Monday, December 5, 2016
Where will you be in five years?
A question we all should ask ourselves from time to time is, where will I be in 5 years?
This is a question I asked Drew and his answer has bothered me ever since.
Drew had grown up in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. He graduated high school from Bingham high, but long before he graduated he had many life lessons and challenges outside the classroom. At 14 his mother lost custody of him and his older and younger sister. His uncle had volunteered to take the children and for two years Drew lived there. However, not uncommon to 16 year olds, he found himself arguing with his uncle and ultimately in and out of foster care. If you enter "the system" of state foster care at age 9 your chances of being adopted are very low with less than 30% of adoptions being age 9 and older but by age 16 your chances are more like, statistically impossible. Drew became no different than most kids and found himself bouncing from foster home to foster home. It was here that Drew first got comfortable on the streets often spending days on the streets between homes or "living with friends." Given his lack of consistency in his life, his accomplishment of receiving a diploma is very impressive.
At age 18 he found himself not only a graduate of high school but also of the foster care system. Society as a whole may be extending the time that our children can stay just that, children, with kids on our health care until age 26 and in our basements even longer. Foster care on the other hand has no such extension. There is however a youth shelter that goes from age 18 to 22. This is to help those who have aged out of foster care or their parent’s basement, a time to transition to "real life". Unfortunately it too often becomes a way for them to transition from school to the streets.
Drew appeared at first to beat the odds. By 22 he had found a decent job at Wingers as a busboy and waiter. He could afford his own room. Drew looked like he was on a path to a relatively, if not successful at least, normal life. He was tall and slender, clean cut with his only notable defect being a badly chipped front tooth. Naturally outgoing, a friend recommended that he quit his job at the restaurant and go into sales. The particular job was selling solar panel systems door to door. Drew didn't particularly care for sales but he had just gotten a new boss at Wingers. The boss was an ex-marine, whose authoritative leadership had taken all the fun out of work. Cautiously Drew decided to try sales on his day off. This proved to be a fateful decision because on his first day he made 3 sales. The commission from 3 sales a day was far more salary then Wingers provided. The next day he went into wingers and quite his job. Those were the last 3 sales he made. After days of selling with no success he found himself again on the streets.
"I still work from time to time. I have a friend who installs insulation and he hires me a few days a week to help. On the days I'm not installing insulation I do this." The “this” he refers to is what I found him doing, standing on a corner with a sign. He took panhandling seriously.
My first question to him was, "Are you hungry?"
I believe he assumed I had food to offer and said, "Yea, kind of."
"Want to come with me to lunch?" I asked.
"Thanks man, but I can't afford to lose this spot." I-80 and State Street must be prime real estate because he continued, "If I go with you someone else will take this spot, and at this time of day good spots are hard to come by."
"What's your goal? Are you just trying to get enough to eat?"
"I try to get enough for a cheap room."
"What if you don't get enough?"
"There's a shelter and if they're full there's a church downtown that lets us sleep on the pews."
When asked why he is homeless his answer is honest and humble, "Bad decisions. I've made really bad financial and other decisions that have led me here."
"Where do you see yourself in five years?"
"I hope the military. I got a 28 on my ASVAB but need a 31 to get in. I really need help in math since that is my worst score. I hope to take it again soon."
We chatted a bit more and I walked home. Of all the people I have interviewed Drew has bothered me the most. Why? Helping people with math is something I both enjoy doing and am very capable of. I have enjoyed helping youth in math for years and yet could there be a youth whose need was more and my potential impact greater? With a few days help I could possibly help him bump up his score, and he might be able to get off the streets. Instead of burdening our country he'd be serving it. But I was only in town for 1 more day and wasn't in a position to invite him into a home I myself was a guest in.
This was months ago and I still often think of Drew. Did he get the help he needed? Did someone do better than I and sacrifice for his future? Should I have taken a few days off work and tried to change his life? Would that have even helped? What if that was me who had been abandoned by my mother at 14? What if it was me, who tried to get the test score I needed but failed? Who would I turn to?
I am exceptionally grateful that I have been blessed with so many loving, self-sacrificing friends and family who would and do help in moments of crisis. Even when those moments are not so momentary. My prayer now is Drew finds such a friend and that in the future I may be such a friend to those who have not been so blessed.