Autumn is here and so are we!
Oh, what a wonderful year we’ve had and all because you have helped support our efforts over the past two and a half decades! I think it’s fair to say that SHARE the Project, Inc. has become a tradition now, as a group of very committed high school and college age kids and adults whose sole purpose it to help those who are the neediest in our near communities.
Last November marked our Silver Anniversary Thanksgiving Dinner for the Homeless where we had the honor of serving 839 men, women and children from Westchester and all five boroughs of New York City, a Thanksgiving meal that was made with care and abounding love. As Autumn approaches and the nights cool down, we gladly watch the leaves change colors, as we roll up our sleeves to prepare for what will be our 26th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner for the Homeless, hosted at Hastings High School, here in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, a celebratory gathering of the homed and the homeless. Toasting another year together, we will stand, many hundreds strong, and share a few moments of spirit and of grace as the tireless student and community volunteers serve our guests.
You can be part of this. Donate today and know how much your contribution will help.
For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or share your thoughts directly with me at email@example.com. We can be reached by phone at (914) 649-5514 if you want to donate your time as a volunteer for this event or any of our other projects throughout the course of the year.
With my deepest thanks and very best wishes for a warm and happy holiday season, from all of us here to all of you there,
Founder and Executive Director
SHARE the Project, Inc.
SHARE the Project, Inc. dba Project SHARE – We are a public charity. Our 501©3 number is 01-0944154.
SHARE the Project, Inc. has offered all of our high school age students in Hastings and surrounding Westchester communities an opportunity to extend themselves to people whom under no other circumstance would they have an opportunity to meet. It is a program of wide range involvement and all we require is the support of the greater community to help keep our valuable programs available. Please help us continue what has become a tradition for the youth in our area. In the words of Dr. Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
…and the days start their ebb into earlier evenings, the preparations for a new school year – everywhere! – are in sight.
When I was growing up, that meant new school shoes and later on sneakers for gym class. We got new school clothes, too, and for me, that always included a new pleated plaid skirt and maybe a matching sweater. My brothers and I got to pick out a new lunchbox, a pencil case, and a new binder. I remember those days so fondly…I suspect my own children do as well.
For too many children, though, new clothes or sneakers or pencil boxes simply aren’t part of their school preparation list…but even more so, there will be no new books for too many kids who probably have no idea what that new book “feel” is all about.
Let’s change that. We can.
Enter http://www.firstbook.org, a wonderful not-for-profit whose sole goal is to provide books for disadvantaged and disenfranchised children. A literate nation is a strong nation, and so let’s get behind this amazing effort to help those who need the help the most: our nation’s kids.
Please do click on the link below and give…so that one day, these soon-to-be literate kids will fall in love with reading and know what it is to read and to be read to.
From our hearts to yours…
“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion,unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” ~ Galileo Galilei
The winter has worn on and on, devastating the rhythm and well-being of the Northeast and it has become apparent that we have all simply had enough. Lucky us! We’ve been limited to the monotony of home and hearth or the inconveniences of all that snow and slush interfering with our daily commutes! We have spent the last six weeks whining and bitching and moaning to all those who can hear us, our circle of ears growing larger and larger with each single-digit night that passes into well-below freezing days. Pipes freeze and tempers flare. The Sunday Times travel section gets scanned for “deals” on all those faraway places that boast fruity tropical drinks shaded by cute paper umbrellas; these orange sunset places where sand easily replaces snow, our summery memories recalling the images of the waxing and waning surf upon the beach’s edge. Ah, but when reality wakes us, all we see are the piles of winter’s remains sitting mountainous along the sides of roads. Trying to negotiate a solid footing has become an Olympic sport and all of us wonder if the ice and snow will ever,ever go away.
And yet, of course there really are so many who simply don’t have the luxury of bemoaning the inconvenience of winter. Theirs has become a study of tolerance and quick-wittedness, fortitude and determination. They are those faceless folks who don’t have a home to go to. They are those whose homes are whatever shelter they can find to keep them from the deep, deep cold of never really knowing what warmth is, until, of course, the unrelenting heat of summer beats down upon them. They don’t have the luxury of bemoaning anything.
Last night, we gathered once again to make our monthly trip into the city on behalf of the Midnight Run. We had a wonderful group of eighteen teenagers, several who were new to the Run and some whose jobs next year will be to lead the group. We had nine adults, plenty of sandwiches, Rob’s infamous chili, a birthday cake to celebrate birthdays past and present, new sweatpants, new hoodies and plenty of underwear and socks to distribute to the homeless and hungry poor who will greet us without one single complaint whispered from their lips. And in a caravan of cars, we made our way into the night, to our first stop on the Upper West Side. The church whose steps are usually alive with the voices of the hungry poor and homeless, were scaffolded and empty, a maze of orange and white construction cones and fencing. It was empty, save one sleeping soul blanketed and jellyrolled up tightly in an old sleeping bag, in the only remaining clear doorway. The rest of the block was deserted. We left sandwiches for the sleeping person and very quietly retreated, wondering if this was going to be the norm for the evening. We were already halfway through our allotted stops though our over-flowing cars and van still oozed an excess of supplies.
Our next stop was empty at first, unlike what we are accustomed to in the warmer, slower months of Spring and Summer. Two people spotted our van and as soon as they approached, our very willing group of volunteers happened upon them, offering a plethora of food and goods with arms outstretched, as they climbed over the icy banks of snow. Smiles abounded. The night had started, but our strategy needed an overhaul. Where were the people whose needs could be addressed by our generous offering? I always think of Timothy at this stop and miss him here, as he continues his convalescence in a nursing home. The truth of winter lies in its inherent danger. Timothy lost all ten toes to the wrath of last year’s cold and snow. It was something to remember. It was the equilibrium that we needed. How self-righteous we can become sometimes, thinking our efforts may actually be minimized by the sheer force of a cold winter’s night, raining on our parade of generosity. Hmmm.
Our decision to do the third stop before hitting a much larger stop where dozens of people would invariably be, proved to be the smartest decision of the evening. We managed to negotiate the traffic and sidle into the one strip of curbside that would allow all of our caravan to fit snugly in one spot. The people were waiting for us, staying warm inside a bank. As soon as we stopped, people appeared, coming out from all sorts of sheltered spots in this busy midtown location and the first person I saw that I recognized was my old friend, Buddy. I’m not at all certain what it is about Buddy that I genuinely love, but I’m sure it has something to do with his affable nature. He bears a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields, but with a warm smile perpetually across his face. He saw me and with the aid of a cane, walked up to me and gave me a long hug. It was heaven. People began to gather, going from one vehicle to the next, a veritable smorgasbord of offerings in each car. In the van was a well-organized group of girls who handed out the clothing we brought, checking sizes and colors and trying to accommodate the needs of all who waited on line. In the rear of the van, chili and coffee and birthday cake was ready for all who came by. Kids walked around through the crowd, armed with bags of lunches, giving away three or four meals to each person who asked for one. There was an easiness about this stop and all were happy.
And then Buddy began to sing. I adore him and as I stood next to him, he asked me what I wanted to hear. Buddy could sing every aria that Verdi ever wrote. He could sing any love song known to mankind. He could sing all songs patriotic and as the kids gathered around him, that’s what Buddy did, after asking that all who were gathered sing with him. He then turned to me and asked what I wanted to hear, though Buddy knows what I will say. My request was simple: I always ask him to sing “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto, and he did. Imagine this: Verdi sung by Buddy on a busy Manhattan street at midnight. It doesn’t get better than that. Ever.
This stop was a reunion of sorts. I was about to turn around when a man in layered blankets, sandals and long hair blowing into his blue eyes, gave me a surprise hug. He said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And of course I did. Hugh is a legend on the street, much like Buddy, and he is something of a prophet who, in warmer weather, was often seen on roller skates, gliding through the crowds on busy New York City streets, spreading the “good news.” Hugh. A sweet man who has aged as we all have over these past 27 years, and whose teachings have softened and mellowed. It was so good to see him once again. He was wonderful with the kids and thanked each of them for their smiles. How often does THAT happen, I wondered?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Daylight Savings Time loomed ahead of us and home we went, the crowd dispersing back into the crevices of the night. It was hard falling asleep, but not for the reasons I usually have after a run. It was difficult because there was palpable joy in the night air, displacing the overstay of winter. I simply wanted it to go on a little longer.
“There is a place like no other place on earth, a land full of wonder, mystery, and danger!
Some say to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Luckily, I am.”
~ The Mad Hatter, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”
It’s difficult to recap the week past, let alone make sense out of it, as it started with a week that ended leaving the house in Northern Maine, a remote and distant spot whose fields are red with wild blueberry stems, and whose skyline is a lace-pattern of tall pines and spruce and the changing leaves of birch and oak. It was a quiet week, that one which ended, and I left an armful of wildflowers in a vase on the table that I only remembered when I got home.
There was very little time to transition from the quiet meadows and boggy deep woods outside of Calais to Timothy’s phone call that I got the next day at home. The urgency in his voice was genuine and when he shared the news that our friend Bernard had died, I was stunned. Bernard was a legend on the street, a man who was bigger than Life itself, who made both friends and enemies easily, as he navigated the life of homelessness. His death shocked those who knew him because Bernard had dodged many bullets in his 60 years, taking up residence underground in the Amtrak tunnel that runs for two and a half miles beneath the Upper West Side. He lived down there for ten years or so, beginning in 1985, two years before I began this outreach leg of my own journey.
I met him one night under an overhang where some of my Rotunda guys started to stay. They had the best set-up, tapping into the Amtrak electrical system so they could plug in an old refrigerator one of the guys found on Riverside Drive. Shorty, one of the funniest people I know, would grill chicken on a make-shift barbecue, in a silk smoking jacket he found in the trash on Riverside Drive. There was such a series of strange contrasts here: the homeless poor occupied space discretely, and then underground or between the shadows along the elegant and swank residences of Riverside Drive. So little made sense to me then; perhaps even less makes sense now to me.
Bernard emerged from the darkness and I found him to be affable and articulate, choosing his words very carefully as he spoke and made easy conversation, the hint of a Southern lilt misting over his words. He was a confident man and a very smart one, too, who declared himself the Lord of the Tunnel, only when he was told by an established pack of guys downstairs that he would be charged a tax for settling in down there. This sub-culture of people living underground fascinated me and Bernard became my guide and teacher, bringing me to the tunnel so that I could actually see what he described as his peaceable kingdom.
I didn’t think about it, this near-foray into the tunnel, but followed him, a rat running across my boot when I got there. There were spots where people set up their dwellings and I was offered a cup of tea. I had no idea how anyone could survive in the dank cold of this tunnel. There were murals on the walls, upside down crates and bedding. It was at that moment I realized that I had indeed fallen down the legendary rabbit hole. And, it was at that precise moment I knew I would never come back.
We stayed in touch through the monthly Runs we made into the city and Bernard and I became friends. I’d like to think that we were close friends, as we both managed to confide in each other and care about each other. The upstairs neighbors to the downstairs tunnel folk were evacuated in 1991 and it was the end of the “under-the-West-Side-Highway” congregation as we knew it. So much changed over the next few years and sadly, not for the better. Bernard disappeared for a bit and it was only on occasion that I’d see Timothy, Bernard’s good friend he introduced me to. My own life was taking on different challenges as my kids grew and my marriage soured.
One very rainy night, down at the Visitor’s Center near Columbus Circle, a tall, thin man appeared at our run, dripping with rain, his hood covering all but the bill of his baseball cap. He had a back pack and was fumbling in the dark and cold to retrieve something from it. I saw him come toward me, but I had no idea who he was. The rain was steady, it was very late and we had a nice crowd of people to talk with.
As soon as he flipped the hood off, I saw it was Bernard. He smiled and he hugged me and told me he thought we’d never see each other again and as I think on those words now, I realize what an innocent I was back then. I really had no idea.
He handed me a book, carefully enclosed in a plastic bag from Gristede’s and told me to wait till I got home to read it. I promised I would and when I did finally get home, before I took off my wet windbreaker, I took the book out of my bag. It was a copy of Margaret Morton’s book, “The Tunnel” and there he was, on the cover, this powerful black and white portrait, a shaft of light illuminating him, Bernard in his peaceable kingdom. Inscribed inside, a note from Margaret and one from Bernard: “God Bless you, Jeannie Newman. Bernard Monte Isaac, The Lord of the Tunnel.”
Weeks come and go and start and end and mine was capped last night when we did our first Run of the academic year. The news of Bernard’s death spread on the street and all of a sudden, in the small crowds we saw, one or two or three of the old guys appeared. They stopped by as they heard we were coming down. They heard Bernard had died and they said they wanted to know more. They, like me, wanted to process it.
There will be a service now that his family has been contacted and Bernard will finally rest in peace, his ashes to be sprinkled by his older brother across a favorite creek of theirs that they played and swam in as boys in Florida. Until then, there will be a moment or two to try to make sense of this journey altogether, I suspect, one jagged puzzle piece at a time.
.For those whose words and thoughts develop on their iPhone or iPad or MacBook, you are very aware of Apple’s most recent catch phrase: “What will your verse be?” And yet, those whose hearts were left a little bit broken or quietly aching with the news of Robin Williams’ tragic and oh-too-soon passing, will clearly remember the phrase from one of his memorable films, “Dead Poet’s Society,” a film I recently revisited, many years after its release.
His role in this film is as English teacher, John Keating. And quickly into the film, we see him with his students, a group of boys in a toney, New England prep school, who simply seem so familiar. He gathers his students around and squats down to their eye level. And, he quietly explains to them why we read and write poetry.
And so, what will YOUR verse be? What contribution to this life will you make?
Clearly, there are times when we wonder what our purpose in this world must be…what could just “one” person do that would create any significant change in this vast sea of chaos and conflict that sits beside the quieter glories of sunrises and sunsets?
What will your verse be?
It appears to me that in our frantic desire to excel and climb over each other to achieve and compete, we may have lost the focus and purpose of this one life we’ve been given. How do we balance achievement and success with calculated competition in order to do one good deed? Whatever happened to the unspoken kindness the Hebrews refer to as a mitzvah? Must everything we do and say become so public so as to trump what the other guy has done? Life, to me, ought to be far less cutthroat than this.
What will your verse be?
I recall those who influenced my own life along the way, and none of those people knowingly pushed their ideologies upon me. Their greatness, to me, was measured in the silence of their goodness. I was the beneficiary of all of those people who, if they only knew now, would be quite surprised at how their gentle lives impacted mine.
What will your verse be?
There is newness in the change of seasons: summer wanes and autumn casts its shortened shadows upon us. School has started and all I can think of is how good those fresh starts in all of our lives are. Are we even marginally aware of the many fresh starts and new beginnings we are given? How about this morning’s fresh start?
And so, when all is pondered, said, and done, what will your verse be?
Timothy called just now and apologized that he couldn’t wait until tomorrow to share what is the best news I’ve heard in weeks: he will be released in ten days from the nursing home where he has been recuperating from his amputations and going to his very first apartment that he can call home. In all of his 53 years, Timothy has never once lived in his own place, and now he will be. Since January, he has been hospitalized for losing all of his toes this past winter and without complaining once, he stayed the course of recovery, going from Harlem Hospital to a facility in the East Bronx where he learned to walk again.
My heart filled as he told me the news. There are so few good outcomes with the people I have known on the street, and often not by their own hand. The fact that Timothy’s journey has taken him this far astounds me and renews my belief in the tenacity and goodness of our brothers and sisters whose lives have been compromised by the ill-fate of homelessness. His own home!! He worked so hard for this, never once giving in to the huge challenges he faced after he was hospitalized. The words aren’t forming here as I want them to because my joy is so deep.
Before we ended our conversation, Timothy told me that he wants to share his good news and good fortune further in the form of a baby gift for my not-yet-born grandson. He said he only needed a suggestion as what he could get for the baby……..and that’s precisely when I lost it completely and started to sob, without apology.
What a magical man Timothy is. And I can only wonder if he is aware of how magical he truly is.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.