The purest example of love is to give, to sacrifice, to help another in need. We all want to do it, some simply have found their calling, an inspiration and motivation to dig deep and give what they’ve got, because what you’ve got is so much more than you know.
Enrich another’s life and watch what happens, it’s exhilarating to see the change and the charge you helped ignite, take hold. To see someone else’s life return from darkness is to shine a bright light which reflects back onto your own.
It’s this spirit of soulful giving which weaves a great story.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is Storytelling for Nonprofits.
Storytelling for Nonprofits: Never Give Up
“You can’t have compassion without suffering. You can’t help others if you haven’t felt helpless. I chose to leave my past behind. I decided my future was more important than holding on, saying ‘why me?, why me?… No! No! I say Try Me!” – Anonymous Fighter
There is no substitute for shelter, a warm place to rest your head, the comfort of home. Just ask Jason Bess, for much too long he was down-and-out. Mostly out – with no place to call home.
“I was homeless,” says Jason. “I was once on the opposite side of the seat I sit in now. I was a client. It was a bad turn of events. My hours at work got cut tremendously at a job where I was working and I couldn’t maintain my bills. I fell behind on my rent and my lease was up. I was evicted, living on the street on-and-off for four years.”
For Jason, thoughts of his three little girls helped him to survive mentally, but he says it was Health Care Access Maryland that saved him.
You can certainly help another once you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Jason has walked hundreds of miles along the same scary and dangerous path many who come to HCAM experience, the path of homelessness.
HCAM is a nonprofit agency that connects residents to public health care coverage and helps them navigate services, including people experiencing homelessness. They also focus on the needs of pregnant and postpartum women, youth in foster care, people with substance abuse, individuals recently released from jail, and others. Each year the nonprofit also connects more than 145,000 uninsured and under-insured clients to health insurance, healthcare, and vital community resources – resources that are critically vital to the existence of the communities they serve. (http://www.healthcareaccessmaryland.org/)
Jason is all about serving and sees this same motivation in those he works with at HCAM. “I’m genuine to the core and I love helping people,” says Jason. “These people here also love and care about helping people and that translates into their work and I’m living proof that this organization works for somebody like me. It’s strange you see those commercials where they say, ‘I’m a client’, and I am one of those people now.”
It didn’t happen overnight. Just like those he serves, Jason’s journey of homelessness was long and frightening.
“It was crazy, those four years,” Jason says. “There were a few months where work was available for me to obtain it. But I could never make enough to pay rent, or even get approval for an apartment. In order to get sleep, especially in the winter, I would find apartment buildings and go down in the laundry rooms. I would go in as late as possible so no one would find me and try to get some sleep. The jobs, when I had them, were early morning, so I was having to get up extremely early and move around undetected. I would never go to sleep on the street. My mind wouldn’t let me – I just couldn’t be out like that in the wide open at anytime. When I was in those situations sleep was not even in the picture.”
Jason continues, “I have three daughters and even though I still had to jump from one place to the next and work-on-and-off I still managed to make enough money to pay for things they needed, even though I couldn’t afford to pay rent for me. I was still taking them out and keeping it as close to normal as possible. They are girls and they have to look up to their daddy. What you show them will unconsciously affect them, so I had to keep fighting. They were my reason.”
In his battle to survive Jason also dealt with the severe stigma of homelessness. “You end up in fights with people,” Jason says. “More-or-less people try to take advantage of you. Because of your situation they try to disrespect you…and not think you are human. There were a couple of encounters.”
In September of 2016, one of those encounters nearly ended Jason’s life. It started as a verbal altercation, but escalated into a physical attack. Jason was stabbed in the stomach and ended up hospitalized for nearly a month. He says the outside wounds have healed, but some internal issues, including removal of some organs, continue to plague him.
“It’s OK though,” says Jason. “I’m a strong guy, I’m going to make it.”
And since the beginning of this year, Jason is making it happen for others in similar situations. Once a client, Jason is now a compassionate and empathetic employee of Health Care Access Maryland. “I work in peer support, as an outreach specialist,” says Jason. “I go out actively seeking people in need. I engage with clients out in the field, informing them of all the services we have and can provide for them. They are seeking help and want to get out of the situation they are in – housing issues, drug treatment needs, we try to get whatever they need – even down to finding a pair of socks or shoes for someone. Whatever we can do to help them and get them signed up for the program.”
Having lived it first-hand, Jason knows all about the program and the process. He credits Shannon Nicholson, whom he had actually met at a previous job, for telling him about HCAM and saving him. “While I was homeless I happened to see Shannon downtown one day,” says Jason, “and since I knew her from my past I started talking with her and let her know things weren’t going so well. She told me about the HCAM program and what she was doing. It was more comfortable for me to talk with her about my situation, even though it wasn’t always cool to talk about that stuff, but I quickly learned Shannon was not part of my problem, she was part of my solution. I went to the office and they helped me out. The process took about four months, but they found me shelter as fast as they could. They definitely walk with you hand-in-hand through the process.”
Now, with a roof over his head and a place for his daughters to come every weekend, the story has been re-written for Jason, though he was the one who grabbed the pen and started to write a new chapter in his life. Now he’s the one also reaping the rewards of his work.
“The reward of seeing someone, after first talking to them and getting them out of an area and into a better place, that’s a feeling that is kind of hard to put into words,” says Jason. “It makes you feel like your work isn’t work. You love what you are doing. It’s not a job, you are helping somebody. It’s not even because I was in that position, I would feel this way just because I am empathetic. You never know what the next day might hold, so you want to help somebody, you need to help them. To see people, my co-workers, also fighting like that for this organization, is a beautiful thing to see.” (http://www.healthcareaccessmaryland.org/working-at-hcam/career-opportunties-at-hcam/)
His experience and now his new work with HCAM has and is teaching him much about life and a new and brighter outlook on how to fight for what you want.
“What’s most important is determination,” says Jason. “I was in that situation and it wasn’t a good situation, it was real ugly, but for the reasons of my daughters and wanting better for myself, I was determined not to be average. I’m out there homeless, I wanted to work, to not let my situation control me. Yes, it was a bad hand I was dealt, but who am I going to complain to, if it’s going to happen I gotta make it happen. I thought, I can sit here and be upset, cry and moan, but I knew I had to fight, I had to do something. With the determination and will to want better for yourself and those you love, you can make it. My daughters, my reasons, mean everything to me. There were plenty of days I looked at pictures of them and said, ‘I’m gonna make it for you.’ You’ve got to grab on to it, whatever helps you keep going. As long as you are fighting you’ve got a shot. The minute you give up, you are done.”
Never give up.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Want a career with HCAM? http://www.healthcareaccessmaryland.org/working-at-hcam/career-opportunties-at-hcam/
To make a donation, visit: https://healthcareaccessmaryland.mypaysimple.com/s/donate-now