It has been most uplifting to see the welcoming response of people from Portland to immigrants seeking shelter and a new start. This past May my twin aunts who had emigrated from Italy when they were 8 years old turned 100! Their mother had told them that they were moving to a country where the streets were paved with gold. When they arrived at Ellis Island one of them asked, “Where are the streets paved with gold?” Their mother replied, “Oh they must be some other streets!”

I would say that the streets of Portland are paved with the gold hearts of many individuals and organizations who are extending their hands, hearts and resources to the newly arrived immigrants.

Now there is another group from our communities and other communities that has been coming to Portland seeking shelter – our homeless. It appears that Portland has made a decision on where to locate the new shelter to better accommodate the numbers of homeless and coordinated services. We have another opportunity before us now to extend ourselves to those in need.

When I read that the plans for the new shelter are to include more services and facilities, that got me thinking. What else might individuals or organizations be willing to provide that could be helpful and give encouragement, opportunities for personal growth and interests, skills for re-integration into the community, and forward momentum to the lives of those who are currently homeless?

Here is an idea that I came up with and want to pass along to others who may find it worthwhile:

Start up a weekly scheduled activity calendar at the homeless shelter. It could include, for example, sessions for exercise,  rehab, personal growth and enrichment and skill building. These sessions that could be of mutual benefit to those sponsoring an activity and to those receiving it would be offered by volunteers-individuals or organizations. Working together with those who are homeless, they could make hope for positive change in lives and potential.

First needed would be people willing to take leadership in developing, proposing and shepherding of this plan.

If this were to go forward, here are some ideas that I came up with that could be considered:

• Animal refuge league site visit for mutual benefit of the animals and the individuals at the shelter;

• Employers who need workers coming to mentor those who are interested and willing to seek employment;

• A writer/writing program holding writing workshops;

• A photographer/photography program coming to offer work, perhaps on documenting individuals’ daily lives;

• An artist coming to work with individuals on self expression, etc., through the arts;

• Persons of faith coming to offer listening, support and guidance;

• A musician/band/chorus group coming for a singalong. (Since my mom passed 48 years ago, we have held a huge family gathering at Christmas time – a recent addition is to fill 13 gift bags for the homeless (since there were 13 children in our family) and to drive around and pass them out. Last year, we included a harmonica in each gift bag – music can be so rejuvenating;

•  A gardener coming work with plants;

• A sports offering/game/exercise class;

• A dance offering;

• A quilting class where everyone who wants to participate gets to make a square, and perhaps the quilt could travel to libraries, city halls, etc.;

• An organized volunteer activity allowing those at the homeless shelter to sign up to do volunteer work, like clean up and maintenance on the Portland or Westbrook trails;

To reach anyone in distress, you have to see them.

Just remember always that each homeless person is the beloved child, mother, father, sister, brother, relative or friend of someone ‘s family.

In Japan, there is an art of repairing broken pottery with gold, rather than discarding them. May we show the same respect to our fellow human beings who have been sidelined and sometimes broken by troubles in their lives by reaching out to them with the gold in our hearts.


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