By Jennifer L. Miller, Bracewell LLP
Last Thursday, on November 9th, PSALA sponsored a table at the 18th Annual 2017 ROOTS RISE UP Coming of Age Gala. Attendees were President Sean Monahan, his wife Lisa, Community Service Co-Chair Jennifer Miller and PSALA business partners Mo Blake with Ricoh and Angela Tomlinson with Catalyst. It was a memorable, highly impactful and extremely uplifting evening with ROOTS Executive Director, Kristine Scott, opening the sit-down dinner portion of the event with a very heartfelt address. Kristine shared with the audience her own personal story of how she fell into financially difficult times after a divorce and how she had to rely on her support network of friends, colleagues and family that rallied around her and helped her pull through this difficult time. By sharing her story she illustrated the importance of a support network and how during times of catastrophe or just difficult life circumstances, it is possible for anyone without a strong support network to become homeless.
With this understanding, Kristine introduced the audience to four former ROOTS guests who all took turns telling their stories in alternating segments so that when the last speaker spoke, who also happened to be the first speaker, their stories had come full circle. All four gentlemen had at one point in their life been homeless and ROOTS became that network and safety net for them to seek shelter, rest, collect themselves and build a plan to get back on their feet. Their stories were heartbreaking, inspiring and testaments to the strength of the human spirit.
One of the speakers had been raised in the Alabama State foster care system his entire life. When he was in high school he became increasingly anxious about turning 18 and he knew he had to get involved with some sort of positive extracurricular activity to spur his chances of a better future as an adult. As a very big and tall kid, he had a classic defensive footballer’s physique and he felt that it was a natural calling to try out for his high school football team. Tragically, the State denied him the permission he needed to play football in his sophomore year with the excuse that it would be too much risk for the State to undertake. Undeterred he attempted to enroll in JROTC in his junior year but was again denied permission by the State to participate. During his senior year, he made a final attempt to petition the court to play football and was denied a third time. Dejected and frustrated that he was being prevented from pursing activities while he was still a minor that could have made all the difference in his future prospects after graduation, he felt hopeless and resentful.
Then, as he had predicted, he was kicked out of the foster care system when he turned 18, and had no network or safety net to fall back on. It wasn’t too long after that he began working at a fast food restaurant earning minimum wage, which wasn’t enough money to live in Atlanta, a city with a very high cost of living. After being bullied and harassed by coworkers for being homeless when they discovered him sleeping on a bench in his uniform before his shift started, he decided to use every penny to his name to book a one-way ticket to Seattle. He had never been there, but in his mind Seattle represented a beacon of hope, a fresh start, a city that did not carry the same burdens of historical institutional racism that he experienced growing up in the South.
As an audience member, it was difficult not to feel a sense of pride when all four speakers spoke about the kindness of Seattle and the complete strangers they encountered when they arrived at Sea-Tac or at the bus depot. These Seattle strangers were incredibly generous, letting these young men borrow their cell phones, giving the young men rides to the ROOTS shelter and giving them food and clothing along the way. Once at ROOTS the young men were treated like guests, able to rest, eat, reflect, and use ROOT’s counseling services and facilities. They all spoke to how safe they felt at ROOTS being around other guests in their age groups and being surrounded by nurturing volunteers who understood their difficult childhood experiences. The speakers all emphasized how this type of shelter experience was unique and that ROOTS is really the only shelter in Seattle and one of the few in the country meeting the specific needs of young adults.
Through sheer drive, determination and with the support of complete strangers and ROOTS, these young men are now in great housing with gainful employment. The young man mentioned above now runs his own private security company and has had the opportunity to work with many high profile clients, including a few of our Seahawks players. It was the highlight of the evening to hear this young man’s uplifting conclusion to his hard fought journey to achieve his financial independence and find a city that he truly feels is his home.
The evening underscored the importance that a strong network has to our success as individuals, and reminded us that from time to time we will all find ourselves in transitional periods where we will have to rely on our networks to see us through the challenges we face. The young men who spoke to us all helped us to understand that it was the small random acts of kindness from strangers in addition to the major support provided by ROOTs that became their support network. We can all do our part to reinforce each other’s networks by being kind and supportive of a loved one, family member, friend or complete stranger.
Apart from shining a bright spotlight on the vital network and services that ROOTs provides young at-risk adults, this year’s 18th Annual Rise Up Gala was also about ROOT’s entering their own transitional phase. They are anticipating that in the year to come and beyond they will need to lean more heavily on their support network of generous corporate donors, individual donors and volunteers than they have ever had to do in the past. Part of this transitional phase involves the church that they have been operating out of for the last 18 years. The church is currently in need of extensive earthquake retrofitting renovations, which is forcing the church to have to reconcile some very difficult financial implications, including their ability to continue to lease out their basement space to ROOTS.
So the work is never done and life keeps things interesting by challenging the ROOTS Executive Board to adapt and evolve while staying true to their mission. As a vital member of the ROOTS support network, PSALA has been and continues to be a very robust resource of volunteers and financial support. As we head into the Holiday Season, your PSALA executive board encourages you to keep ROOTS in mind amongst the organizations you are considering for charitable giving or volunteering. We will also be holding a Gift Card Drive during our PSALA Holiday Social on December 7, 2017. For more information about ROOTS, please visit their webpage: www.rootsinfo.org.