Last Thursday evening I participated in a Solidarity Sleep Out fundraiser forSpectrum Youth and Family Services.
What an experience- sleeping overnight in the park to raise awareness of teen homelessness in our community and State. Mark Redmond, the E.D. for Spectrum, came up with the idea. He was hoping to get 20 people to commit to the fundraiser and hopefully raise $25,000. On the night of the event, I was joined by 43 other community leaders and together we raised over $88,000! Mark was truly overwhelmed by the immediate response and the support of the community. It was a remarkable event with many people committing to participate again next year before the evening had even started
I must say after a noisy, wet night, trying to sleep on the hard ground, I did have a keener sense, on a very small scale, of the issues homeless people deal with. It was very loud, all night. I have a new appreciation for the saying "the city never sleeps!" The delivery trucks unloading all night long, emergency vehicles with sirens, and, I suspect, college kids yelling and singing loudly at 2 a.m. as the bars closed. We had some hecklers around 3:30am. When I woke up at 5:30, after about one hour of sleep, I was able to get some warm food, go home and take a 2 hour nap in a warm, clean bed. All I could think of is the despair of a homeless teen waking up at the same time. Most likely very tired, in wet, dirty clothes, no bathroom to clean up in, no dry clothes and most likely, no money for food or drink- Where do they go and what do they do? This is when I realized how important the services are that Spectrum offers to these vulnerable youth.
Spectrum's drop-in center is the only place for these teens to go. Besides taking care of their immediate needs they have over 11 programs that help get these kids off the street. By providing temporary housing, medical services, drug and rehab counseling, job counseling and a host of other services, they help get these kids back on their feet. These programs have been nationally recognized and Spectrum has hundreds of success stories to prove their effectiveness. They are mentoring children that never had a chance! Most likely, many of these kids never saw the face or felt the hand of a truly caring, loving adult- those parents and mentors we had as children and took for granted! Helping get these kids back on their feet, before they enter adulthood and end up in our costly legal/ judicial system is one of Spectrum's greatest (unsung) accomplishments. I can only imagine the amount of money this organization has saved the State of Vermont over the last 40 years with their early intervention into these young people's lives
It has been said that you can judge a community or society on how it treats and cares for its most vulnerable citizens. Certainly our "at risk" youth are some of the most vulnerable. The outpouring of support and the money raised says volumes about the community we live in.
Spectrum's Solidarity Sleep Out fundraiser is proof of the true character and integrity of this City. I feel very fortunate to call Burlington, VT my home!