired at Sox Place, and I was never given any formal training on how to screen print, use Photoshop, or any of the other necessary skills that are needed to operate such a business. And what’s more, I have never been trained to employ street youth and felons who have never successfully held a job before. On most days, this ocean of uncertainty can be a tall glass to swallow. Every single day I am reminded that I am not the one doing the work, but that He is working through me. I only have to be humble enough to allow Him to do the job.
I’ve come to learn that in working with the hopeless, the unlovable and the ignored; it only takes one small act to completely change the course of someone’s life. It also takes months (and more often than not, years or decades) of consistent, loving kindness, in order to even notice a discernible difference in the trajectory of a person’s existence. But despite the immense amount of things that I don’t know, especially in how to do well at my job, I do know how to love. I know how to love because He loved me first. He loves me more than any combination of artfully crafted words could ever convey, and it is because of Him that I can ever even attempt to stumble my way into loving another human being.
Louis now works full-time at a sign company and loves every minute of it. He rides his scooter to work every day.
He leads the humble in what is right,
And teaches the humble his way.
* * *
The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
By understanding he established the heavens;
By his knowledge the deeps broke open,
And the clouds drop down the dew.
My son, do not lose sight of these –
Keep sound wisdom and discretion,
And they will be life for your soul
And adornment for your neck.
* * *
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
And the one who gets understanding,
For the gain from her is better than
gain from silver
And her profit better than gold.
She is more precious that jewels,
And nothing you desire can compare
I became houseless at a very young age, and, not unlike most houseless people, I ended up in a lot of Rescue Missions. Apparently there were a lot of people whose mission it was to rescue us. They tried their best, too, by shouting on and on about how Jesus loved us, but they never showed us love. We got, “Jesus loves you,” running out our ears, but we didn’t have any person who loved us.
After a few years of that, I had enough “Bible” and more than enough “Jesus loves you.” One night at a Rescue Mission, I was listening (to use the term loosely) to a preacher talk about God’s so loving the world and so on. I’d heard it so many times, it had no meaning, so I read To Kill a Mockingbird. The preacher saw me reading and interrupted me with the question, “Is this not relevant to you, do you not need God’s love?”
I was afraid to answer because fried chicken night is no time to get put out of the mission. Reluctantly, I began to answer, “Well, sir, you came here tonight to preach God’s love. When you got here, you silently pushed through a crowd of people to get into the building, didn’t greet anyone but the house manager, looked at us as if homeless was contagious, and then got up to tell us how much God loves us. If you are an example of God’s love then, no, I don’t need it.”
He made a comment about how the devil likes to disrupt church. I read on in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The night ended with fried chicken, and I went to my squat. It took me a long time to marinate on what had happened that night; before I realized it, that was the night I gave up on love. If God’s love ain’t nothin’, then no love is real.
Then I met Doyle and the rest of the gang at Sox Place. They didn’t preach about God’s love. They didn’t have to. They lived it. They gave it to us; they loved us dirty little cast offs for no reason at all – just because. They were kind when they didn’t have to be, they fed us when we weren’t their kids; they LOVED us. They loved ME – unlovable, unwanted, thrown away me. They didn’t tell me about God’s love. They gave it to me. They taught me you don’t have to be “good enough,” you just have to take the love that is offered. It’s free, no strings. Just like our Father intended. So, thanks to Doyle and everyone else at Sox Place. Many thanks to the families that sacrifice time with them so that we can experience a family too.
– Holly, former street youth and good friend of Sox Place
The following blog is written by Grace, our summer intern:
I have only been interning at Sox Place for two months, but everyday holds surprises. Sox Place strives to form relationships and be a place of comfort and encouragement. I started my internship this summer hoping to help do that for others but I didn’t know that it would happen to me. When I met Lynne and Shea, on Thursday, July 12, God worked through Sox Place to form a relationship that stretched across the country.
It is early afternoon. I’m hanging out in the drop-in center playing pool and talking. A well-dressed lady walks up behind me and her adorable dog catches my eye. A lot of people have dogs at Sox Place so I wasn’t too surprised but I stopped to ask her dog’s name. After petting him for a minute, I turn back around to my pool game. Then a man walks up to where I’m standing and introduces himself to me.
Lynne and Shea are caring people and love to give back, but they also have a deeper story that binds their lives to the lives of many street kids, and now, also to my own life.
Earlier that day, the drop-in center isn’t open yet and all the staff are upstairs getting ready for the afternoon. Jordan stops into the office where I’m working and mentions that someone just contacted him and wants to meet me. Immediately, I’m confused. Jordan explains that he didn’t catch the whole message and just knows that this guy and I share a mutual friend and that he has a connection with Sox Place.
The guy was Shea, and his daughter, Andrea, an avid poet, a journalist, and a lover of animals hung out downtown and identified with other street kids. She found comfort and refuge in Sox Place and knew Doyle well.
In 2010, their daughter Andrea, aka “Rinu,” died from the “choking game.” The “choking game” is a game that young people play to get a sort of high by blocking the oxygen flow to the brain and causing them to get dizzy or pass out. This dangerous game turns deadly when the person playing is not able to stop the choking quick enough to get a breath.
Andrea’s parents have been visiting Sox Place regularly since she passed two years ago, donating journals, socks, deodorant, and bandanas, striving to keep Andrea’s legacy alive and inspiring other street kids to write and make their stories heard.
After the death of their daughter, Shea and Lynne not only kept in contact with Sox Place, but they also reached out to other organizations and joined an online support group that connects families and parents of those who have died from the “choking game.” Through this support group, Andrea’s parents met others grieving the loss of a child yet striving to raise awareness and bring hope to others. One of the other parents that Shea and Lynne happened to connect with was Kelly, Jay’s mom.
I’m from a small town in Tennessee, over one thousand miles away from Denver. I attended the local public school and had class with many of the same kids for seven years. Jay was one of those kids. He was involved in school, well-known, and liked by his classmates. One of the first of our classmates to die, Jay left an impact on all of our hearts. The summer after graduation, news spread through Facebook, the news, and word of mouth that one of our friends and classmates had passed away. We were off to college, finding jobs, and starting families, but in a way Jay’s passing brought our high school class closer together. Today, almost three years later, I was brought back to that summer, those friends that I have lost touch with, and the faces I haven’t seen in years.
When I first talked to Shea, he began explaining the links that brought us together. After reading the recent newsletter, and recognizing the name of my home town as that of Kelly and Jay’s, Shea and Lynne took a leap of faith and contacted me.
I believe that many miracles have happened at Sox Place and that God is present in every person who walks through the door. I don’t know exactly what Lynne and Shea saw in me that day, or what they were feeling, but in them I saw a glimpse of something powerful. I saw a connection to my past, through Jay and his mother, and a connection to Andrea, a friend that I’ve never met, yet an angel that has brought people together.
Isn’t it interesting what “normal” is to each individual?
For one person, normal may be to brush his teeth as soon as he get up. Another person may see normal as waiting until after breakfast to clean those pearly whites. One culture considers belching after a meal a compliment, while another sees it as rude. “Normal” holiday traditions vary so much that compromises are needed when two families come together. But, really, all of it is “normal.” Sure, we may argue over which traditions and habits are better, but usually none of it is bad, just “normal” for that person.
Sometimes, what surprises me the most at Sox Place, is what “normal” is for the kids that walk through the doors. Food stamps, the hope of a disability check, the foster care system, spanging (asking for spare change, as in “Do you have any spare change?”), and lining up at a food pantry are what takes up their typical day. This daily agenda may not be normal for us, but for the homeless or poor it can be very normal. The worst, for me, is when the guys talk about “sharing” the girls or the girls talk about trading sex for a place to sleep. And they talk about it as if it was no bigger deal than the weather changing. It is the way of life for a street kid.
Then it becomes a perpetual cycle – the norm, if you will: someone becomes the victim of the foster care system, the street becomes their home, they find some sort of “street family” where it is implied that they are to trade something to be a part of the group (most likely, for a girl, this will be her body), she gets pregnant, has a kid, child welfare takes the child away, and the whole thing starts over again.
The problem isn’t that this is different from my normal or that I’m somehow better than these kids; the problem is that this should not be anyone’s “normal.” But these kids don’t know how to change when their only job experience is selling drugs (they know fractions and distribution) and the only shelter they’ve ever known has been full of hate; and they don’t want to be the kind of “normal” that they are told to be by the government officials and “yuppies” who look down their noses at the grungy kids with too many bags.
So, how does one demonstrate that normal doesn’t have to include trading sex for a place to stay on a cold night or drinking too much in order to numb horrific memories? Love; compassion; patience. When a life is lived with a true Christ-like compassion – seeing everyone as an equal, these kids will have an example of a normal that is not painful. Sometimes this may be simply acknowledging the bum on the street corner. But it also includes an everyday attitude of love, generosity, and humility, because you never know who is watching you.
Last week, we sent out an email letting our supporters know that we were running extremely low on food and socks. Within a week, our pantry and sock crates were overflowing!
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This picture is the food from just one church, Eastern Hills Community Church in Aurora, who donated.
In addition to Eastern Hills, we would also like to thank Englewood Fist Assembly of God, Grace Community Church, Boulder County Community Church, Kevin and Carol Bohren, and all the individuals who gave so generously to help meet our needs to help the homeless and at-risk youth of Denver!
It is rare that homeless kids get brand new clothes to wear, but thanks to Shane and Patty Rose of Utah, they will! Take a look at all these new clothes for the homeless youth of Denver!
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“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” — T.S. Eliot
For all of us, it is often easy in life not to take risks. Easier to stand by and watch than to put our necks on the line in an attempt to change a certain situation. Or maybe some of us are great “dreamers” but we have a hard time, when it comes time, to step up and follow through with our dreams because of fear. No matter how great or miniscule, we deal with risk, everyday all of the time. There are statistics that can be looked at to evaluate the amount of risk involved in any given situation to either encourage people or deter people from doing things.
Sox Place is an environment all about taking risks. The only reason Sox Place even exists today is because of some very monumental risk taking. If Doyle had not taken a HUGE risk, over a decade ago now, and moved his family and entire life to Denver, Sox Place would not be here. If the people who continuously donate their time, money, and prayer, Sox Place would not survive the way it does today. If our staff members did not step out and decide that they would rather work with the kids at Sox Place, doing this ministry, rather than any number of career choices, Sox Place would not be what it is today.
People will often tell you that working with the type of kids that come to Sox Place is a risk that is just not worth taking. People will say that the risk is so much greater than the reward. However, isn’t this what is so amazing about Jesus and his ministry? Whether it is the story of the woman at the well or Jesus choosing to use fishermen as the men who will forever change history through his ministry, he leads a great example of what it means for us to be risk takers.
Lately, this is an issue that God has been laying on my heart in a huge way. One thing we always say at Sox Place is “We need to give them the best we’ve got.” We may not always have the best food for the kids or the sweetest new clothes but we always give them the best we have. It is so important for our ministry that this is also the case in all of our interactions with our kids, because they are worth the risk. God doesn’t call us to be complacent or to just try to meet the needs of the kids that walk through our door. God calls us to daily take risks and put our necks on the line for the people we serve.
As Jesus showed us how to be risk takers through his ministry, so can we show our kids how to be risk takers through ours.
The New Year has already come with challenges. We lost one of our “kids” a few weeks ago and participated in his funeral two days ago. As always, when one of them dies they all go into a period of self-destruct in some fashion or another. For most it’s drugs and liquor, some it’s violence, others pulling away from the relationships with people who love them, and some it’s all the above. As a staff, and as many of them our friends, we try to be there for them any way we can through this process.
Last night I drove across town to bring supplies to several of our kids including the wife and best friend of Chuck, the guy who died. They had managed to find an apartment to stay in for a couple of days. One of them that I am particularly close with called me yesterday and asked if I could bring him clothes, some groceries, dog food, and other stuff so they could stay in the apartment. I understood and was happy to do so, knowing that this will give him and the others time away from the drama of the streets and more time to grieve. As I drove home, I thought about how difficult it must be to deal with these hard times in life, like death of a loved one, when you don’t even know where your next meal is coming from or how your going to stay warm so you can sleep out in a snow storm.
As I began to pray for them, I started to think about all the kids I have seen die over the last nine years I have been involved at Sox Place. So many good people have lost their lives to these streets. I pray that Sox Place can remain a cornerstone in these kids’ lives, that we can be here not only to provide a meal, clothes and other physical needs, but to also be a friend that can talk with them and influence them in a positive way. To show them there is more out there than hardship, that they can have peace and grace and love. Let us be examples of that.
For a decade, Doyle Robinson has offered help to homeless kids at Sox Place, a sprawling room in downtown Denver that is equal parts retreat, counseling center and raucous family den.
And it all began with Robinson handing out free socks from a plastic bag — plus respect and kindness from deep in his heart — to street kids most folks treated as pariahs.
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