I was fifteen when I first came to the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Coming from a relatively sheltered background, the things I saw in that first day was a massive shift from the definition I had previously used to describe American poverty. I grew up in a stable, safe home with two parents who loved me. It was shocking to me that just a couple of blocks marked the divide between what seemed to me like two different worlds. The first was shining in its middle class splendor, much like what I had known growing up. The other, however, was a place of sidewalks littered with heroine needles and blank stares.
I know it’s a pretty bleak picture, but I merely want to set the proper context for the amazing things I experienced countless times with City Impact. City Impact exists “to intervene on behalf of the people in the inner city of San Francisco”. A large part of this initiative is known as street outreach. Oftentimes, the people of the Tenderloin hardly come out of their apartment buildings. Those who populate the streets generally have nowhere else to go. The aim of street outreach is to get people out of their apartments and interacting with others. (Learn more about the Adopt a Building program through City Impact, here.)
Paul was one such individual. I had maybe a twenty to thirty-minute conversation with Paul one evening during our team’s street outreach. I can’t quite remember what it was that I gave him, a hat or blanket perhaps, but nonetheless a conversation began. Paul had earned a bachelor’s degree in the north east before becoming addicted to cocaine, and eventually making his way to the west coast. That night, I cried with a man I had known for less than an hour. While I can’t remember where he was from or his last name, I am never going to forget Paul. Having someone to listen, and show some compassion, meant enough to him to openly weep with a stranger. I think meeting Paul was one of the best moments of my life and has since been a constant reminder of my own blessings. It showed me how much a hug and a few minutes of time can impact a life.
To that end, I would ask you all to take a moment each day to consider the remarkable power you wield. I have known a man whose life was saved by a smile. Do not underestimate the repercussions of your actions. A kind word, a hug, or simply acknowledging someone else’s pain can have a greater lasting affect than you might realize. Who you are, and who you will become is what you leave in this world. So the small bit of advice I can offer is simply this: live for others, and see where it takes you.