- Sarah Smith Warren
Don't Miss It
We are giving Thanks today at The Soul Place. What a fitting day to be grateful for so much - love, family, friends, a community, a home. A home. I don't know who is reading this, but I know that I sure take that last one for granted. Such a basic necessity - a safe and warm place to live. Nothing unravels your sense of privilege like going through your very basic needs and forgetting that not everyone has them. Oh we complain about the size of our kitchens, the amount of laundry piled up, all the holiday shopping, cooking, activities we have to do. We forget. Oh how easy it is to forget. We forget that we live in a world with so much suffering and unfairness. I forgot. Or maybe I just chose to miss it. My good friend recently introduced me to an organization she was working with. As a lover of nonprofits and all things community work, I was so intrigued. I am often asked to join boards of very worthy organizations but this one went straight to my soul. "Whats the mission?", I asked. "We provide homeless teens basic needs to help them graduate." Damn. I certainly and conveniently "forgot" that this was even an issue in our own communities.
When I started The Soul Place, my mission was to really celebrate and share stories. Stories of incredible people who really embody living soul first. I'm not exactly sure what 'soul first' means. I think it means following that inner knowing even when you aren't sure how or why. It's listening to something that is deep inside you. And then honoring it by giving it life and room to breathe, even if you aren't sure how.
Jenny Schuster, the co-founder of Matthew's Voice Project, is living soul first. The group of incredible board members and homeless liaisons serving our kids, they are living soul first. Today we are thankful for you. - Sarah
Don't Miss It
by Jenny Schuster, Co-Founder of Matthew's Voice Project
Homeless: Homelessness or houselessness – also known as a state of being unhoused or unsheltered – is the condition of lacking stable, safe, and adequate housing.
There really wasn’t one single catalyst that started us on this journey. It wasn’t just one thing…. It was all the things. As I’ve said to many people, “It’s ok, that you don’t know. But how badly do you want to know about it?”. And once you know….. are you willing to do something about it?
Life can be as crazy as you want it to be and as busy as you can make it. And if you stay busy enough, often times, you will miss the things that matter most. You may miss that dinner with friends that was planned for weeks or you may miss the start of your child’s school play. Or you may simply just miss spending time outside when the leaves are turning and you know that this time won’t last and you’re going to miss those views, that smell of the leaves and those moments of peace. But there are deadlines. There are always deadlines aren’t there? Filling your plate can cause you to miss so many things big things in your life. But if you’re not careful you can also miss the things that slip by when you least expect it. The things that are seemingly invisible, but yet carry more weight than you could ever imagine.
Did you see the young boy walking through the 24-hour store at night and assume he was breaking curfew and up to no good? Or the one that was huddled in the basement of the mall with a charger and phone plugged in, backpack in tow and not making eye contact? Or the student whose pants were 3 sizes too big and dragged under his feet? Or have you seen the same young student sitting in the school office every time you dropped off something your child forgot at home?
I saw all of these and I missed it. I missed all of it.
And then one day as life will have it, and as the best lessons are usually learned, someone started sharing their story and slowly opened my eyes and mind as to what was going on around me. And now? Now I can’t unknow it.
Matthew’s Voice Project – MVP is one of those things that took hold of my heart and wouldn’t let me go. It was a mission before it had a name and while at times the stories and these children have broken my heart, they have also filled it with more hope than I could’ve imagined. The plight of the homeless and unaccompanied students in our area is growing. When we first stepped forward and realized we could do something, we just wanted these children to know that someone saw them. That someone knew they were here for a reason and that they are not invisible.
We started with senior photo sessions and looking back, those beautiful photos were the first glimpses into the heart of MVP. We see you and we love you already. And the hope? The hope has come from the most amazing individuals and community members who have selflessly stepped up to the call. The theme running through all our hearts at MVP is the same. Willing. We are all just willing to show up and fill the gap between what the schools can supply and what the students need to help them stay in school and graduate. To give them hope for a future that is hard to see at times.
MVP’s mission is to serve teens who are experiencing homelessness by assisting with basic needs and supporting them on their journey to graduation. How do we do this? We started with Fargo Public School District and now also serve Moorhead and West Fargo districts. We work directly with their Homeless Liaisons – did you know our school districts have homeless liaisons?! The Liaisons are our direct link to each student’s unique individual needs. From food, clothing, shelter, daily incidentals, gas cards to senior photos to gift cards to summer survival gifts to graduation gifts, the list goes on and we have grown. We have grown as the needs have grown. We have grown as the number of children have grown. We have added amazing individuals to our project that share the same passion for these students in helping them thrive, not just survive.
To put things in perspective, last year with our Gift Giving Project (our individualized Christmas giving program we do everything and we are currently doing now!), we served over 400 students and their families in the Fargo/West Fargo/Moorhead school systems. The students were able to ask for a wish, a want and a need. Knowing that they would receive all things, some things, more things or maybe something different. But they absolutely knew that those gifts would be handpicked especially for them. In life, sometimes it takes just one person showing up to let a child know that they matter and that can make all the difference in the world.
I wish I could tell you all the stories of our youth in need. Some are so very private and some would just break your heart. Like the student, who had never received a Christmas present in her life who knelt down in front of her gifts on the floor…. speechless. Through tears she kept asking why anyone would do that for her. Or the student who had never felt what a new pair of tennis shoes felt like. Bouncing around the Liaison’s office in complete joy because he finally felt what shoes were supposed to feel like. And there are more. So many more. The student who was walking to school in tennis shoes and a sweatshirt…. in winter…. Who received boots, gloves, a hat and jacket and bus pass. There are many tears in this process. It’s hard to see, but it’s even harder not to answer the call to help.
In our community the numbers are growing and with our ability to work directly with the school’s Homeless Liaisons, we are able to do even more for these students. Currently our core focus is on those students in middle school and high school. These are the ones that are at the greatest risk of dropping out of school or falling through the cracks. We want them to keep going and we are here to give them the boost that they need. Whenever they need it…. however they need it.
The interesting thing about life… is that when you choose to slow down a bit to notice life outside of yourself, you will start seeing more clearly. You’ll see that the young boy walking around the 24- hour store at night is trying to stay warm- he is homeless. You’ll see that the child in the mall in the early hours, the one with the backpack, phone charging and not making eye contact. That phone is a lifeline. It’s all they have. The boy with the pants that are 3 sizes too big? Those aren’t his. They belong to his Mom’s boyfriend, they live in a hotel and there is no money for pants his size. And that student in the school office? She’s not in trouble, but there is a lot of trouble at home. She is homeless.
It’s hard when you know. Because you can’t unknow it. It’s a painful truth and these stories are just a snapshot. Just a small glimpse. And this drive… this calling… it started as a tugging in the heart.
Have you had that happen? Have you known, ever just known that you are supposed to do something that makes no sense, looks impossible and you feel like you may be imagining things? Something that seems too big or something you’re not qualified for? Have you? And are you willing?
I’m here to tell you to do that thing. It matters more than you could ever know.
Jenny Schuster of REALTOR® PARK CO., REALTORS® is the co-founder of Matthew's Voice Project.
phone: (701) 729-5851
*If you would like to help our local unaccompanied youth and youth experiencing homelessness, there are several projects throughout the year and we’d LOVE your help!
Our next outreach is happening right now with our Christmas Giving Project. Dec. 11 and Dec 12th. Check out our Facebook page @ Matthew’s Voice Project or our Website at Matthewsvoiceproject.com. Or feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com. We’d be happy to share more details and information with you!
*If your school district is in need of these services, reach out and we can help you get started serving your community and kids.