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Check out What’s been happening the past month at Sox Place

Donations of chips (a ton of chips!) by Mark

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Tyler did his Eagle Scout project by organizing a donation drive for Sox Place.  Look at some of the items that were collected!

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We had several groups donate their time, money, and a week of summer vacation to help us out.  Here’s one of the groups from Austin Bluffs Community Church in Colorado Springs.  We’ve also had groups from Pryor OK and Farmington NM!

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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.

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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.

-Kara

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A story of two who escaped a magazine crew in Denver

I got a phone call Monday afternoon, June 4 of this year. The voice on the other end was of Pastor Bob Blevins in Pocomoke, MD. He had gotten my name and cell number from our District headquarters; they had told him that I could help with his problem. The problem? A victim of human trafficking named Shannon was in Denver and wanted to go home. She had called her mother back in Maryland and she turned to Pastor Blevins, the only resource she knew to turn.

Pastor Blevins gave me a description of Shannon: tall, slim, 18 year old girl, and had a tattoo on the left side of her neck. She was supposedly at the bus station where she and a friend slept outside on the sidewalk Sunday night. I left the comfort of my home (actually reading in my hammock) and went to the bus station, but no Shannon.

I walked the 16th Street Mall from one end to the other looking for this girl I had never talked to or met. She was a statistic, another victim of the scam called a magazine crew. * But she was a daughter of a very worried mother who loved her; Shannon was worth rescuing!

I walked along Broadway Street where many of the street youth hung out. Walking up to choruses of “Sox!” or “Doyle!” I began telling a few of them what I was doing out on a Monday afternoon, that I was looking for this girl who was in trouble and needed to be found. Krazy said that she thought she had seen her, but didn’t know for sure.

Another youth, named JA, said that he would help put the word out. JA is a junkie, addicted to heroin and barely hanging on, but willing to help find this girl, a stranger from another state. Out on the street, a stranger is often taken in and watched over. Many of the youth said they would keep an eye out for her.

I was playing phone tag with the pastor, who was talking to Shannon’s mom on a borrowed cell phone; the leader of the magazine crew had stolen Shannon’s cell phone. The leaders of the crew use verbal and physical intimidation, along with physical and sexual abuse to get the workers in line. Shannon fortunately had not been subjected to the abuse.

I headed back to the bus station and found her along with her friend David, who also left the crew. They were shaken, but no worse for the wear. They told me that some of the leaders of the crew had come to the station and surrounded them to intimidate them into coming back. The crew didn’t want them to leave because Shannon and David were money in their pockets. Remember the whole deal is a scam to make money off unsuspecting youth selling a false product. They would have to recruit and “train” others if they left, but when these people saw me, they figured the kids were not stranded and left them alone.

I got them bus tickets back to Maryland, got them something to eat and a place to stay for the night (their bus left at 7:15 on Tuesday night). The next morning I took them to Sox Place for a while and then they went over to the bus station to wait for their bus.

When I took them over to the bus station, I took some time to speak with them about their lives and how they didn’t have to live under the curse of no father, but could, with God’s help, live a life that was different. I told them they were special and that I was blessed to have met them, thankful that God had let me be part of their lives. I then prayed for them and over them; that was really special!

Shannon is back safe with her mother and family. David is tagging along, hoping to find his way in this life! Thank you for your support that allows us to be part of the rescue of two very wonderful teenagers who had stumbled into a trap. Thank you for standing with us so we can stand with the fatherless and those that are at risk.

*Magazine crews recruit young people with enticing ads such as, “Travel the country and earn as much as $[some ridiculous amount of money] per day!”  The crew then sends them somewhere far from home to sell magazines door-to-door.  When pay day rolls around, they don’t get a dime.  The claim is that the young person didn’t make enough in sales to cover the cost of the hotel, food, travel, and training, thus being in debt to the company.  The truth is that they will never make enough to get out of debt, and they are often threatened, beaten, and molested to force them stay with the crew.

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I sat in a haphazardly assembled circle of about fifteen fellow church-goers in the living room of a house on south Irving, balancing a plateful of food on my lap. We had met to discuss ways in which our particular church body could become more involved in social justice locally, through organizations and individuals who have already formed a foundation in which others could easily join. After listening to a few others share about Denver Rescue Mission, Joshua Station, and the up-and-coming Purple Door Coffee, I shared the heart behind Sox Place. After concluding my explanation of our mission, which is to “Bring the Father’s Heart to the Fatherless” through intentional, long-term relationships, one woman asked, “So what, exactly, is the purpose of your organization?”

While this is a legitimate question, I’m afraid that the realm of social justice and those involved have become so concerned with the numbers and hard data that we have often forgotten the real reason why we are here in the first place. Yes, it is important that we strive to give our youth the concrete resources they need to end their own grueling and torturous cycle of poverty and despair, but I find it much more important that we come alongside these children to share life with them – to experience joy and sorrow together. The outcomes and “results” that so many are looking for as the product of an organization like ours are simply byproducts of intentional, loving relationships.

We feed and clothe the homeless youth of our city not because we are interested in subsequently posting numbers that illustrate our “success” to expectant onlookers, but because we truly love and care for those beat-down and bedraggled souls that stumble through our door each afternoon. We do not have programs that require kids to participate in some form of religious agenda in order to eat or receive assistance with writing a résumé. We do not search every person that comes through the door to confiscate drugs or other hidden paraphernalia in order to meet some pre-determined expectation of distrust and safety. We do not require our kids to edit their language or their lifestyle in order to be clothed or feed their pets. We simply offer ourselves, as imperfect and inexperienced as we are, to love and care for God’s children the only way we know how: by sharing life together.

“What really, is justice?” President and CEO of World Relief, Stephan Bauman writes:

“Too often we theorize about justice, forgetting that justice is deeply personal. …In its fullness, justice is about right relationships –        relationships that work. Injustice is about relationships that don’t. Justice for what some call “the Quartet of the Vulnerable” – the orphan, the widow, the immigrant and the poor – is especially important to God, due to its prevalence in Scripture. Injustice occurs when these people are left out, oppressed or exploited.

Justice is best incarnated by the people closest to those who suffer, not only geographically, but culturally too. When we live out justice in our relationships, we give witness to the person of Jesus and effect change.

…These relationships, when stitched together justly, weave a tapestry of hope that fundamentally changes society for the better.”

It is through these relationships that we can change the lives of those we care for so much. It is through the laughter and tears that we can create life-altering experiences.

Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in L.A., writes:

“No daylight to separate us.

Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. …We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.'”

No, we don’t have a lengthy list of neatly organized and sterilized “success stories”. No, we don’t fundamentally alter the lives of every person who steps through our doorway. Most of the time, after countless years of rejection, we might notice a hint of change. And when we do see that person finally come to grips with how much they are valued and truly loved, we rejoice. We bask in the glow of a wall that has been overcome, but only for a moment, for there are hundreds, if not thousands, of lives that are yet to be claimed and beautifully marked by the fingerprints of a loving God. A God who spurs the naïve and incredibly inexperienced (yes, that would be me) onward to pursuing God’s Justice and His Heart into loving more of his children. We will have to wait for it, just as He waits for us, but when we finally catch a glimpse of His undeniable Love for us, everything changes.

-Benten

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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!

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When other people hear that I work at a homeless youth drop-in center, I am often asked to share my success stories. I often feel a sense of uneasiness as I attempt to stitch together a “success story” in the clean and eloquent form that many so often demand. Over the course of the ten months that I have worked at Sox Place, I have come to learn that the world’s idea of success does not stem from the same definition of success that Jesus so often spoke of.

Working with the homeless is not prestigious. It is not easy. It is messy and frustrating. And it can oftentimes be like watching paint dry – quite literally. I often struggle with many of our kids when I try to reason with them, attempting to explain simple and well-known concepts, only to watch them easily brush me away to continue in their destructive cycle.

 

Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries in LA, recounts in his eloquently written book, Tattoos on the Heart:

“…this work has taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Great stock these days, especially in nonprofits (and who can blame them) is placed in evidence-based outcomes. People, funders in particular, want to know if what you do “works.”

Are you, in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa’s take: “We are not called to be successful, but faithful.” This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the daily ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden that they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever’s sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God’s business. I find it hard enough to be faithful.

…Sr. Elaine Roulette, the founder of My Mother’s House in New York, was asked, “How do you work with the poor?” She answered, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” It’s as basic as crying together. It is about “casting your lot” before it ever becomes about “changing their lot.”

The American poet Jack Gilbert writes, “The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this world.” The strategy and stance of Jesus was consistent in that it was always out of step with the world. Jesus defied all the categories upon which the world insisted: good-evil, success-failure, pure-impure. Surely, He was an equal-opportunity “pisser off-er” in this regard. The right wing would stare at Him and question where He chose to stand. They hated that He aligned Himself with the unclean, those outside – those folks you ought neither to touch nor be near. He hobnobbed with the leper, shared table fellowship with the sinner, and rendered Himself ritually impure in the process. They found it offensive that, to boot, Jesus had no regard for their wedge issues, their constitutional amendments or their culture wars.

The Left was equally annoyed. They wanted to see the ten-point plan, the revolution in high gear, the toppling of sinful social structures. They were impatient with His brand of solidarity. They wanted to see Him taking the right stand on issues, not just standing in the right place.

But Jesus stood with the outcast. The Left screamed: “Don’t just stand there, do something.” And the Right maintained: “Don’t stand with those folks at all.” Both sides, seeing Jesus as the wrong size for the world, came to their reasons for wanting Him dead. Both sides were equally impressed as He unrolled the scroll and spoke of “good news to the poor” … “sight to the blind” … “liberty to captives.” Yet only a handful of verses later, they wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff.

How do we get the world to change anyway? …You actually abolish slavery by accompanying the slave. We don’t have to strategize our way out of slavery, we solidarize, if you will, our way toward its demise. We stand in solidarity with the slave, and by so doing, we diminish slavery’s ability to stand. By casting our lot with the gang member, we hasten the demise of demonizing. All Jesus asks is “Where are you standing?” And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, He asks again, “Are you still standing there?”

Can we stay faithful and persistent in our fidelity even when things seem not to succeed? I suppose Jesus could have chosen a strategy that worked better (evidence-based outcomes) – that didn’t end in the Cross – but he couldn’t find a strategy more soaked with fidelity than the one he embraced.

…[we need to allow] our hearts to “be broken by the very thing that breaks the heart of God.” In the end, what needs to get disrupted will find its disruption in our solidarity and in our intimate kinship with the outcast – who too infrequently knows the peace of a white dove resting on a shoulder.

…Nietzsche writes, “The weight of all things needs to be measured anew.” Enough death and tragedy come your way, and who would blame you for wanting a new way to measure.

If we choose to stand in the right place, God, through us, creates a community of resistance without our even realizing it. To embrace the strategy of Jesus is to be engaged in what Dean Brackley calls “downward mobility.” Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest. For no amount of our screaming at the people in charge to change things can change them. The margins don’t get erased by simply insisting that the powers-that-be erase them. The trickle-down theory doesn’t really work here. The powers bent of waging war against the poor and the young and the “other” will only be moved to kinship when they observe it. Only when we can see a community where the outcast is valued and appreciated will be abandon the values that seek to exclude.

Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I’m not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.

Myriad are the examples… of [people] coloring way outside the lines and being given their ninety-eighth chance. Maybe it’s because we are often forced to start where others have stopped.

…You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.

Jesus jostled irreparably the purity code of the shot callers of His day. He recognized that is was precisely this code that kept folks from kinship. Maybe success has become the new purity code. And Jesus shows us that the desire for purity (nine times out of ten) is, in fact, the enemy of the gospel.

Funders sometimes say, “We don’t fund efforts; we fund outcomes.” We all hear this and think how sensible, practical, realistic, hard-nosed, and clear-eyed it is. But maybe Jesus doesn’t know why we’re nodding so vigorously. Without wanting to, we sometimes allow our preference for the poor to morph into a preference for the well-behaved and the most likely to succeed, even if you get better outcomes when you work with those folks. If success is our engine, we sidestep the difficult and belligerent and eventually abandon “the slow work of God.”

 

We are asked to continuously, consistently, and lovingly share our lives with the outcast, the downtrodden, and the rejected youth of our city. We are not asked to crunch numbers in a vain attempt to quantify emotional and spiritual progress. We are asked to live alongside the brokenhearted, the abused, the neglected and angry, and the “lepers” who struggle to survive on the outskirts of our society, though they are most often right in front of us, longing for just a taste of what it means to be loved. As Mother Teresa so succinctly said, “Following Jesus is simple, but not easy. Love until it hurts, and then love more.”

The thing that I have discovered in the nearly two years that I have spent working with the homeless is that, to the onlooker, there is not always a shockingly obvious change that someone goes through. Even I don’t always notice it at first. But when you catch that faint glimmer of hope in someone’s eyes, the one that whispers “I’m worth something. I know that I am loved,” you know – you know – that everything that you have accomplished in your life prior to this moment has been but a shadow produced by the light in this child’s eyes.

 

“We have grown accustomed to think that loving as God does is hard. We think it’s about moral strain and obligation. We presume it requires a spiritual muscularity of which we are not capable, a layering of burden on top of sacrifice…

I suppose Jesus walks into a room and loves what he finds there. Delights in it, in fact. Maybe, He makes a beeline to the outcasts and chooses, in them, to go where love has not yet arrived.”

 

Let us choose to love as He does. Let us choose to completely obliterate social and economic barriers in order to embrace the ones that need love just as much as we do. Let us choose to forge a new definition of success in our wake. Let us choose to love instead.

 

-Benten

 

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Over the course of the last few months, the staff and I have been working to launch a new chapter of Sox Place: Sox Place Screen Printing. Sox Place Screen Printing is a small, alternative screen printing company based in downtown Denver. We provide employment and job training opportunities for homeless and at-risk youth through one-on-one mentorship, allowing them to gain job and life skills that can be utilized to break the ruthless cycle of homelessness. Revenues generated from screen printing services are used to directly fund Sox Place – a homeless youth drop-in center that provides food, clothing, shelter, and meaningful relationships to the street youth of Denver. We are currently working on small screen printing jobs to generate some initial income to begin marketing our services to more potential customers, while also building a customer base through word-of-mouth. As of today, we are ready to begin taking on more orders, expand our business, and begin employing our youth. If you or someone you know is interested in having anything printed (think church youth groups, summer sports teams, small businesses, local bands, etc.), contact us at benten@soxplace.com or 719.334.9048.

We aren’t just another screen printing business. We are in the business of changing lives, and we need your help.

Contact us today to place an order or get involved.

Visit us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SoxPlaceScreenPrinting

Our new video series, “Stories from the Street” will document the stories of some of the street youth at Sox Place.

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