Carlos, better known around Sox Place as “Los”, is a six-foot-two, 35-year-old Mexican-born gangster who was raised on the streets of Los Angeles. As a child, he was introduced into the brutal environment of drug dealing. His arms and head are covered with artfully crafted prison tattoos, most of which were inked while he served time in prison.
“There’s a picture of me – six years old – sitting on six blocks of cocaine,” he told me one hot summer afternoon as I was driving along Federal to drop him off for a UA.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home that was perched among the rolling desert hills of southern Colorado, far from any real danger. It was difficult to wrap my mind around what it would be like to be raised among such turmoil. But to Carlos, it was just a way of life.
“I owned six cars but never drove them. I would walk around with two Gs in cash on me at all times. I could get whatever I wanted, and tell anyone what to do.”
I took another bite of my smothered chicken burrito as Los slurped on menudo, recounting the days that he had spent in Denver after he had been banned from the state of California after being convicted of four felonies. We had sat down for a Sunday afternoon lunch at La Abeja, a small, authentic Mexican bakery and restaurant on the 500 block of Colfax.
“That was my spot,” he said as he pointed to a small table against the window. “These people are my homies. I would hide in here when I was running from the cops.”
For the past 22 years, Los had spent his life in prison. He would be released and would survive only long enough to add a few weeks or months to his sense of freedom before being sent back. Now, he said, he hoped he would be out for good.
Several months later, we hired him on as an intern at Sox Place to provide him with temporary employment. We would have him help out around the drop-in center, doing small chores throughout the day. Later on he found a job working as part of the cleanup crew at Coors Field, but he quickly resigned because he didn’t enjoy the work. A few weeks later he landed another job working at a tiny kiosk across the street from Civic Center Park selling sunglasses, but that didn’t work out either.
After I helped launch Sox Place Screen Printing, the staff decided to hire Carlos back on as a Streets2Stability intern for Sox Place Screen Printing. We began the long, arduous work of training and personally mentoring Carlos. He was an extremely slow learner, and the next several months proved to be extremely challenging for both of us.
Carlos had never learned to manage his emotions, and he would often storm out of the room and then disappear for weeks at a time, putting himself at risk of violating his parole many times. He would frequently consider just going back to prison, since it was easier for him to do time than to embark on this terrifying journey of a “normal” life. He had never held a job before in his life (other than his extensive experience of drug dealing), so showing up to work on time and doing what we was told was a completely foreign concept to him. My patience was being tested, and I had a hard time understanding why it was so difficult for him to understand the most elementary concepts. To most people, showing up to work on time and completing the tasks assigned is not a difficult accomplishment. If Carlos had been working at any other job, he would have been fired countless times.
But as time progressed and I began to learn more about Carlos and his background, I started to truly understand the difficulties of being raised in such a tumultuous setting. I began to realize why he acted the way he did, and we had many conversations that addressed those difficulties.
Now, eighteen months after his release, Carlos has a new baby boy, an apartment with his girlfriend, and an entirely different outlook on life. He has shown up to work on time every day for the past several months and has been working harder than ever. It took more than a year and a half of continuous, loving support to even put a dent in his self-destructive behavior, but we are finally beginning to see the fruits of our labor. Homelessness and the scars that it produces is not a problem that can be easily fixed. Even though Carlos was never truly “homeless” at any point in his life, the challenges that he faced on a daily basis would have prevented him from ever being a healthy, contributing member of society without the constant, loving support of people who truly cared for him.
Here at Sox Place Screen Printing, our job is not to have the most effective employees or post the most impressive earnings. We are here to provide homeless and troubled youth with the resources they need, both financially and emotionally, to fully remove themselves from a life of poverty and abuse, and to immerse themselves into the life they were meant to live, a life in which they can realize their true potential and be loved for who they really are.
Can’t live with it; can’t live without it.
It can be painful and frustrating at times, but it’s gotta be done: Fundraising. We can’t do what we do without the financial support of the community.
As we mentioned in our most recent Newsletter, our Annual Fundraiser that was scheduled for February 21 has been canceled. But we have new, exciting fundraising opportunities in the making. Here are a few that you can get involved in right now:
Beginning the evening of Thursday, February 21st and ending the evening of Monday, February 25th, you will have the opportunity to participate in Sox Place’s first online auction. To view the auction items and to see how the auction works, click here. If you wish to participate in the auction, you will need to create an account by clicking on the Log In button in the top right corner of the link.
Our auction items include, but are not limited to:
While most of these items are local, we will be hosting more online auctions in the future with a variety of items.
Do you like Groupon or other discount sites? Would you like to get Groupon-like discounts that also helps out Sox Place? Check out SoRewarding. Here’s what to do:
1. Click on the link and sign up.
2. “Follow” Sox Place by searching for Sox Place in the search bar and clicking the orange “Join” button.
3. Regularly check out the discounts. When you find something you want, hit “buy,” then select Sox Place as the nonprofit you want a percentage of proceeds to go to (this will be on the left-hand side).
4. Tell all your friends, post on Facebook, etc.
5. If you are a merchant (or know one in the Denver area), you can post your discounts through SoRewarding and help out Sox Place even more!
FYI: SoRewarding is currently only in the Denver area, but they hope to expand.
We have used GivingFirst in the past, mainly to promote Colorado Gives Day, but did you know you can give throughout the year through GivingFirst? Why you might want to:
Madison joined the Sox Place staff in January as the Director of Arts and Media. Madison was born in Little Rock Arkansas and raised in small town called Searcy until she went to college in Jonesboro at Arkansas State University. She studied theatre and music and hopes to be able to help the kids at Sox Place find a creative outlet to help express themselves in healthy ways. Madison visited Sox Place in November 2012 and knew that’s where God wanted her to be.
Yesterday was my first day at Sox Place and I had the opportunity to talk to two young people. One was a guy from Austin, TX that was really big into the performing arts like me. We got to talk for at least an hour about theatre and what he wants to do with his life. It was so ironic because he is from around the same place I am and had actually lived in the city where I went to college for a while. I’m going to try and help him find some auditions and theatre work in Denver and the surrounding areas.
I also had the pleasure of talking to a girl who was probably around my age. I was wearing my “Jesus Loves Me” t-shirt and she commented on it and said that she liked it. She then informed me that she had just gone to church for the first time ever last Sunday. I was stunned. Where I grew up, you would have trouble finding one person who had never been to church. I asked her how she liked it and she said, “Everyone was really nice.” That works for me. I pray that because of those “nice” Christians that she will return and become more curious about the gospel and want to know God more personally.
This past weekend I attended the Denver Faith & Justice Conference with hundreds of other social workers and non-profits. Aside from promoting our screen printing business, I was excited to meet other like-minded people and gain some more perspective on working with the marginalized in our city.
Over the course of the two-day conference, I began to notice a distinct theme that coursed throughout our discussions. As people who work and live among the marginalized, homeless, and hopeless of the city of Denver, it can be difficult to hold the opposing forces of hope and despair in a healthy balance.
On a daily basis, we struggle to help those who have been completely broken due to trauma, abuse, neglect, violence, and other unspeakable horrors. Somehow, despite the overwhelming opposition of hopelessness that these street youth face, we attempt to speak love and joy into their bleak lives. It is in the midst of this tension, directly between these two opposing forces, that we are called to stand as followers of Christ.
Each day, we are forced to look at the hard realities that surround us – anger, despair, hatred – but we are also called to hold these forces in balance with generosity, community, and hope, which we know to exist.
Jesus calls us to stand in the ‘tragic gap’ between corrosive cynicism and irrelevant idealism, holding each of these forces in creative tension. On the one side, we face a bitterness and hopelessness that causes us to believe that people will never change, that there is no hope for hopeless, and that we can never make a difference among the marginalized of our city. We refuse to allow the gravity of the tragedy surrounding us to truly impact us, and our hearts begin to become calloused. On the other side, we face unrealistic optimism, in which we choose to ignore any hint of imperfection in our world. We are called to stand amidst this constant chaos of contrasting ideas and serve, by loving as He has loved us.
As Parker Palmer explains in his video, Standing in the Tragic Gap, “There’s the heart that’s broken into a thousand pieces by trying to hold these tensions, scattered around on the floor, that takes us out of the action as we crawl around, trying to put our hearts back together. But then there’s the heart that’s broken open by these tensions, into largeness, into greater capacity, to hold both the joy and the suffering that comes with being human, and that comes with living with one another.”
We are called to live, as citizens of the Kingdom, with hearts broken open, not denying imperfection or grief, but also not living a state of idealism or fantasy.
Gregory Boyle explained it best when he wrote, “The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on the issues, but rather in standing in the right place – with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”
Let us choose to keep our hearts tender, not calloused. Let us choose to love the unlovable and see God where we would rather not see Him – in the faces of those who are the hardest to love. Let us choose to stand in the tragic gap, allowing the hopeless to finally embrace hopefulness.
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!
[singlepic id=306 w=320 h=240 float=]
For more information and to keep updated on needed items, click here.
“Hey, what’s up; how are you?”
“TIRED and COLD.”
“What’s the deal? Didn’t get any sleep last night?”
“Naw, it was f#@^&% freezing last night. Do you guys have any blankets or sleeping bags?”
“Sorry, we’re all out.”
This is the unfortunate conversation I have several times a day as we are in fall, and winter is quickly approaching. Most of our kids sleep under bridges, on the side walk or a park, or wherever they pass out after walking all night so they don’t get busted for sleeping in public. This being the case, all they have for warmth is what the are carrying on their bodies and in their back packs. Winter stuff can get quite heavy and cumbersome, especially in the summer when it is not a necessity for survival. Most of our kids will pass on their blankets (never their sleeping bags!) and heavy winter clothes. Sometimes they forget to stock up on supplies before the frost hits, so they get stuck with nothing and freeze on the first cold night. We gave out just about everything warm we had after the first cold days this year. We have no sleeping bags, blankets, gloves, hoodies, backpacks, and no warm winter jackets. I feel as guilty as our kids for not being better prepared for the winter months, but… we need help!
If you have any stuff you’re not using that would help keep some kids warm, please consider donating it to us. Any camping gear is always extremely appreciated by our kids. Gloves, backpacks, sleeping bags, hoodies, and coats would help a ton! Thanks to all of you for your continued support, and for all the people that have donated warm stuff for these kids already this year!
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
Fall is the season of change. We all know that to inspire change we must first work hard and be as consistent as possible and change is a natural part of our lives. Sox Place has now been open for more than 10 years! I know that if I asked Doyle, he would say that Sox Place has definitely changed over the past 10 years. We have grown; grown in our relationship with street kids, grown in our personal relationships with Christ, and grown Christ’s kingdom. Often people are afraid of change, it intimidates them and causes them anxiety. However, without a willingness to change and transform we can never progress. If we let our own fears get in the way, we are tentative to allow God to mold us and our ministry into the best possible form to change people’s lives.
As many people know, Sox Place has been looking for a new building for over a year now as our lease is coming to its end. It is very difficult to find a space for the type of service we provide to street kids and our community. It is easy for us to worry and to stress about this new chapter in Sox Place’s ministry, but God has shown us something totally different than that. Our staff is patient, and we know that Sox Place has been taken care of by God’s grace for over 10 years. We anticipate and await the changes that God has in store for this ministry. We know that to be the best possible demonstration of Christ’s love to people, things will not always be easy or necessarily make sense to us. We are ever evolving and ever changing. God is always consistent in his love for us as his children. God loves us and wants us to progress because of his continual love in our personal lives; we have that ability to do so. Pray for Sox Place in this season of change. Pray for strength for our staff and our leadership to follow God’s will always, even if it is not the easiest choice for us. Change is hard and it challenges every aspect of our lives, but without change we become stagnant in our ministry. God’s love is the focus and that never changes; it merely evolves to reach more people.
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