In the summer of 2014, I began an internship in New York. Two days a week, I was coming into New York to do work for free that no one else wanted to.
I can’t tell you too many things I learned at that internship. Organizing books, sending mail etc. But what I did take away from those 6 months was the project I did on my own.
Taking the train into midtown, walking 15 blocks, I saw so many homeless people.
I began packing 6 lunches every Thursday and Friday and handing them out to people I’d see walking to work.
My initial thoughts were what did they do wrong to get there?
My mother’s apprehension came when she began realizing what I was doing, was encountering drug addicts or alcoholics. That’s the homeless stereotype a lot of people had.
But what got me the most was how many people ignored these people, looking right through them like they weren’t even there. I couldn’t do that.
As I began my career in New York I thought to myself ‘may you never grow too desensitized here that you ignore someone asking for help.’
What started as handing out lunches, quickly turned into conversations. Myself sitting in a business outfit, on the sidewalk finding out these strangers stories.
What I began to realize was if we can beat them to this point, solve the problem earlier, we wouldn’t have a homeless adult population.
Enter Covenant House. As a career in social media began to take off and people saw what I was doing, a friend called me and said, I have the perfect organization for you.
It’s been four years, close to $20,000 raised, multiple events I led, traveling as far as to Guatemala. Running races. Not just making volunteer work a hobby but a pillar for how I led my life.
In four years I went from a mindset of ‘what did this person do wrong in their life to get here?’ To ‘what happened to them? What is their story? What shitty card did they get dealt and what choices were they left with? And lastly, how can I help?’
Kevin Ryan spoke and said something so profound at the opening ceremony of the Asbury Rights of Passage Program, ‘I occasionally get asked how God can allow children and youth to suffer in the streets without shelter, without food, without healthcare, without love. I always say the same thing: I think God has the same question for us.’
When a parent, when a guardian, when someone who is supposed to care for a child fails a child, we have to realize it isn’t the child who has failed but rather someone else who has not provided them with the basic necessities to thrive.
And when that happens it is up to everyone else around that youth to rise to the occasion and be what they need.
Because it is everyone’s problem.
Every child deserves, love safety and security, a place to sleep and food.
When you take that from someone, they quickly need to do whatever they have to, to survive.
A child shouldn’t have to learn how to survive and that’s why it’s up to everyone to link arms and change this problem that can be solved.
I believe the homeless youth ‘problem’ isn’t really a problem if we can solve it.
- 2 million kids in America will face being homeless
- 57% percent of youth will spend at least one day a month without food.
- 20,000 youth a year will be forced into prostitution by human sex trafficking network.
- 25% of foster kids will be homeless within two to four years.
- 40% of homeless youth are under 18 years old.
In four years of volunteering, it’s a cause I’ve fallen in love with because it is so needed.
I frequently would ask myself, ‘what is your why?’ Why am I doing this? Why do I care? Why do I continue to come back every year so passionate about this work?
And my answer is simple, somebody has to care about these kids in ways their family the system has failed them.
I dare you to meet a homeless youth, find out their story and tell them it’s their fault. They aren’t old enough to take that responsibility because someone who shouldn’t have failed them.
If we don’t want an adult homeless population, we have to ensure there isn’t a youth homeless population. And that is something we can all strive towards.
Every child is one caring adult away from being a success story.
Cov House Rocks 2018
Money raised $3,500
Party Hosts – Manus Mullanphy and Chris Monello
Location – Huddy’s Inn
Date: March 10th 8:00
T-shirts – Stelair Designs
Photographer – Lauren Ashely
Check out the photos from the party here
Guatemala Service Trip
In 2016 I went with a service group to Guatemala I still struggle to find the words to describe my experience. The shelter we went to was one where a lot of young girls were pulled out of sex trafficking. You see these girls and they are kids being into a life they didn’t ask for solely to survive. I think it’s our job to project these kids. It’s our job to get as many girls out of this life as we can. These kids deserve to be kids. One day I was sitting in a room hearing horror stories about what these girls went through and next I’m playing soccer with them as kids should. We walked through a village and first I was overcome with the smell. Next what got me were seeing these girls selling themselves in the streets to people walking by. I might not have spoken the language or understood what they were saying but I was overcome with pain. Part of me wanted to just wrap my arms around them and take them back with me but I couldn’t do that. I slept uneasy that night and for the next few nights, feeling like I didn’t deserve to be there. Feeling like I didn’t know why I was there and wondering if I was even making a difference. I still struggle with that why. I still wonder am I doing enough and can I do more? I always want to do more.
Christmas 2015 Fundraiser for Covenant House
Host Manus Mallanphy
Location Colts Neck Inn
Guests Attended 45
Photographer – Lauren Ashley
Money Raised $1,000
Host Manus Mallanphy and Caitlin Bordzuck
St Stephen’s Pub, Spring Lake NJ
Money raised $1,000
Covenant House 2016 Bash
Hosts Manus Mallanphany + Patrick Rafferty
In the media
In March of 2016, a team came together to throw a party at Asbury Ale House. The number of guests that attended were close to 50+. We raised $1,200 in the night then continued to fundraise into the month and brought in $3,000. Devil’s tickets were the one raffle prize and one guest was chosen.
Check out the photos here.
Covenant House NJ SleepOut March Snow storm of 2015 – Amount raised $1,000
2017 Covenant House Sleepout Newark, NJ
2018 Covenant House Sleepout New York
Covenant House PA 2017
Holiday Express Meets Covenant House Dec 2015
Covenant House PA- Holiday Express Dec 2017
Children’s Center of Monmouth and Ocean County with Tim McCloone – Holiday Express
Asbury Park 2016 Christmas Party
Kentucky Derby for Covenant House
NY Associates Board Kentucky Derby Party May 2015
Kentucky Derby 2016 – Refinery Rooftop, NY
2017 – Kentucky Derby Party
Kentucky Derby New York 2018
2015 NY Half Marathon Hometeam $1,000 raised.
2016 – Hometeam – NY Full Marathon
NY Half Marathon – HomeTeam 2018
Stockton Suicide Prevention Team
Stockton Suicide Prevention Night – 2017 – Keynote Speaker
2017 Alumni Impact Award @ Stockton University 2017
Check out the speech below!!
Ashley Lauren Foundation
Danceathon @ Monmouth University 2017
First Fun Run for ALF @ Brielle Ale House September 2017
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Big Brothers Big Sisters Christmas with Santa @ The Atlantic Club – December 2015
Big Brothers Big Sisters Halloween Party Oct 2015
BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS A STORY
One thing I have never been able to or accept, no matter how often I see or witness it, is homelessness and hunger. Upon commuting to New York one day, I decided I couldn’t just look past these people. I felt a sense of guilt as I tried not to make eye contact. So I decided I’d make lunch for them. But for me it still never felt like enough.
Revised: I still hand out lunches and gift cards. I don’t write anymore about people’s stories because it isn’t my story to tell and I removed their pictures. I think at 22 I thought I was helping. At 26, I realize to ask someone at their worst how they got here, sitting on a sidewalk is unkind. So I stopped months into doing this.
Today I went up to a man sitting on the ground, a little hesitant. Not because he was someone who was homeless, but going up to a complete stranger left me nervous, and to telling them you want to know about their life, without sounding crazy seemed odd. So I handed this guy a bagged lunch and I began to just talk to him. It started with introducing myself. His name was Greg, and his dog he had gotten 3 years ago a pit-bull was named Ennis. “He got skunked a few days ago he smells.” That he did. Greg told me he had grown up in Brooklyn, and was 24 years old. He spent his life traveling on fray trains, and had been to 46 states in the U.S. He said he’s never been to Rhode Island and I told him I used to live there. He seemed intrigued asking what it was like. He sat sewing a jacket talking away about his life, and listening as I told him about mine. I began to feel guilty as he told me he jumped off a train and he left his winter vest his best friend gave him before the guy passed away. “It had a lot of sentimental value. I’m really mad I lost it.”
Immediately I was taken back to Carly, and I looked down at my bracelet with her name. He told me his friend died due to a drug overdose, and that he tried to get him to stop and travel with him. I told him about Carly and her accident and he apologized for my loss. We then talked about his tattoos. “The one on my fingers hurt the most.” He said, revealing a number that read Brooklyn’s area code. He told me his parents had moved to Florida, and he still kept in touch with them, from time to time. I asked where he would be sleeping tonight and he said I don’t know. We talked more about his travels, and he told me how excited he was to hopefully be leaving for Mexico in a few months. He had been to Canada but never Mexico. I asked him what do you think the most misconceived notion is of how people portray you? “We aren’t all drug addicts or alcoholics. Sure some are, but not all of us.” Sitting there on the ground it didn’t feel like I was talking to anyone out of the ordinary. He was a guy with dreadlocks that smelt, like many people I met in college. He wasn’t “a homeless person,” he was just a person. I thanked him for his time and wished him safe travels. As we sat there on the sidewalk a man came up to us and gave Greg dog food for Ennis. I knew in that moment while some people may grow desensitized to people like Greg, not everyone is, and that is what is going to keep the world a better place.
Last week I had handed a man a bagged lunch, and asked for his name. In a friendly tone he responded, “Bill,” and shook my hand. I had given him food for about a month now, he was located every day in the same spot if it was not raining; outside of Penn Station. But every day, I was always very apprehensive about finding out more. It isn’t so much nerves because of their situation, that got me, or the stares I don’t notice, but likely get when I sit next to people in Bill’s situation, but just going up to a stranger and asking about their life is unorthodox.
But this why I do it.
He told me he was from New Jersey, and immediately upon hearing that there was common ground we could build from. I asked where, and he told me Red Bank, and I thought I was there yesterday walking around. He told me he was in foster care throughout his life, and went to Rumson Fair Haven. I told him we used to beat them in volleyball and he laughed saying, “good they are snobby. But I’m not like them.”
Bill told me when he graduated his family moved and he was now on his own. He made an attempt to go to Brookdale but between paying for an apartment and school he couldn’t manage. He had met his girlfriend and moved in with her family, he even helped reconstruct the basement into an apartment. He has experience in construction he told me.
But due to circumstances outside of his control, he was forced to leave his girlfriend’s parent’s house and he turned to New York, as he was told it is easier to be homeless there. Bill went into telling me about how he sleeps in Penn Station on occasion, but cannot do it often because of cops. The subway is much more common and if it is nice outside.
I asked Bill, if I could bring him anything next week, when I would be back he smiled and said no but thank you shaking my hand, saying I’ll see you soon.
I walked to work today with a sense of helplessness I never knew. For most of my life I have been very lucky to be able solve most of my problems, and the bigger ones would resolve themselves in time. But all I thought about were the people I knew in construction, did I know anyone that could help Bill. I don’t know his background fully. But what I do know, is out of most the people I have interacted with in the few weeks, he seemed to be the most alert, the most attentive in conversation and maybe it is in my character to have blind faith but I saw something in him. I left wanting to know so much more, and wanting to help in ways that are beyond my own control.
I had been walking around New York one Friday afternoon in no rush really to get home. I had a Dunkin Donuts gift card, given to me for Christmas despite college having ruined my Dunkin Experience over the years, as that was the only place ever open on campus. I had seen a man sitting down and I quickly ran to Dunkin ordering a large coffee, bagel and a donut. When I returned he wasn’t there. As someone who does not drink coffee or avoids donuts most days I had to give it to someone. The thing about homeless people in the winter is, you find less and less on the streets due to the weather and you find more inebriated or on others substances. Through my observations over the past few months I have learned to pick up on little details about people those same people I admit I walk past on some days. But on days when I make it to the city early and I have time I like to talk to those people who I know are aware and coherent. I eventually found the man after walking a few blocks in circles. I handed it to him and like many they are grateful for anything you give. And as a recent college graduate fortunate to have much help from my parents, he didn’t know but I still only had $5 in my wallet and I haven’t gone to the bank in I don’t know how long. But with the little I do have I find it very important to give to others who are less fortunate. His introduced himself as Eric and shook my hand. Then we just began talking. I asked him where he was from and he replied South Jersey. Immediately I was taken back to the distasteful smell of south Jersey as I did my Senior Thesis climbing through the pine barrens through private property to get a good story to present to my professor. “You must have went to Stockton then,” he said with excitement. I was taken back slightly because not many people in New York have heard of my school. He then proceeded to tell me he lived around the area and was familiar with Atlantic City. He laughed when I told him I was afraid of that area. We talked about current events like the casinos closing down and the affects we predict will happen and may already be happening to the city. He told me about his family. His parents were divorced his father who he didn’t speak to was a millionaire. His mother was a nurse. His birthday was the same month as my own but March 16th. We talked about how he got there and one thing he said that stuck out from the rest was, “I am no harm to anyone but myself.” Before he could elaborate more on a story that was scratching the surface we talks about friendship. I said “Do you think who you associate with impacts where you end up in life.” He looked at me and said absolutely. Our friends and who we associate with will dictate where we end up in life so it is important to choose good people to surround yourself with. The hardest part for me as someone who listens to stories every day is leaving and walking away knowing a lunch and a conversation are all I can do when I want so badly to do so much more.