Rebuilding Lives and Realizing Potential

Posted on March 8, 2011

This week’s blog was written by VSH’s spring PR intern, Jonathan Glomb.

As an adolescent growing up in an upper- middle class neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, I was fortunate to have a prim and proper life free of adversities. My biggest hardship probably consisted of parents who worked too much. I went to a good high school with well-to do teachers that were very good at teaching what we needed to learn in order to pass the standards of learning exams. In general, I did not like high school course work, except for one class in particular, photography. Sure, part of the attraction had to do with using creative expression to escape the confines of suburbia and the monotony of high school life. In reality it was not what was being taught so much that motivated me, but rather who was teaching it.

Mr. B was seemingly an average middle-aged white man with dirty blonde, curly hair and a “soul patch”.  He was relaxed, composed and never raised his voice to the class because he never needed to. To me, he was initially just a laid-back teacher whose class would provide an easy “A” and a sound environment for socializing. Mr. B was straightforward and did not sugar coat things like other teachers. He spoke to us about real life issues in a manner that transcended public education and pierced the realm of true understanding. I soon realized that he was a valuable person to have as a mentor and would be very influential on my life.

One day in casual conversation, he rocked my suburban world when he told me that he had been homeless for a period of his life. He lived in his van on the side of the road for a period of eight months or more.  I didn’t know what was more shocking – the fact that my teacher had been homeless or that he had just divulged information to me that was so personal. I wondered how this was possible. How did a person that I admire once find himself living in such desperate conditions?  With my experience as an intern at Virginia Supportive Housing, I have learned that homelessness has no boundaries and can happen to anyone, so now this does not come as a surprise.

Mr. B’s life on the street, like that of so many other homeless people across the country, was due to a combination of things. He had no money, no job, and nowhere to go, thus leaving him with no choice but to do what he needed to do to get by. No one could have known that, years later, our paths would intersect in a classroom where he would share his story of determination and hard work. But I have never forgotten it and never will.

Since I began working with Virginia Supportive Housing, I have frequently thought back to my teacher’s story and the impact of his presence in my life. Once I thought stories like his were uncommon, but I am starting to realize just how common his account actually is. The truth is that there are many smart and talented people with much to give out on the streets. My teacher’s example has shown me that, with the proper support network, people can and do persevere through the hardest of times, and very often they go on to influence others in extraordinary and valuable ways. My encounter with Mr. B made me a different person, a better person. This is why what VSH does is so significant. It’s about rebuilding lives, realizing potential, and reminding one another every day that every life matters.

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