Judging People We Don’t Know: How Stories Can Change Perceptions

Judging People We Don’t Know: How Stories Can Change Perceptions

We often judge people we don’t know.  Without knowing their stories, we allow our stereotypes or fears to influence our judgement.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of presenting at the Social Justice Conference in Maple Ridge.  I had 90 minutes to spend with teens from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, ranging in age from 13-18. Continue reading

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Hope is Just a Glimmer for Homeless Man

Hope is Just a Glimmer for Homeless Man

photo[3]Meet my newest friend Marty.  This month, my principal Sean Nosek and I took him for lunch to empower him with the opportunity to tell his story.  Please take a second to read, and help us in the search for his brother – a teacher in Alberta.  Here’s the full  story:

http://beyondhello.org/2014/04/21/hope-is-just-a-glimmer-for-homeless-man/

How You Can Help The Homeless: 7 Holiday Tips

In keeping with Christmas tradition, friends and I got together last weekend and headed downtown to celebrate the season.  The temperature was near freezing, so we bundled up in toques, scarves and gloves and braved the crisp air, full of anticipation for a great winter day.  As we arrived to one of my favourite spots in Vancouver, it seemed others had the same idea.  School buses and tour buses lined the streets, parking was scarce, and children hollered with joy as their parents followed with cameras flashing and video cameras rolling.  The main attractions grew such crowds that pedestrians spilled out into the streets.   But here’s the thing.  I wasn’t at a popular holiday venue.  I was standing at the corner of Main and Hastings on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

We live in a remarkable city, overflowing with caring compassionate people who want to make a difference at Christmas.  We often think of those with less than us, and on first thought, it seems like a great idea to head to Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood and offer food and clothing.  And I know from first hand conversations that the residents of this neighbourhood do appreciate items they receive.  In no way to I want to criticize the good intention of Vancouverites.  However I feel a bit compelled to offer some advice on how to help.  This Christmas marks our fifth year working in the Downtown Eastside helping the homeless send cards to family or friends they have lost touch with.  Throughout this journey, I have learned a few things about the community that I hope to share.  If you would like to help the residents of the Downtown Eastside, I applaud you.  It is a neighbourhood rich in story, hardship and heartbreak.  It is also a neighbourhood full of courage, resiliency and glimmers of hope.  If you choose to visit, with good intention, please take the following tips into consideration:

1. Give appropriate gifts using the same logic you use when you gift the ones you love.  Your mother is probably not looking for a size XL man’s jacket.  Your brother is not likely searching for a pink polk-a-dotted lady’s scarf. It is very common to collect warm clothing and distribute it on Hastings Street.  However, if the gift is not suitable, it will likely be sold.  Take the time to pull a fitting item out of the bag and make eye contact when you offer it to the person on the street.  They are much more likely to use it when it is suitable and received with love.

2. Take time.  Take the time to give items out one by one.  Last weekend I watched a group of do-gooders pull up in a bakery style truck.  Rather than displaying their items or handing them out to suitable recipients, they stood in the truck bed and threw items in the air.  As they did this, a crowd surrounded the truck.  With each toss, the homeless scrambled with their arms in the air hoping to catch the item.  It reminded me of a scene from the zoo where the trainer feeds the animals.  Unfortunately the image is burned in my brain – and the only thing that makes it worse was the large video camera filming the episode to capture the act of kindness on film.

3. Respect the neighbourhood. Remember that you are a guest in another community.  Respect the space.  Don’t overcrowd the sidewalks.  Do not take photos of anyone without first asking permission.  Be polite. Be respectful. Make eye contact and say hello.  Park on side streets rather than unloading buses on Hastings.  Walk in groups of 4-6 rather than groups of 40.   Treat the residents like you would want to be treated in your neighbourhood.

4. Use your judgement.  The Downtown Eastside is a diverse neighbourhood – and not everyone on the street is homeless.  Some are employees of the local businesses, others live in trendy lofts popping up in the area yet many are homeless or live in low income housing.  For the most part, if you take the time, you can see the difference.  Take time to see people before handing out goods.  Unfortunately there is a new disturbing trend emerging as the streets clutter with donations.  A few of the local merchants from Chinatown walk the streets with shopping buggies and gather as many items as they can to sell at their shops around the corner on Keefer Street. They will often ask for the full 12 packs of socks, or multiple quantities of what you are providing. Today, I witnessed this with my own eyes.  As I tried to drop off toiletries at the women’s centre, a group of women from Chinatown came in with bags and literally stole dozens of boxes of toothpaste and shampoo and ran. The shelter employees explained this is increasingly common.  Some run to their shops to resell the product, while others use a storage locker in the community to store their collections.  As San Francisco recently coined a similar problem – there seems to be a battle between the needy and the greedy.    If they appear well dressed, well fed, and they are looking for items to re-sell, perhaps you may want to identify someone with greater need.

5. Consider Another Time of Year.  Christmas is a wonderful time to give, and there are many ways to help in our community.  However, if you would like to help the homeless by distributing food, blankets or clothing, I would suggests you choose November, January of February instead.  It is just as cold, and the residents do not receive as much during these months.

6.Volunteer Your Time.  Many shelters or associations need volunteers to help serve meals or prepare dinners.  Contact associations directly to see how you can help.

7. Find out what people need.  Remember the last time you received a gift you would never use?  It was most likely given to you by someone with good intention.  The same thing happens on the DTES.  For example, group after group provide hot chocolate or coffee assuming people are cold and would love this.  What I often hear is that they are dehydrated and would love to have clean drinking water.  Take the time to ask people what they need but don’t usually receive.  When I have asked this question I have received the following suggestions: bananas, meat or any type of protein, water and towels.  However, many have told me that what they really crave but seldom receive is the simple art of conversation.   Engage in heartfelt dialogue.  Be sincere.  From one human to another, wish them a very Merry Christmas.

Thank you for making a difference. Happy Holidays!

Beyond HELLO: A Sunday with Purpose

If you drive down East Hastings Street on an ordinary day, you can look out your car window and see the faces of people who have lost their purpose: lost souls, who have traded away hope in exchange for darkness.   Today was different.  East Hastings was alive, and purpose was abundant.  As we arrived just after 12:30 PM, the streets were flooded with activity.  Church groups handed out meals, the local bottle depot managed the crowds awaiting payment, movie extra’s roamed the streets as a back drop for a new film and the  Downtown Eastside Sunday Street Market was in full swing.  It seemed everyone had a purpose, or at least something to occupy their time.

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I too had a purpose, yet today was different than previous months.  Today my plan was to make not one, but two new friends.  You see, usually I travel to the Downtown Eastside with family, friends or students and invite residents of the Downtown Eastside community to participate in Project HELLO or Beyond HELLO.  I then share the stories through my blog.  Last month, a lady named Donna contacted me after reading my blog post through a link a mutual friend had shared.  She asked if I would go ‘Beyond HELLO’.  She would pay for lunch, in exchange for the opportunity to have conversation – with each other – and hopefully with someone living in the Downtown Eastside.  I agreed.

As Donna and I drove, we went ‘Beyond HELLO’.  We talked about family, health, spirituality, intuition and our life experiences.  The conversation went well beyond the surface level conversations that usually occur when you first meet someone.  Instead we spoke about connections that exist between all people and the opportunities we have to act in ways of significance.  We spoke of the importance of listening to our inner voices, and taking time to Be.  By the time we reached the Downtown Eastside, we had formed a connection based on mutual respect and understanding.

As we searched for a parking spot, I spotted Sandra Bonneau, the woman who I believe is the heart of the Downtown Eastside.  She has survived the streets for over 20 years, has struggled with addiction, abuse and health complications yet her spirit shines.  Like always, she greeted me with her toothless smile and sparkling eyes.  She was excited to hear that the group of high school students who found her daughter for her five years ago would all be in town for Christmas.  I let her know that they would be back from university and wanted to wish her a happy birthday on December 22nd.  We agreed to meet up and I offered to bring a birthday cake.  I asked if there was anything she needed as a birthday gift.  She replied saying ‘just your presence’.   I smiled and offered her lunch.  She smiled back, knowing others needed our offer more than she did, so she politely declined and we parted ways.

We wandered through the street market, marvelling at the collection of stolen goods being sold in an open market place.  We considered offering lunch to some of the men who passed by with their life’s belongings in  shopping carts – but we didn’t – as we both knew they would refuse.  Leaving their carts unattended would be too substantial a risk in this neighbourhood.  We wandered back up Hastings and offered lunch to a few others who looked like they could use a meal.  Each refused. At one point Donna wondered if perhaps today was just about the two of us going ‘Beyond HELLO’.  It felt as though it was.  We decided to stand at a busy corner on Hastings and let others approach us.  Being still in their neighbourhood seems to be a less invasive approach.  Within minutes we had a lady hoping to help me find Garth (Beyond HELLO – August) and another woman in a wheel chair who recognized me and wanted to let me know about her daughter and the special visit she had with her grandson.  To be honest, I didn’t recognize her.  Have we helped her before? I’m not sure.  She thought so, so I stopped and we had a nice chat.  As we began to wonder if anyone wanted lunch, a lady passed by approaching the crosswalk.  Her hair was tangled and slept on, her clothing reflected warmth more than style, and her eyes were guarded.  Our eyes met for a second, like she was scanning the neighbourhood to make sure it was safe.  She walked by, but then, turned back and looked at us over her shoulder.  I don’t remember who spoke first, but I know her eyes changed, and she looked at us with curiosity and perhaps trust.  We asked if she was hungry.  She said yes – in fact that’s why she was out from her BC Housing shelter.  She was hoping to find a warm meal.  Together the three of us walked towards the Save On Meats diner.

As we walked towards the diner, we walked like three friends.  Shelley introduced herself and made sure she learned our names quickly.  As we entered the diner, she commented on how nice it was – and mentioned it might be a nice spot to bring her boyfriend for his birthday on New Year’s Eve.

As we approached the counter – the waitress explained that we could take an order form and create our own breakfast meal, salad, sandwich or burger.  Shelley suggested we take the forms to the table to sit down together and then decide.  Not wanting to ask if she was literate, I read the menu choices out loud and together we discussed what we should eat.

Shelley thought about a sandwich – and referenced her need to be healthy – briefly reflecting on her time years ago when she worked as an aerobics instructor in Toronto.  She thought a sandwich would be nice – but when I started to ask her about the different bread options  or toppings you could see the decision was too overwhelming.  Between her addiction to crack, methadone use and recovery from being struck by a van last year, she struggles to stay with one thought for more than a minute at a time.  Through our conversation you could see her eyes literally fade in and out of awareness.  In some moments it looked as if she needed to sleep – in others she was alive, present and willing to share with us.  Perhaps because of the perplexity of the order form, or perhaps because the smell of burgers and fries surrounded us, Shelley changed her mind from the sandwich form and said she would rather have a burger and fries.  Donna agreed and ordered the same.  Shelley asked if I would have a burger too.  I explained that I needed to order a salad as I am 1/2 way through a 12 day cleanse with a friend at work therefore I cannot eat burgers or fries.  As the words left my mouth I recognized how shallow it seemed – here I was – explaining to a lady who searches the streets for food – why I am only eating certain foods to detoxify my body.  And yet I also felt it was human to share.  She smiled and I laughed and said “it’s crazy – the things women will do!”  She agreed and let me know she would put the ketchup and mustard on her burger herself.  She then winked and said that was one of her secrets for staying thin.

The waitress arrived with coffee.  Shelley’s cup had an inch of space at the top for cream or sugar.  Shelley let the sugar pour.  Intentionally – enough that the cup started to overfill.  She mumbled about the cup being too full and stirred her new concoction – 3/4 coffee, 1/4 sugar.  As she tried to steady her shaking hand the coffee spilled.  Donna and I wiped it up as she drank – and eventually helped by pouring some out into a water glass.

Shelley shared her life story – growing up with a military police father – where she was never sure if she should get closer or further away.  She didn’t connect with her mom and ran away from home a couple times but was always welcome back by her dad.  Her mom decided to grow distant from her father while she decided to get closer.  When her dad died from cancer twenty five years ago she was devastated and turned to crack.  As a server in bars, she made her way across the  country eventually finding her way to the Downtown Eastside.  She fell in love but lost her partner to cancer as well.  Yet – despite the drug addiction and pain she continually referenced her mantra of staying positive and not looking back.  I asked what that was about – she answered with clarity.  For Shelley it was about god – and staying true to her faith.  She then turned to us with certainty and said – you need to remember you are not where you are at just because of him – promise me you will give yourself credit too.  We smiled.

Shelley ate her burger and fries with urgency. Between bites she would pause for a split second and ask what else we would like to know.  She had questions about her current relationship and wanted our advice.  Her boyfriend wants her to move in with her – and has even discussed marriage – but something is holding her back.  When I asked if he was the one she laughed.  Donna asked if he was the one for now – and she smiled saying he was a good man who really loved her.  She talked about her own behaviours, commenting that many would leave – but he chooses to stay.  She then took time to ask us if we were married and how me met our spouses.  Fading in and out of conversation, Shelley seemed to be hit with a burst of consciousness – and she raised her coffee cup in the air and offered a toast “to happiness, Christmas, and meeting new people.”  Together we clanked our glasses, smiled and enjoyed each others company.

I ended with a usual question, asking Shelley what she wanted others to know about the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. She answered with this: “It’s changing. And what it’s missing is a place to talk.  A place to clear your head and talk through problems. A place to feel safe and have real conversations.”   We smiled knowing exactly what she was trying to say.

As Shelley stood up to leave, she turned back and asked each of us for a hug.  We then had a group photo and promised to send a copy in the mail.  Shelley left to meet up with her boyfriend, Donna and I drove home, all of us knowing we had just gone Beyond HELLO and experienced a Sunday with purpose.

shelley

Go Slow: A Twist on HELLO

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, engaging the homeless in meaningful conversation.  The project, Beyond HELLO, captures the untold stories of a neighbourhood often forgotten and misunderstood.  Recently, I created a new blog BeyondHELLO.org where I share these stories – and where I encourage others to seize the opportunity to go Beyond HELLO in their own lives.  While most the stories I have written about with Beyond HELLO relate to the homeless, the simple concept of buying lunch for a stranger and engaging in conversation could happen anytime, anywhere.   This week at school, our students decided to go Beyond HELLO and form some beautiful new friendships…  Here’s how the story unfolded:

Last week our principal arranged for our school to host some very special visitors.  Residents from a local seniors home filled their shuttle and drove to our school for lunch.  In anticipation of the event, we planned the details…. our culinary students set the tables and prepared the meal; our leadership students waited near the door, a yearbook student was ready with his camera and the welcome sign was in place to greet our guests.  We took care of the details and everything ran smoothly as expected.  From a tangible perspective, the event was similar to what I have seen in other schools.  However – this visit was anything but average or routine.  This two hours of time was magical.

You see – there are some things we didn’t plan – or at least some things where we could not anticipate the outcome.  The first happened just as they arrived.   First of all, we did not realize how elderly our guests would be.  It turns out that most of our guests were over 90 years old.  One spry woman named Dorothy surprised us all when she let us know she had recently celebrated her 101th birthday.  As our guests stepped off the bus, some of them struggled to find their footing as they navigated the curves of the sidewalk and waited for their walkers to be unloaded.  One woman named Joan reached out her hand and placed it in my hand – not with a sense of panic or nervousness – but just for comfort and a little extra support.  Within seconds, I felt a special connection with Joan.  Together we stood, holding hands, introducing ourselves, preparing for the walk down our long hallway.  A hallway I rush down every day.  A hallway that seemed so much more enjoyable when I took the time to go slow.

When we reached the last room down the hallway, our guests sat down to an amazing meal.  They enjoyed the lunch and raved about our chef’s homemade chicken pot pie.  When the dishes were cleared, we asked if we could invite some students in simply to enjoy conversation.  Our guests agreed and our leadership students entered the room.  Rather than planning who sat with who, we just let the relationships form.  Within seconds, each student had found a senior to connect with. Some spoke in small groups, some in pairs.  Together they shared conversation about their high school experiences – marvelling in the similarities and differences of school 3 generations apart.  I sat with Joan, and together we discussed her career in nursing, her family, and her love of learning.  She giggled as she spoke of Halloween – where she had painted her face black and dressed in costume so the other residents could not identify her.  She spoke of her journey learning to paint with acrylics – something she began for the first time just a year ago, at the age of 97.   I asked what she would like to learn next year – and she smiled and said she didn’t know yet – but there would be something.  Together we chuckled about our dislike for e-readers and and our love for paper books.  In one moment, when I looked in her eyes, I didn’t see Joan – instead I saw my grandmother – a woman I miss dearly. A wonderful woman with a generous spirit, and great sense of humour who had  also been a nurse and loved nothing more than a good meal and time with family.  I know my grandmother would have liked Joan.  In fact, we discovered they may have even worked at the same hospital at one time.   Holding Joan’s hand and seeing her eyes sparkle was a gift: a delicate blend of new friendship woven eloquently with cherished memories from my past.   Looking around the room I could see our students beaming, as they to took time to have meaningful conversations.  Their eyes filled with joy as they made real connections sharing stories, building friendships and learning from one another.

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Shortly before 2 PM, we thanked our guests for coming, and decided to take one slight risk.  You see – our school is just about to embark on an exciting learning journey.  One of our fabulous teachers, Nicole Von Krogh was moved by the book and documentary ‘15 Reasons to Live‘.  She has decided to weave this into her Family Studies curriculum in the coming months.  The idea is simple.  She will ask each of her student to be thoughtful and take the time to recognize their 15 Reasons to Live.  How they present their reasons will be up to them – some may choose to use technology, others may use photography or spoken word.  What’s most exciting is that Nicole’s contagious enthusiasm for her project has inspired many other teachers on staff to join in with their classes. Both staff and students have committed to the ’15 Reasons to Live Project’.  So far our staff have found ways to build cross curricular connections blending this project with the learning outcomes for Grad Transitions, Social Justice, English, Learning Support, Leadership and Family Studies.   The project has yet to begin but the momentum is growing each day.

Nicole took some time to explain this powerful project to our seniors and we left them with an invitation.  Without any pressure, we invited them to leave with ‘homework’.  We asked them to think about their 15 Reasons to Live.  We also left them with a promise – if they decide to participate – and they are willing to develop their list, our students are willing to use their technology skills to capture the project  (perhaps a movie or slideshow that they can pass on to their families).  We also left them with the idea of attending a spring exhibit – where students and seniors could shine together showcasing their 15 Reasons to Live.

To our delight, our guests were quite willing to share their stories and think about what really mattered to them.  One by one they agreed to do their homework.  A retired principal from the group put his hand up and clarified by saying “what I hear is that you are willing to help us with our autobiographies.”  We smiled and said yes.  With certainty he let us know we could sign him up.  Another guest, Frank, chuckled and shook his head in disbelief “We are going to be friends with the Principal!  Now this is different!”

In just two hours, our students and our local seniors created magic.  They took the time to have conversation that mattered – time to get to know one another on a real level.  They took time to go Beyond HELLO.

I’m hoping that this post will inspire you to go Beyond HELLO as well.  Whether you are connecting with a senior, a child, a neighbour you have never met, or a passerby whose untold story intrigues you, I hope you take the time to go Beyond HELLO.   Invite someone to coffee or lunch and take time to hear their story.   If you do, please share your stories at www.beyondhello.org   I guarantee you will get more than you give.   And who knows – if you are like me, this simple act may just become one of your 15 Reasons to Live.

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Beyond HELLO: Feeling Alive

Les

At 66 years old, Les has already defied the odds.  On the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, those who make it to the age of 40 are considered seniors and eligible for discount cards issued from Carnegie Centre.  Yet, as Les told us late this afternoon, he just doesn’t feel old.  With sparkling eyes and a youthful spirit, he feels alive.  Les has survived the dark days on East Hastings and has lived to tell about it.  He has learned some hard lessons in life, and paid the price, serving time behind bars in Maple Ridge just a few years ago for drug trafficking.  He doesn’t make excuses – he admits he was on the wrong path, and prison was what he needed to make the choice to never go back to old habits.  He lives without regret, and wouldn’t change his past, as it has shaped who he is today. With a toothless smile and laugh lines in all the right places, Les demonstrates an admirable sense of resilience.  Living in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood has not dampened his spirit.

 In month four of Beyond HELLO, Les joined my principal Sean Nosek and I for a late lunch today at the Lost and Found Café.  In exchange for a warm meal, Les agreed to let us share his story.  Les reflected on his life with appreciation for the good times, even finding the positive lessons that emerged from his time behind bars.

Les grew up in a Chinese immigrant family, attending local Vancouver schools – Strathcona, Britannia and Van Tech.  He was never really that good at school, and at the age of 18 he had only achieved a grade 8 education.  With a need for adventure and curious spirit, Les joined the army.  In his four years of service he traveled the world, serving our country.  His favourite adventures include the warm Mediterranean water in Cyprus and training days jumping from planes at the Army Airborne School in Alberta.

After four years of service, Les returned to BC and took a job in Prince George.  Initially he worked in the kitchen for Northwood Pulp and shortly after took a physical job in the mill.  He hated the manual labour of the mill and decided to explore his love of the kitchen.  Les reminisced about days when the ‘Keg & Cleaver’ and ‘Hindquarter’ were the top restaurants in town.  He worked his way up from kitchen help to 2nd cook and eventually head cook.  The hours were long, the lifestyle was draining and the split shifts consumed all of his time.  Facing exhaustion, he decided to make a change and venture to Toronto to live near his brother.  It was in Toronto that he found the balance he was looking for.  He fell in love and married his wife, and secured a job as a baker for Loblaws; a job he kept for over two decades.  Unlike most I have talked to, Les preferred to skim over the details of the triggers and turning points that sent him back to the DTES. Yet, unlike most, who live with the pain, Les appeared to be free from his past.  He let us know his marriage fell apart, his brother died, his parents both died and he turned to drug trafficking as his means for survival.  The streets of Vancouver became his home.  Unlike most whose eyes search for approval or understanding when telling of their past, Les is different.  He is matter of fact about the wrong turns in his life, and seems to have forgiven himself for the pain and mistakes in his life.  Perhaps this is why Les has survived to 66 in Canada’s roughest neighbourhood.  His lightness is perhaps his best survival skill.

Today Les lives month to month relying on his old age security cheque.  He receives $1400 / month to cover his rent, food and expenses.  He lives in modest, low income housing yet he takes pride in his home, where he has his own kitchen, his own television and room for his roommate, Smoky the cat.

Through our conversation, we took some time to tell Les a little about our lives.  When we mentioned we were high school administrators, he smiled back at us, saying “that’s ok”, with an understanding that many who have failed at school do not have the fondest memories of the principal’s office.  Les was surprised that we had driven from Maple Ridge to take someone for lunch.  I let him know a little about Beyond HELLO, sharing my goal of taking one person for lunch each month.  I explained my own view, that the neighborhood is plagued by unnecessary judgment and that each person on the streets has a story worth hearing.  He smiled in agreement.

When I asked Les what he would want others to know, he paused momentarily, and then explained how the neighbourhood works.  Everyone knows everyone.  He may not know all the names, but he knows the faces.  It is a community, yet everyone living on the streets has their own means for survival. In the words of Les, “everybody has their own thing – their own way to survive.” I suspect Les’s positive disposition may just be his strongest armor.  His smile spreads ear to ear as he lets us know that even the police walking the streets of Hastings like him now.  They know he is drug free and only sells cigarettes for extra income.

Knowing that Les knows the faces of the DTES, I decided to ask him if he knew some of the people who have shared their stories with me in the past.  We spoke of Cynthia, Garth, and Cindy.  While he didn’t know their names, he recognized Cynthia and Garth enough for us to have casual confirmation about their whereabouts.  Next, I asked him if he knew Sandra, otherwise known as ‘Little Momma’.  I described her in detail, as the first woman I had met on the DTES back in 2009.  I spoke of her slender build, her mobility struggles and her kind heart.  Within seconds, Les knew exactly who I was talking about and with excitement, as if he had big news to share, he blurted out rather loudly – “HEY – did you know she found her daughter!”  With equal excitement, and perhaps less humility I blurted back “I found her daughter!”  Sandra, and her daughter Samantha from Alberta, are the first two people we reconnected through Project HELLO in 2009. Our students were so moved by this mother daughter connection and the human need for family to find each other that they fundraised and paid for Samantha to fly to Vancouver for a reunion.  We drove Sandra to the airport to greet her daughter and arranged a full weekend including hotel accommodations, hair cuts, meals, etc.  The experience will always be one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.  It was the springboard for Project HELLO and the inspiration for my students and I to turn our one-day fieldtrip into a lifelong project.  To have someone living on the Downtown Eastside quote this story back to me almost four years later, someone whom had no idea that I had anything to do with the reunion in the first place, was magical.   In a simple second something changed.   Les knew he had made our day, just as much as we had made his.  We ended with handshakes, some photos and a commitment to stay in touch by saying hi next time we are in his neighbourhood.  After paying the bill we ventured back out to Hastings in hopes of touching base with Sandra.  With a genuine eagerness to help, Les called out behind us – “I hope you find her”.  The sound of his voice said more than his words.  In the time it took to eat a meal, Les had another significant moment in a life worth living. Another reason to smile, and feel very alive.