Hi, thank you for visiting our volunteer page! My name is Beth Nawotka, and I’m the Outreach Coordinator for Hotdogs for the Homeless. Let me tell you a little more about our ministry and ways you can help.

 

Hotdogs for the Homeless is blessed to have many wonderful volunteers, several who help on a regular basis, as well as groups that come in and out to do occasional service work. All are needed and much appreciated.

 

Every Sunday at noon volunteers meet to begin making and packaging the hotdog lunches that will be served to the homeless. We are making between 275 to 300 lunches right now. Between 1:15 and 1:30 we hit the streets of Oklahoma City to distribute these to those who are homeless and hungry. We especially look for the ones we know who are not living in shelters, the ones in tents, cardboard “houses,” abandoned buildings, sleeping in fields and in old cars.

 

One sideline of Hotdogs for the Homeless is a clothing ministry which goes out every other Sunday in a separate van following Rick, the Hotdog Man. My husband, Don, and I and our daughters and dedicated volunteers head up this Clothing Crew which brings out men’s and women’s casual clothing, hygiene kits, blankets, backpacks, new socks and underwear,  sleeping bags, and hats and coats if it’s winter.

 

Over the past several years that we’ve been doing this ministry, we’ve witnessed many harsh realities of homelessness on the street. Mental illness, drug addiction, prostitution, domestic violence, and poverty fuel the flame for much of the suffering we see week after week. Toes and feet are lost to frostbite every winter when we get a bad freeze. Cracked and bleeding stumps linger throughout the rest of the year causing these people to limp or take to the streets in wheel chairs. People bathe in the river and in water that collects off the roof tops of abandoned buildings. They keep warm in makeshift tents and huts made out of old mattresses, cardboard boxes, and tarp. Their faces show complete loss of self-worth and hope. Too many of them live this way because they truly believe this is all they can do and no other solution will work for them.

 

As Rick says again and again, this ministry really isn’t just about the hotdog. The hotdog lunch is our vehicle to meet them face to face and get to know them personally and gain their trust week after week by being there consistently for them. The homeless may have problems, but they are people with hearts and feelings just like you and me. They just need someone to listen and care. When we bring clothing and get to know their special needs and sizes, they talk to us and open up to us about their inner struggles and fears.

 

We earn their trust and we start to understand what they need the most so we can help them get into rehabs, reconnect them with family members, get them into jobs, medical care, and housing. Many times it takes numerous attempts at rehab before it finally works. Sometimes it doesn’t work and they go straight back to the street. But we can’t judge or give up on them. They hide from us in embarrassment at first, before they realize that we aren’t going to give up on them. Our biggest success story is a former prostitute that we are rehabilitating that we put into drug rehab twice. The last time was her 8th shot at rehab. At the time of this writing she has been off the street, working, connected with her family, and drug free for almost a year and a half. Isn’t God great?

 

Even when we see the most pitiful situations, like the lady who lived in her wheelchair for months and months on end and had sores that would ooze and bugs crawling on her,  and we know we could do something to help, we’ve learned that we can’t do anything unless they are ready and willing. But over time they know they can count on us and, out of the blue, when they hit their individual bottoms, they know they can count on us to try to help them.

 

When it comes to helping people we meet through this ministry, we have found that the key to what we are doing comes with making the right connections between those in need with those who have excess. Most people want to help and are very generous once they hear what we are doing and learn specific ways they can help. It has been heartwarming to see the generous hearts that are opening up to help with this project. People are going through their closets and finding clothes and shoes they aren’t wearing. Not only does it help the needy, but it helps clear space at home as well!

Our outreach has many needs. To help us continue serving the hotdog lunches (which consist of hotdogs, chips, bottled water, a packaged snack, and ketchup and mustard packets) we accept monetary donations to help keep this going.

 

We also use donations to help with bus tickets to rehabs, occasional motel rooms for sick or beaten up homeless people we find, and to help in the process of rehabilitation of ones we work with.

 

Another need is for new men’s and women’s socks and underwear of all sizes. The Clothing Crew is distributing approximately 50 pair a week when we take out the clothing. Right now it has been coming out of their personal pockets, but perhaps there is a source somewhere that can help with this. (Could your school, church, or business do a sock or underwear drive for us? The same is true with men’s jeans. We are so desperate for these!)

 

Hygiene kits are another item our ministry makes and distributes. It is hard to bathe when you are homeless. People save their small soaps and shampoos for us when they travel and we have groups make little kits in Ziplock bags. The two most needed items we seek for donations here is for toothbrushes and toothpaste.

 

Lunch sacks are decorated by students with encouraging messages. This is another simple service project that helps us a lot and the homeless really appreciate. Also, to make our lunch-making process go faster, we have groups pre-wrap the ketchup and mustard packets in napkins for us.

 

 

We give presentations regularly to schools, churches, civic organizations, youth camps, and teacher groups to bring awareness to the plight of homelessness and specific ways people can help. My daughter, Sarah, does an annual city-wide backpack drive and sends out letters to schools asking students to donate their used backpacks at the end of the school year to help the homeless. Every spring she is invited into the schools to talk to students about homelessness, our ministry, and brings awareness to the problems resulting from drug addictions.

 

The best part of helping in this ministry is being able to connect with people who need us. Believing that God is in control of the connections we make, we stand in awe of the circumstances of opportunity He places us in each week.

 

*Names have been changed here for privacy.

 

“Tanya’s” Story

We are rehabilitating a former prostitute (shown on far left) who was enslaved by her drug addiction to crack cocaine and was living in a cardboard house under a tree in Oklahoma City. She had been abused as a child and throughout her teenage years. As a result of this her anger turned to self hatred and self destruction. In the past two years or so we have helped her by gaining her trust, getting her into rehab, getting her off the street into a home, and reconnecting her with her family. She has been drug-free for almost a year and a half at the time of this writing and working two jobs to support herself and her two children. We continue to give her moral encouragement, guidance, and support every week to help her keep focused, and she is doing great. Praise God!

 

 

“Brandy’s” Story

 

Two weeks after we began helping Rick and Susan, a woman came to us on the sidewalk and asked for lunches for herself and her three young sons. As we talked with her she revealed that they had been homeless and sleeping in the City Rescue Mission for the last eight months. The kids’ daddy was in prison and, before going to the mission, she had been living with her brother who is a substance abuser and physically abused her and her children. She told us that an agency in the area was offering her a low-income apartment to live in, but she had two days left to prove that she would have support in finding beds for everyone, kitchen supplies, food, and the basics to set up her new household. With no family or friends in the area to rely on, and hardly any belongings of their own, she turned to Rick for help.

 

Within twenty-four hours and through a chain reaction of phone calls and divine coordination, connections began to click together and soon we were able to completely furnish the apartment, stock their refrigerator and pantry with groceries, and move this family into their new home.

 

We continue our contact and new friendship with this family. A church generously adopted them and helped them out with groceries and gas for her vehicle until she could get on her feet. Most of all, we gave them support as they transitioned into living on their own after being homeless so long.

  

The most beautiful thing we  witnessed, though, is how the generosity we have shared with this family is now being passed on by them to others in need. Their family bonded with several other homeless families that still live in the rescue mission. Others have been able to move into apartments like they have. They know the needs of these people and they share what they have with them. Many times I have called over to her home and found her fixing dinner for another family in the mission. She says they long for home-cooked meals there and she’ll never forget what it feels like not to have this luxury.

 

 

 

 Lord, no one is a stranger to You and no one is ever far from Your loving care.  In Your kindness watch over refugees, exiles and the homeless, those separated from their loved ones, young people who are lost, and those who have left or run away from home.  Protect those who are without shelter and on the streets.  Bring them back safely to the place where they long to be.  Help us always to show Your kindness to strangers and to those in need.   Amen

 

 

While we never push people to pray with us and we really try to stay away from being preachy to the people we meet on the streets because we believe actions speak louder than words, it is a great privilege when we have the opportunity to pray with them. When we are holding hands and eyes are closed, the warmth and spirit of the Lord present with us is breathtaking. Their prayers are often for safety and hope for better times, hope for strength to pull out of their addictions and troubles that pull them down.

One time a man asked us through tears to pray for his fiancé who he had rushed to the hospital emergency room in a shopping cart the night before when he found her almost dead from huffing. Another time we found several individuals who had been beaten and robbed of their belongings when they were sleeping. There have also been times when we have held memorial services for homeless who have died and they have no one else to pray for them except for their friends on the street. We hold these services in the field near the city streets and the homeless come and pray together. We pray for their protection and the courage to beat the odds.  

 

From: Chris Engel

 

Rick - thank you for allowing me to help you and Susan last Sunday. You

opened my eyes to Christ's abundant love through your ministry. In keeping

with your "H" theme with Hotdogs for the Homeless, I wanted to share with

you what I witnessed on Sunday.

 

Help - you bring Help not only in food, but in financial assistance to

actually help people get off the streets. I witnessed this in the two bus

tickets to Ft. Worth Texas that you purchased for Summer and James. You

even made a phone call to her aunt to pick them up and allow them to stay at

her house until they can find work.

 

Hope - I witnessed you giving many of these people some real sense of Hope

through not only your food, but your offering of assistance in clothing,

shoes and general needs that some cannot even find at the shelters.

 

Hugs - so many of these people receive and offer hugs from you.

 

Handshakes - those that aren't the "huggy" type will offer and accept your

friendship through a simple handshake.

 

Hospitality - your kindness and weekly hospitality is present.

 

Happiness - through your constant smile and encouragement, many showed a

genuine happiness in a difficult time; and the

 

Heart of Christ - most importantly, you offer Christ's goodness and

blessings. I witnessed this in the spontaneous prayer offered up by one of

your "regulars". How beautiful it was to see you offer God's blessings to

so many in need.

 

Thank you for letting me tag along. May God continue to bless you and your

family and your ministry. I look forward to helping you again. Peace!

 

Your Brother in Christ -

 

Chris Engel

 

HOTDOGS
for the
HOMELESS
A Community Outreach Initiative
Laura K. Gamino, RN, BSN
December 8. 2004
Community Assessment
HPS 5463

 

Introduction
Rick and Susan Swyden began this faith-based initiative on January 5, 2003 with 16 hotdogs. It has continued to this day bringing a hotdog lunch, fellowship, hugs, prayers and assistance every Sunday to the homeless of downtown Oklahoma City. The Swyden’s Roman Catholic religion encourages participation in small group study called Renew, that challenges members to study and deepen their faith. Rick was inspired through this small group study to reach out and lend a hand to our homeless. This ministry has grown to encompass participation from countless individuals, churches, Cub Scouts, Confirmation classes, students and private companies. During the month of December, Hotdogs for the Homeless will be distributing their 25,000th hotdog!
However, as Rick (known by the homeless as, The Hotdog Man) is the first to share, it’s not about the hotdogs. The ministry is really an outreach program that has had a part in assisting twenty-one homeless people get off the street. It has had a part in reuniting a family, furnishing an apartment so an individual could qualify to live there, and getting people into rehab for drugs and alcohol once they decided they were ready -- in large part I believe from Rick and his group’s consistent caring and generosity.
What follows is my journal of what I witnessed from being a part of the program since October 10, 2004. Participating has enriched my life, deepened my understanding of the reality of homelessness, and awed and humbled me as I witnessed the deep faith and dedication of my coworkers as they so selflessly reached out to help the homeless and make such a difference in their lives.

October 10. 2004
When working with the homeless population, I have two personal rules. The first is absolutely no jewelry, and the second is to dress down. Usually these two rules are not a stretch for me because I am an ultra-casual person at best, but I am mindful of this nonetheless. The only other part of planning is, I remind myself to make eye contact and to smile. Part of communicating genuine concern is to look someone in the eye as I speak to them. (Combs & Gonzalez, 1990).
My 17 year old daughter, Rachael, and I arrived at Rick Swyden’s home at 1230. This was the time given to me by his wife Susan. They were very kind and welcoming. The kitchen was filled with a jovial group, wrapping hotdogs, filling sacks, and packing sacks assembly line style. Rick asked us if we would like to see their video, so we went to his Office. I was totally overwhelmed. Rick runs a video production business from his home so the video equipment was state of the art. Four computer screens, speakers, CDs everywhere and on one screen a scene from a wedding, which I took as being the current project he was editing. He has a four minute video showing him greeting several different homeless people at their individual camps. He is shown praying with others. Rick is repeatedly greeted warmly and his familiarity is obvious.
I began with a few questions regarding logistics. I found out that they started on January 5, 2003 with 16 hotdogs every week, and now cook and serve 272 each week. This number stays static because in case no volunteers show up, Rick, Susan, and their ever present friend and colleague, Mike, can accomplish their mission. Rick limits it to this number so it is, “manageable and maintainable”. On Oct 10, they were passing out their 20,000th hotdog
Even with this milestone,
Rick is quick to repeatedly say that what he is doing, “Is not about the hotdogs.” He views it as an honor to be able to help the homeless and to be meaningful in their life. He is known as the, Hot Dog Man, to many and feels very much appreciated. “Just the idea that there’s a group of people to come down every week is one of the most stable things. in the lives of these homeless. Being consistent is one of the cardinal rules for gaining trust in a community. (Goodman, 1995)
A key informant for Rick and his compadres is Robert. A key informant, or key leader is defined as,”. . those trusted people who keep track of the everyday events in a neighborhood and are often at the center of informal helping networks.” (Sharpe, et al, 2000) Robert appears to be 40-something. He has lived on the streets for some time and is well known among the homeless population. He is tall in stature, and can be quite an intimidating figure. Robert has been invaluable to Rick because he acts as an intermediary between Rick and the homeless. Or, as one of the regular volunteers, David, puts it, “Robert knows who’s a player and who’s telling the truth.” According to Rick, Robert is celebrating nine or ten months of sobriety. Robert regularly attends Bible study and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Rick and his family take Robert out about once a week.
Rick describes the simplicity of the act of being interested and involved in Robert’s life and how he has turned his life around as nothing short of,

Powerful! Apparently, Rick had challenged Robert with getting off the street. Rick promised Robert that if he would get off the street, Rick would ensure that he would have furniture, some cash, a cell phone, and in general be a support system to Robert. Robert did get a place to stay and a job, and Rick has been as good as his word. When Rick describes this chain of events, I hear a sense of wonder in his voice. Then, he reiterates, It’s not about the hotdogs.”
Along that same line, Rick reports that Hotdogs for the Homeless has played a part in the success of twenty-one people getting off the street. Often people that volunteer with him are able to assist in connecting some of the homeless people with different organizations that adopt them. Also, once, one of the volunteers was instrumental in reuniting one homeless young woman back with her family. Rick truly seems to be moved by the wonder of it all. His strong faith sees all of this as the hand of God working through His people.

 October 17. 2004
Arrived at Rick and Susan’s house at 1230. Not as big a group as last week. Helped to wrap the hotdogs. Learned that there is a specific order to the sack packing. Water, and napkin-wrapped ketchup and mustard packets first. Next is the dessert, then the hotdog, and lastly the chips. Rick is quite insistent on this order, as I found out when I didn’t follow it!
I forgot to mention last week that before we start out, we begin with a prayer. Sister Barbara Joseph wrote a prayer and it is actually on the back of Rick’s business card that he uses for his ministry. Here it is:
Prayer for Exiles, Refugees and the Homeless Lord, no one is a stranger to You and no one is ever far from Your loving care. In your kindness watch over refugees, exiles and the homeless, those separated from their loved ones, young people who are lost, and those who have left or run away from home. Protect those who are without shelter and on the streets. Bring them back safely to the place where they long to be. Help us always to show Your kindness to strangers and to those in need. Amen
About twenty people were waiting for us at the first stop. Rick has directed us to only give one sack per person. Often someone will ask for an extra for their girlfriend/boyfriend, or child. The problem is, we have no way of telling if they are being honest or not. Rick said that is his biggest challenge, having to decide who gets more.
After we took care of everyone at the first location, we drove across the street from the Mission. There were a lot of people waiting here, about 30-40. We also noticed that some of the homeless from the first location, had walked over here and were in line again. Rick said that maybe he would just start making one stop here and bypassing the first stop. It is hard to decide how to be most effective. At the second location, we ran out of hotdogs and still had about 20 people that came to us. It is really difficult to tell a homeless person that you ran out of food.
Robert joined us and had some donations of clothing. The people who usually bring the van of clothes were not able to come, so these donations really were a help. The bags mainly contained clothing for women, in relatively small sizes. I asked the group in general, what they needed most. Stocking hats, warm coats and sweaters; T-shirts were a frequent request also.
Something really magical happened when we were at our first stop. Most of the crowd had dispersed, and we were just passing out lunches to a few people as they trickled by. A man walked up and dropped a large roll of electrician’s wire to the ground, looked directly at me and said, “What’s your name?”
“Laura” I answered. He then went to work with his pliers and I had no idea what was going on.
Then one of the other volunteers told me, “Just watch, he made one for me before.”
Watch I did as he transformed pink electrical wire into my name written in script, swirled the wire around to make a stand, and then stripped more wire so just its core of copper showed, and used that to make a small angel. I was shocked! He then set it on the ground to make sure the stand worked correctly at keeping it level on the flat surface and keeping the angel in the air hovering over my name. To me it looks like the angel is truly watching over me! I was overwhelmed and positively stunned! I gave him a hug and thanked him.
He immediately went to work on a creation for another volunteer, Monica. Hers was made just as exquisite. He asked Monica what she liked and she said a horse or a cross. He made both on her Name Creation. The horses head looked like it was running in the wind with mane flying. And, a small cross was added underneath.
While he worked we visited with him, in between passing out hotdogs to newcomers. Apparently, long ago he was in the Army. He is an electrician, but was recently laid off. When he became a Christian, he wanted to choose a new name. About that time, he was going through some of his Army papers and noticed that the initials, NMI. were on all of them. Because he has no middle name, the Army, to satisfy their requirement to fill in all blanks on a form, used those initials to signify that this person had, No Middle Initial. Well, our new friend shared with us that he took the initials to mean, New Man Inside.
On the day he got baptized, he took those initials as his Christian name, pronounced, NMI. The beautiful, simple, artwork given to me by NMI is a remarkable reminder for me of the generosity of those who have the least to give.
October 24. 2004
My goal this week was to get more in-depth information on some of the individuals that we see each week.
Joe is a writer. He usually writes about the home he used to have. Rick has bought him paper and pens. His handwriting is microscopic, and really straight; a sight to see according to Rick. I would love to see a sample of this ‘micrographia’ and also read what Joe has to say, but he has never had it out when I have seen him.
Ben and Tara told Rick they were not, ‘career homeless’. (First time I had heard that term.) No drugs, no alcohol, just always reading huge volumes.
Bear is a regular, and so is Alabama. Not much is known about either, but they are regularly seen on the downtown scene.
Myron is new to Rick. “If you’re homeless and you see a line, you get in itr, he says with a laugh and we join him. Rick always asks someone their name and shakes their hand. Small gestures that show much respect.  As we drive around, and we see someone, Rick will stop the car, roll down the window and ask, “Are you hungry? I am struck by the simplicity of the question. There are no income guidelines, no one asks what your insurance is, immigration status, nothing. It truly is grassroots outreach. You only have to  want a hotdog to qualify.
When Rick first met Ernie he was living hidden by a bush. One of the volunteers from early on is a Catholic nun, Sr. Barbara Joseph. She and Ernie have become fast friends. She is the first nun that Ernie had ever met. Sister always has a rosary to give away and he asks her for one every week. One week she asked him what he did with them, and he told her, “I sell them.”
Linda lives at the Mission and Rick refers to her as his ‘girlfriend’. She is a small, gray-haired woman that walks with a cane. Her bright blue eyes light up like Christmas lights whenever she sees Rick. Apparently she is hiding out from an abusive husband. Linda is someone that stands out in my mind from everyone else. She is a very simple, quiet person; yet her dignity seems to impart a sort of regal air to her,
Steve is the first homeless person with whom Rick shared a hotdog. Just a few months ago, during the summer, Rick told me that, He just snapped”. When Sonic started being built, directly across the street from where Steve camped out’, it apparently displaced him. Now, he won’t take a hotdog from Rick. Even when Rick tells Steve that it’s a different brand of hotdogs, Steve will not take a lunch. Steve tells Rick that the brand has nothing to do with it. The hotdogs are contaminated with nuclear waste. Steve also has an ongoing war with the rats that are developing nuclear weapons. And, the sunset is proof positive that there is a nuclear war going on at present. Rick said that all of this is a big change from the Steve he first met. I asked Rick if he knew whether or not Steve had been in Vietnam, but Rick doesn’t know.
Mike shared that he sees as one of the biggest challenges, “How to manage the equitable distribution of clothes” When giving out donated clothing, Mike quickly found out that it was not advisable to distribute a lot of items at any onetime. For example, one of the volunteers had held a backpack drive at several schools. They brought many, many backpacks one week and were passing them out. Well, they noticed a red pickup truck down the street and all the homeless were going down there after they received a backpack. The person in the red pickup was buying them for $50. Apparently he had a market that would pay $2.50 for the used backpacks and the homeless were desperate for the money.
Most of the goods can be resold, even the hotdog lunches. That is one of the reasons that they are diligent about only giving one per person. Most will lie to get anything. That is why Robert is so key. Because they know that he knows their true circumstance, such as if they really have another family member or not for whom they need to get supplies food.
When we left, Beth one of the Clothing volunteers, was phoning around trying to find a rehab center for Too Tall. Beth shared that she had been praying that Too Tall would decide to go into treatment. She asked us to pray that she find a place while she made her calls. Too Tall is a bilateral below the knee amputee. He is quite personable. I asked him why he has that nickname and he told me that he used to be quite tall before complications from diabetes required his amputations.
October 31. 2004
Beth succeeded in placing Too Tall, aka Larry Mitchell, in a rehab facility in Henrietta. This program only lasted one week. The drivers then returned him to Oklahoma City, dropping him off back at the Mission. So, Too Tall was right back in the street environment where he was exposed to alcohol and drugs. Beth went right to work, and found room for him in a rehab program in Norman that would last a minimum of 3 months.
Caught up on all the ‘news’, we start out. By the Civic Center parking lot, Rick spots a man sleeping under a slim overhang. It is steadily drizzling, but the overhang is enough to create a dry spot to rest. As we watch Rick try to offer a sack lunch, we hear a booming voice, Hey — What’s Ya Doin’?” Rick quickly explains he has some food if the man is hungry and the man immediately begins to apologize and thank him.
Rick takes time to visit. I am always impressed with Rick’s manner. He looks people in the eye, listens, nods as he follows the conversation, and always reaches out and touches them. When Rick gets back in the car, he tells us that the man’s name is Ray, recently divorced, and he has lost everything. Ray told Rick that someone had come by and asked him if The Hotdog Man had come by yet, and Ray did not know what he was talking about. Now here he is? Rick confessed to being somewhat afraid as Ray had startled him with his greeting.

But, Rick visited with Ray for a good while and to me this personified the ministry that Hotdogs for the Homeless is really all about. If all it accomplished was feeding one lonely soul, on a chilly drizzly day, in downtown Oklahoma City it would be enough.
We continued to drive through downtown, we ran across Bear with a friend. He had been in a fight and his face is swollen and black and blue.
We came across a rather interesting photo shoot in the alley east of the bus station. A woman was dressed in a black miniskirt, black bandeau top, and was wearing a hooded black cape that she was holding open toward the photographer. There were two male photographers. We have no idea what exactly was going on. The men in the car seemed to want to dawdle for awhile, but out of respect for Rachael and me they drove on.
On a pothole rutted street south of the Ford Center we came across a man filling a half-gallon water jug from the rain puddles. Rick stopped and offered him a lunch. He told us that since we were bombed by Mt. St. Helen’s he had to get his water here. We were rather speechless at that.
East of the Post Office there is a church that is frequented by Native Americans. We pulled alongside two men coming from the church. One had a very memorable face. It was very weathered and covered with growths. I have no idea what disease process was manifested but it was, as they say, impressive. I-f is friend was quite talkative. At one point he shared, “I may be drunk, I may be an Indian, but I am blessed and I love Jesus.”

November 7. 2004
Rachael and I arrived at Rick and Susan’s home along with 8 Confirmation class teenagers, 4 children under age ten, assorted parents and adult leaders. We got the wonderful news that Too Tall is still in rehab. Hooray!
On the way to downtown, we listened to a radio interview that Rick had done on KTLR, 890 FM on a show called, God Talk. He was interviewed by Sr. Barbara Joseph who has been a part of Hotdogs for the Homeless since early
on. In fact, she has started Sr. BJ’s Pantry to collect donations which she distributes to the downtown homeless. She regularly hosts this call-in show. Rick articulately shared news about his ministry, some of the colorful characters he meets, and a few of the major accomplishments that Hotdogs for the Homeless has achieved, mainly assisting in getting people off the streets. It was an amazing interview.
At the Mission, we ran into NMI and he very generously made several wire name sculptures for the teenagers. They were suitably impressed! NMI asked them about their individual interests, and then formed the wire into a symbol to represent it. One boy who was a Cross Country runner got a small running man above his name. A boy who played the guitar got some musical notes. They really are uniquely individual sculptures. NMI also entertained the group by relating how he began making the wire sculptures. It seems he wanted to impress a girl when he was 12. Apparently it worked since they have now been married 24 years. He told us that she had cooties, and he was a nerd, but they worked through it!

November 28. 2004
We began
with hearing the good news that Too Tall is still in rehab. Great Success!! Apparently no one has visited him because it is such a rigorous process to go through. Noon on Saturday is the only visiting time and day. Before one is allowed to visit, it is mandatory to attend an AlAnon meeting. Rick said that Robert might go down since it is the same program that Robert successfully completed.
Sr. Barbara Joseph joined us today. She brought along a Confirmation class of sophomore students. Sr. Barbara usually joins in these Sunday forays with frequent visits during the week, too. Her Carmelite convent is located in the downtown area. This is the first week I have seen her because she has been out of commission with a knee injury. Several of the people we see have asked about her over the past weeks, so I am glad she is with us.
Rick shares that we will not see Robert today because he went to Illinois and Indiana to visit his family over Thanksgiving. This is his first visit home in 20 years! He called Rick and told him he was having an incredible time. After his visit there, he will travel to Mississippi to speak to a church group. Quite the trip!
Beth and her husband, the Clothing People, are joining us. I went out to the garage where Beth is sorting clothes. Rick had told me that they were an extremely active family in the Catholic church. I knew they had a deep faith as I had seen Beth feverishly trying to get Too Tall into rehab and claimed his wanting to go was an answer to her prayers.
I asked about their daughter Sarah who was not with them today. Sarah is ten, very small with a slight build. She also has a commanding, booming voice! I first met Sarah last month as she was helping her parents distribute clothing. Beth told me the story of how Sarah, in visiting with one of the homeless women had been asked about their parish priest. The woman had recognized Sarah and told Sarah she was a former member of her church. Sarah relayed this to Beth. In the end, Beth reunited this young woman with her family. But it was Sarah who took her by the hand and accompanied her to the Crisis Center. The young woman was afraid to go with any of the adults, but she instinctively trusted Sarah. I was reminded of the Bible verse, “. . and a little child shall lead them.”
December 5. 2004
Since my daughter Rachael has been sick with mono, but very distressed about missing Out on Hotdogs for the Homeless, we made a short outing today only for the distribution of the meals.
Robert glowed as he told us how special his visit home had been. He said he got to see all of his nieces, about 20”, and all of the children his nieces had! He looked wonderful, happy, and at peace.
Ray came to the Mission after all the hotdogs had been given away. The smell of alcohol was strong. He asked for a dollar to get some food, “Not alcohol.” Rick gave him a couple of dollars. Ray told us that he still had the sleeping bag that
Rick had given him the week before. We can only hope.

 Conclusion
The hours that I have spent volunteering for this program have proven to be some of the most enriching experiences of my life. The commitment of the volunteers is an endorsement of the powerful capacity of faith-based organizations. The volunteers I work with generously contribute their time, treasure, and talent. Because of their deep faith, they have a love for their fellow man that will overcome any obstacle encountered as they offer assistance.
As illustrated with some of the stories I have shared, the great need for mental health assistance remains a clear and present challenge in working with the homeless population. Severe budget Cuts in Mental Health programs resulted in many treatment centers closing their doors and therefore increasing the numbers of people on the street unable to function in a productive capacity. Public Health programs targeting the mentally ill are badly needed.

References;

Combs, Arthur W.; & Gonzalez, David M.. 1990. Helping Relationships. Allyn and Bacon, Boston.
Goodman, R. M. (1995). “Evaluation of the heart to hear project:
Lessons from a community-based chronic disease prevention project,” American Journal of Health Promotion, 9(6): 443-456.
Sharpe, Patricia A.; Greaney, Mary L.; Lee, Peter R.; and Royce, Sherer W. (2000). “Assets-oriented community assessment,” Public Health Reports, 115: 205-211.