Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page


In Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 at 9:22 pm


I was introduced to Yoga about eight years ago through a parent at my school. Cheryl is a Yoga teacher and was focused at that time on children’s Yoga. She approached the school about doing a Yoga Club after school and talked with us about incorporating Yoga into PE. I told her I was intrigued but had never done Yoga. She suggested that I attend a four-day Teacher’s Training the following month. So, without ever having done so much as a “Downward Facing Dog “ pose, I found myself in a class with Cheryl and Amy, her co-instructor (and currently a Shelter Yoga teacher!), and a group of quite experienced Yogis. I survived (barely) with the help of ibuprofen and two very patient instructors as well as a cohort of extremely supportive women. Cheryl and I became friends and, like most of my friends, she was sucked into the vortex of Central Night Shelter and the Sunday Night Yoga Class at Central Night Shelter was born.

We meet every Sunday from 5-6pm in the Shelter space during the months that the Shelter is open. We have guys show up every Sunday—sometimes we have a large number and other times it’s a cozy group. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when Cheryl first broached the idea of Yoga at the Shelter. I was unsure of the response we would get but the guys who come seem to love it. I am sometimes a student and sometimes a teacher in the class but I always feel I have learned something new from my practice with the men. One thing I love in particular is how hard they work and how diligent they are at following instructions. I love that they can laugh at themselves and with each other. Seeing the guys seated on a Yoga mat, unencumbered by their bags and coats and belongings, is almost like seeing them in a different way. The relief of their physical burdens brings an ease to their postures. As they relax and breathe and concentrate you can see the transformation.

I had been reluctant to teach any sorts of partner poses for fear that the men would not want to hold hands or touch each other. One evening though I decided to take a chance. If they didn’t like it we could always change things up. It was the BEST class ever!! I realized that the men are so seldom touched by anyone and this forum gave them a safe place to experience supportive human contact. I discovered that I, too, loved doing the partner poses with them. It gave me a new and different way to interact with the guys. We know in our personal lives the power of touch and human connection. We know the healing power of touch. I cannot fathom why this was such a revelation to me that it would be a powerful way for the men to interact!

The final pose of a Yoga class is “Savasana”  or “Corpse Pose”. You lie on your back with your eyes closed, hands turned palms up, breathing deeply. It is a pose of relaxation and rest, allowing the body to incorporate the physical changes from your practice before re-entering life. Often, the Yoga instructor will go to each student and make adjustments—pressing shoulders down, cradling the back of the skull to relax the neck muscles. Can I just say that the guys LOVE Savasana!?! It is not uncommon for one or two of them to begin snoring! I have to say I love it too! Lying on that gym floor, grounded in what I have always considered sacred space, feeling connected to and a part of this community of homeless men has become an integral part of my life. I know that it has changed me and changed the way I interact with the men.

Namaste. The light in me sees the light in you. Our vision for the class has always been that this would be a community class with homeless and housed practicing Yoga together.  Come join our class and see the light that shines out, through, and beyond all of us…


Photo Credit: Thomas Benefield

Room in the Heart

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2013 at 12:42 am


When our son Ryan was 13 months old, due to some rather unique circumstances, we brought home a gentleman from the shelter to live with us. We were much younger then and perhaps more idealistic and naïve but this man touched something deep within us—touched us in a way that made us take a chance. His name was Randy, and Mark and I had known him through the shelter for several years.  This year was different though because he had gotten a job and appeared to be doing much better.  Unfortunately, soon after he moved in with us, his employer let him go, having hired him, in reality, only for temporary help during the holiday season, though he had represented the job to Randy as a full-time, permanent position.

Randy became quite depressed with this set-back, another in a long line of such disappointments and frustrations, but he struggled out each morning of a very cold winter to pound the pavement, desperately trying to find another job.  He kept insisting that he felt unworthy to continue to stay with us, since he wasn’t working.  He usually came home from these discouraging, fruitless searches after we had already eaten our dinner, in part, I think, because of the shame he felt at being again unemployed.

We always kept a plate of food warm for him to have when he got back.  Ryan had just learned to walk by then, and he would go running for the door when he heard Randy’s key in the lock.  When the door opened and Randy stepped inside, Ryan would throw his arms up in the air and squeal “Ray-ee, Ray-ee!” in the sheer delight of seeing his friend Randy again.  Randy would pick Ryan up and carry him in one arm, murmuring to him softly as he set about getting his dinner.  Then he would put Ryan on his knee, separate a portion of food to the side of the plate for Ryan to eat, and they would have their dinner–Randy’s first of the day and Ryan’s second.  All through their shared meal they would talk together, although neither Mark nor I could ever really understand their non-stop conversations in the way that the two of them could, both of them seemed in complete synch with the other.

Randy stayed with us for nine months–I always thought that was a rather symbolic length of time–moving out just before our daughter Jessie was born.  During these months with us he found a job, one that he held for many years; saved money for all the deposits needed to rent an apartment; and, most importantly, was able to heal a little.  During those nine months of living with us, he went from a man who would cower in the dark in our basement if we were not home, for fear that the police would see him inside and arrest him for being in our house, to a man with a job, an apartment, an extension of our family, and a man with many friends in our neighborhood.

Randy continued, and still continues, to be a part of our family.  He spends holidays with us, visits on weekends, goes to the Shelter to volunteer. Throughout Ryan’s and Jessie’s childhood Randy was there–playing games, giving rides, listening to their latest tales of neighborhood exploits, going to sporting events. He never married nor had his own biological children but Ryan and Jessie are part of the very fabric of his life.  He told me once that he loved Mark and me, and could never repay us for what we’d done for him, but that truly it was Ryan who had saved his life that winter. He said with such earnestness, “Ryan is my heart.” And when Jessie came along she took her place right beside Ryan in Randy’s heart where they both have stayed.

Mark and I took a chance with Randy. It could have turned out badly I suppose, but thanks be to God, it did not.  We took a chance on love and it has made all the difference, not only in Randy’s life, but in our lives and the lives of our children. My hope for each of us as we continue our journey is that we are able to feel the power and healing and forgiveness of unconditional love within ourselves, so that, in turn, we are able to reach out with acceptance and tolerance to those around us.

It has been my experience that the harsh realities of life are an inevitable and universal part of the human experience.  Reaching out to others, moving beyond ourselves, allows us to make those human connections, forge those human relationships where we are able to find love and community.  And it is within this love and community that our lives will be transformed.

Photo Credit: Andrew McQuade

You Ain’t No Brother

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 at 12:16 am


In addition to being the Director of Central Night Shelter, I am part of what we call the “Street Crew”. There are seven of us—we each take one night of the week. For a gazillion years my night has been Sunday. The Street Person is the individual who has keys to open up and let the volunteers into the Shelter. We mainly work outside with the guests before the Shelter opens and are responsible for admitting the guests to the Shelter. This means screening the guests, making sure no problems find their way inside. It is not one of the easier jobs or roles of the Shelter. It takes a certain temperament—someone who can stay calm in the face of chaos, someone who can play mediator, someone who can make the hard call and tell a guest they cannot come inside that night. I can honestly say that there has been more than one night when I have come home and lamented my place on the Street Crew but, at the same time, I have felt it was important for me to be out there in that role. Seeing the numbers of men turned away each night is heartbreaking but it also keeps me focused on the importance and necessity of what we do in providing shelter. Being on the Street Crew also helps me get to know some of the guys. There is some time to talk and joke around while we are waiting for the Shelter to open. Once we are inside, time is short with dinner being served, showers need to be opened, clean up needs to be done. But outside, we have a little time and space to exchange greetings and catch up on the week.

One Sunday, many years ago, my brother, Michael, was here visiting us. As I got ready to go downtown for my regular Sunday gig at the Shelter Michael said he would like to go with me and help out. I welcomed his company and we set out for the Shelter. Upon arrival, we let the volunteers in to start dinner and get the Shelter set up for the evening. Once preparations were under way, Michael and I made our way back outside to chat with the guys. One of my favorite guests that year was a guy known as “Big Mike”. He was African-American and about six feet four inches with broad shoulders. He was not overweight at all but, definitely, a big guy with a big heart and a great sense of humor. Big Mike was waiting outside for the Shelter to open that evening and I introduced him to my brother. Now Michael is also a big guy—a shade over six feet five inches, broad-shouldered with an athletic build. He, too, is a very funny guy with a big personality. Big Mike and Michael immediately took to each other, joking about both being “Big Mike”, just the salt and pepper versions. The other men gathered around them, drawn in by all the laughter and camaraderie. Soon it was time to let the guys into the Shelter and Big Mike went in with the rest of the guests. I sent Michael upstairs to tell the volunteers we could start serving dinner. Once I had finished up at the door I went up to the Shelter and found Michael seated beside Big Mike at one of the dinner tables. They motioned me over and I sat down across from them. I had told Michael that I usually stay and eat dinner with the guys so he and Big Mike had saved me a seat. That particular evening the volunteers who had brought the dinner started the meal with a bowl of cottage cheese with canned pears on top. After we said Grace, Michael tucked into his salad. Looking up, he noticed that many of the men were ignoring their salads, including Big Mike.

“Hey, Big Mike, aren’t you going to eat your cottage cheese, man?”

“Nah, you want mine? You seem like you like it!”

My brother replied, “Sure! It seems like a lot of the guys aren’t eating their salads. What’s up with that??”

Big Mike shrugged and looked down at his plate, seemingly reluctant to say more. Michael pressed on saying, “Really, man, what is the deal with the cottage cheese?” Big Mike looked him in the eye and said, “For real, you want to know??” Michael said, “Yeah, I really want to know!”

After a long pause, Big Mike looked across the table at me and back towards my brother and took a deep breath and said, “Black people don’t eat that crap.” Michael and I burst out laughing, both of us thinking he was kidding around with us. But he was dead serious.  “That is most definitely white people food! Black people are like, man, that’s something you find leftover after a few weeks in the back of the refrigerator!”

Big Mike and Michael spent the rest of the meal bantering back and forth about the merits and distaste of cottage cheese keeping the rest of us at the table in stitches. Finally, Big Mike declared that he was going to prove his point that his people did not eat cottage cheese to Michael. We were seated at a table close to the shower room. As the men finished their dinners and passed by us on the way to take a shower Big Mike proceeded to take a poll. Each guy that went by was asked “Hey, man, you eat cottage cheese?”

“No, man, I hate that stuff!”

“Never touch it!”

“That stuff tastes awful!”

And on it went with Big Mike easily proving his point. Finally, one guy went by and when asked if he ate cottage cheese he replied, “Yeah, man, I like cottage cheese!”

There was thunderous silence and then Big Mike slapped his hand on the table and pointed at the guy, bellowing, “You ain’t no brother!”

We all laughed like we would never stop and the poor guy who liked cottage cheese just kept staring back over his shoulder at us like we were out of our minds as he made his way to take a shower.

Mark’s grandfather used to stop some family squabbles saying, “De gustibus non disputandum est.” This is Latin for “Regarding taste, there can be no argument.”

Laughter can be the great equalizer, helping us to see our common humanity. Black and white, homeless and housed, gay and straight, we are all human and we can all learn one from the other. And if we can have a few laughs in the midst of it, the experience can be that much richer. I, for one, cannot look at cottage cheese to this day without laughing…


Photo Credit: Mark Bashor