July 2017 Posts

Faces of The Mission :: Shavon

Shavon

 

“Everyone has a story of why we’re here…it’s not like what everyone thinks. Not everyone is homeless because we’re doing drugs or drinking; not everyone is like that. Not everyone in this situation is here because we want to be, or because we have a habit. Like for me, I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink. I was running from an abusive relationship.”

“One night he hit me over the head with a bat and tied me up with one of those metal coat hangers and left me in the closet for four days. I tried to call the police, but he’d be in jail and have someone bail him out and he’d come back and the beatings would be worse. One time he stabbed me. Right here in my leg, I’ve got a stab wound. I was kicking to get away from him and I was running and he took the knife and he stabbed me.”

Shavon’s voice fades, overshadowed by the music from the speakers above as we sit in a local café and she continues her story.

“So one night he left for work; he had to work overnight. I decided I was done. I packed, put whatever clothes and stole some money from him. You know… please, don’t get me wrong. I feel bad about that. I’m not a thief, but I took some money to get away, enough to buy a bus ticket out here, because it would be the last place he would look for me.”

The walls in the café we are sitting in are bleak—off white with a yellow hue. There are windows to my right; big windows, so big they allow in enough light to shift the mood. Shavon, staring out of them, comes across a thought.

“You know, I’m honest. I work hard. I work from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. unloading trucks and stocking shelves. Then, I work a second job from midnight to 4 a.m. I’m saving up for an apartment. I have half I need saved up so far. I try to be respectful of everyone. It’s kind of hard sometimes, [because] everyone is so negative out here, but the most difficult aspect for me is not being able to go home to my own apartment and sleep. I have to find a table at the [Lawrence Street] Community Center to try and get some sleep, to lay my head on the table for an hour or two and take little cat naps.”

Shavon’s New York accent is becoming more and more noticeable, and with it, so too are her convictions.

“You know, anything can happen. Anyone can be in this situation. If you live in a million dollar home, you could be in this situation in less than a minute. I came from a really good background, you know. I graduated high school. I graduated college. I used to be a medical assistant.”

“Now I fill out applications and put them out there but no one calls me back…it makes me upset. They’ll look me over faster than they would you. But I’ve got to stay positive, you know.”

Shavon’s words slow down. She pauses, looks down at her half-eaten bagel, nods, and then nods again. “Yeah…I’ve got to stay positive about it.”

“Shavon, how do you do that?” I say. “How do you stay positive in this situation?”

“My daughter. I’ve got to stay strong for her, and a lot of it is my belief in God. I believe God will always open a door for me if something else doesn’t work out. I pray to Him, and I know He has my back.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Hope and Helping Hands :: Harvest Farm’s Mission Trip to Whiteclay

 

A Group of New Life Program participants serving on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

A Group of New Life Program participants serving on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation


Like most visitors to Whiteclay, Nebraska and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, New Life Program (NLP) participant Kris Wise was shocked by the alcoholism and poverty that plagues the local Native American community. Every year, NLP participants at Harvest Farm go on a mission trip to Whiteclay to serve and minister to the Lakota Native Americans who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located two miles north across the South Dakota border. Whiteclay exists primarily to provide alcoholic beverages and groceries to the reservation, where the sale of alcohol is prohibited. Kris notes:

 
“What stuck out the most to me was how the town with the population of 14 had 4 liquor stores [and] the streets being flooded with drunken people who consumed a lot of alcohol.”

 
As many as 80% of adults in Pine Ridge suffer from alcoholism, and roughly a quarter of newborns on the reservation suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome (The New York Times). Most of the alcohol consumption occurs on the town’s sidewalks, resulting in what The New York Times has called a “rural skid row.” Barred from drinking on the reservation, customers often huddle together against the elements, sleep on mattresses in nearby fields, or lie incapacitated in the open air. Poor health, domestic violence, and lack of opportunity has led to a sense of hopelessness and resentment among the community.

 

Pine Ridge residents on the streets of Whiteclay (Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

Pine Ridge residents on the streets of Whiteclay (Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

 

That’s where our New Life Program comes in. The power of the NLP participants, such as Kris Wise and Luke Cooper, is to share their own experiences with members of the Pine Ridge community and to serve the communities’ physical needs. In working with local ministries Lakota Hope and Hands of Faith back in June, participants have been able to share their own struggles with substance abuse with the Lakota community. Living and serving in Whiteclay allows participants to witness how a long history of alcohol dependence can impact families and whole communities. In contrast to the therapeutic refuge and tight-knit community at Harvest Farm, Whiteclay demonstrates how isolation and substance abuse frequently becomes a vicious cycle. Our NLP participants speak into the experiences of Pine Ridge residents and have helped construct new homes for families living in cramped conditions, completed landscaping projects, and gathered firewood among other projects.

 

NLP participants working on a home’s foundation

NLP participants working on a home’s foundation

 

In addition to the tangible benefits that their service has for families, our New Life Program participants have shared how serving the Lakota families has impacted their own perspectives on poverty and self-sufficiency. Luke Cooper writes:

“As a group of guys from the Farm and I were helping pour a house foundation for a family of ten who were living in a single-wide trailer, I looked around to see FEMA trailers surrounding us and felt fortunate to be at Harvest Farm with all of its resources and people. The Lakota people do not have the opportunities for employment or the stable income that we have here in Colorado, which is apparent when we drove through Pine Ridge and saw the number of people walking around or hanging out in the middle of the day. Being able to help a couple families get new homes built for them, replacing the old, beat down trailer homes that they were currently residing in was a great feeling and experience that I will always treasure.”

 

Luke Cooper (third from left) and the rest of the mission trip group

Luke Cooper (third from left) and the rest of the mission trip group

 

Although the participants note that the impact of their service is limited within the grand scale of the Pine Ridge reservation, they were glad to have provided long-term change for those two families, who now have suitable homes.

 

Kris Wise (right) serving at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Kris Wise (right) serving at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

 

Participating in mission trips together likewise strengthens the NLP community and the bonds between our participants. They are able and encouraged to work on several different projects throughout the week. Kris Wise writes:

 
“I chose to do a different [project] each day. By doing that I got to work with different people every day. I got to know some of the Native Americans who had a few stories to share with me… I also got to work with different guys from the farm who I didn’t really hang out with before. That was nice because I got to develop new friendships.”

 
The synergistic impact of the Lakota and NLP communities is the reason why the Whiteclay Mission Trip continues to be one of the most meaningful weeks for Harvest Farm each year. In paying forward the hope and help they have received at Harvest Farm, participants expand their personal growth and bear witness to the power and possibility of attaining new life. We hope that through continued prayer and missions to Whiteclay, our men at Harvest Farm can continue to bring healing to this community every year.