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Phyllis Frank. And what she means to me.

November 1, 2011

I do not know Phyllis M. Frank personally. But I am more than honored to be in her company. Today, I officially learned that the Nashville Coalition for the Homeless is presenting me with the 2011 Phyllis Frank Volunteer of the Year Award. Below is my response with receiving this undeserved honor.

I guess my journey here really began when I was in the 8th grade. I must have been about 13 years old. You remember that age of awkwardness. Still makes me cringe to think of it.

Well when I was 13, I was struggling severely to find my place in this world. I may have just been a child, but it didn’t feel that way back then. This was a time of coming of age that would end up lasting a decade… finding out who I was, where I belonged, and most importantly, why I belonged. At the time, I couldn’t find a reason why I fit  in anywhere. At the time, it felt like my pain was never ending, and that life was just too much pressure to handle. I can almost laugh about it now, but back then – it was much different. Back then, it was life and death.

Around this same time, I began noticing the people that I saw on the side of the streets. These homeless people that I had heard labeled as “outsiders” or “unwanted” by many grownups. In many ways, I felt like an outcast too, so I wanted to know who exactly these others were. When I really began to look for the first time, I could tell that these people were in the midst of their own struggle. And before long, I learned by constant observance that we all have our own battles in this life.

Because of that learning, I, during 8th grade, submitted a poem titled “The Man Without a Home” into a writing contest that my teacher had suggested that I enter. The poem that I wrote, though telling a story about a man named Leo Chan – who was homeless, actually spoke as much about myself as it did about that fictional character named Leo.

You see, everyone is fighting their own tough battle. And each and every single one of us needs a friend’s, a neighbor’s, a stranger’s help along our way. At the same time, each and every single one of us deserves to give that same help to someone else, too. Our battles are what connect us. Value them, trust them to lead you.

Though it would be much later before I started putting these learnings to any use, I have always since then felt this connection to the homeless. Though I myself have never been homeless – I honestly felt like just about anyone could find themselves homeless should a paycheck fall thru or other unwanted events happen. I have always felt the compelling urgency (whether I acted or not) to help these people because, in an odd way, I felt like I was helping myself. In my heart, I felt as though we belonged to each other.

And still when I look into the eyes of a homeless man or woman today, I see myself. I see pain, I see good, I see heartache, I see joy, I see will, I see perseverance, I see the ability to overcome and to achieve. But most importantly to me, I see a human being. Someone who desires love, just like everyone else on the face of the planet. I see someone who deserves our love. My dream is that somehow I might convey this love to someone.

But, when we look to the heart of the matter, the people giving me this award are the real heroes here. Not me. Janet Rosenberg. Doug Sanders. Judy Tackett. Lindsey and Andrew Krinks. Ingrid McIntyre. Mary Beth Ritchie. Carolyn Cooper. Ron Crowder. Jeannie Alexander. Holly McIndoe. Clifton Harris. There are so many more names. Though you all may not know my name, you are all individuals who I look up to enormously. You are here every day working with all you have just to see a fellow citizen of our community be housed, stay housed and live. What you are doing with every connection, every conversation, every handshake and hug – is letting people know that they are loved. And there is no greater reward that you can give. I look up to each and every one of you more than you know. Each and every time that I spend time with you, I leave being a better person. That is why I keep coming back, and why I will continue coming back. You are the life and love of this community.

And you’re the reason why I believe that we can all work together to find solutions that will end chronic homelessness in our beautifully diverse city. Not only are we helping our neighbors who happen to be without homes, but we are also helping ourselves. Together we grow, together we are better. Though we are all in this world, none of us are of this world. May we remember that we all belong to each other.  Not to our homes, not to our cars, not to any earthly possession – but to one another.

I expect that some people will believe that I am naive. They may call me an idealist or a dreamer. But if only we were able to imagine like children again perhaps we would be less restricted by our preconceived notions and knowledge of what we think we can do. Perhaps we could recreate what we think is impossible by discovering what IS possible when we work together.

In my apartment downtown, there still hangs a copy of that poem, “The Man Without a Home,” that I wrote back in 8th grade. It continues to tell the story of a fictional man named Leo Chan, but more it reminds me who I am and why I am here. It emphasizes that we are all in this thing together – though we may not have the same struggles, we each have our own. And together we can help each other get through them. It reminds me that our own battles lead us to one another. We face trials so that we may help someone else through their own.

It still seems crazy to me that I am getting an award for volunteering, especially when it only seems like the natural place for me to be. But I want you all to know what a huge honor this is for me, especially coming from such the amazing people and organizations that you all are. It gives validation in helping me to know that I’m headed in the right direction and a huge motivation to keep pressing forward. I know that I’m not worthy of any recognition of my own – it is only because of others and God that I am here today. So to God be all glory, and hopefully may I be a vessel that he uses.

I thank God every day that I wake up because I know the reason why I am here. It is to love his people and to learn from them. Thank you all.

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