John Foster: Hospitality House guests care about our community
When I was asked to be a project manager for the Anew Day RAKE event, I was told that I would need to get community volunteers to assist in cleaning up an assigned area. My assignment was Lyman Gilmore and Scotten schools.
While this event was a fundraiser for Anew Day, it was also a chance for community members to give back to their community.
I thought about who I would ask to be on my team, and felt having a team of community members from the Hospitality House would be great.
In September, I attended a “house meeting” with the guests at the Hospitality House and told them about the upcoming RAKE event. I explained Anew Day to them and showed them a short video narrated by Anew Day board president Mike Bratton. I then told the guests that each guest is part of our community and it would be great if they would join me on Oct. 3. I told them that each participant would have to pay a registration fee, but I would be their sponsor. I had 21 Hospitality House guests immediately sign up for the event.
On Oct. 3, I went to the Hospitality House to arrange transportation for my team. Although 21 guests had originally signed up, 18 were present on that day. Some of the guests who originally signed up had left Hospitality House, but at the same time, I had five new guests who had heard about the event and wanted to participate. I ended up with 18 folks on my team that I now affectionately refer to as “my posse.”
We arrived at Lyman Gilmore and began our clean-up. I was very proud of how hard they worked and how much they worked as a team. Several members of my posse said the schools were very clean and wanted a more challenging area to work on next year.
Once the school campuses were clean, we went to the field areas. I told one of my posse to go out into the area of the soccer games and start cleaning around the games. This posse member looked toward the ground with a sad face and said to me, “I can’t.”
His response surprised me, since my posse had a really positive attitude all day. I asked him why. He told me, “They don’t like me” (referring to the children and parents at the soccer games). I said to him, “Why don’t they like you?” He replied, “Because I’m homeless.”
I reflected on his response and realized that we were all wearing yellow RAKE T-shirts and all looked alike. I then told him, “You’re undercover homeless today.” I pointed out how we were all in yellow T-shirts and all looked the same. He raised his head high and puffed out his chest. I told him go out there and be undercover. Off he went, proudly willing to go pick up left behind trash from other community members whose lives were in a better place than his.
On a side note, I went back and looked at the group picture we had taken that day and noticed that everyone besides him was visible in the picture. In the picture he had lowered his head so no one would be able to recognize him.
Upon conclusion of our cleanup, we went to Anew Place for a hosted lunch. After lunch I noticed one of my posse was seated alone. I went up to her and asked if she needed a ride. She said thank you, but no. As I began to walk away she said yelled out to me, “Thank you for being nice to us.” I was a bit surprised by this comment and responded back to her, “Isn’t this the way we are supposed to act towards each other?”
Hospitality House guests are community members and do care about our community. They are down on their luck, but have as much pride in our community as we do. Sometimes they get mislabeled as just being freeloaders and not caring about anything but themselves. Having them be part of RAKE demonstrates that they do care about our community and are willing to get involved. They did not have the 20 dollars to pay for the event, but had the enthusiasm, energy and pride in our community to participate.
My posse was awesome and I can’t wait until next year!
John Foster is the chief of police for the Grass Valley Police Department.
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Several years ago, I wrote “The myth of the accidental overdose” (April 19, 2019, Other Voices, The Union).