On Good Friday, March 25th, 19 youth (6th-10th graders) camped out in a “Cardboard City" on the front lawn of our church. The Cardboard City is an event that has been taking place in numerous locations all over the world. Participants are invited to spend the night in a cardboard box in an effort to experience homelessness. We also work to raise money to help combat this complex problem. This was our second annual Cardboard City. The effort was initiated by our confirmands, 9th graders, Perry Comeau, Jan Lapinski, Jamie Rushnak, Lucy Ryan and Anna Terrenzi. They were so impacted by last year's event, that they invited their friends from the Cape and beyond to participate once again. 95% of last year’s participants returned again this year to brave the elements in an effort to get a deeper understanding of what it is like to be someone who no longer has a home. We had students representing a number of schools: Monomoy Regional High and Middle Schools, Nauset High and Middle Schools, St. Francis Xavier Prep, Duxbury Middle School, Chatham Elementary School, Sturgis Charter School and Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School.
Our evening included time with homeless advocates, Jeff Howell and Alan Burt of Homeless Not Hopeless in Hyannis and Beth Wade of Champ Homes. We had a great roundtable discussion which included the children breaking up in pairs to explore the cycle of homelessness. Jeff, Alan and Beth helped us get a better understanding of homelessness on Cape Cod and its direct correlation to the housing problem that exists here. We talked a lot about the role our faith plays in looking at this situation. Central to all three advocates, is the verse from Matthew 25:36-40, "I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
This year, our scope was broadened as we heard about a different homeless population, refugees. Jennifer Smith and Laura Gill, Outer Cape residents, came and spoke with the group about their recent experience working with Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos (a tourist and fishing community not dissimilar to the Cape). For two weeks, the two gave medical care to children and adults coming off flimsy rafts after crossing the Aegean from Turkey. They showed lots of pictures and gave us a clear sense of the urgency and enormity of this situation. We also watched the documentary, God Grew Tired of Us. A 2006 film that tells the story of some of the Lost Boys of Sudan, some 25,000 young men, refugees forced to flee the wars in Sudan since the 1980s. The film explores their horrific journey as well as their experiences moving to the United States. The next morning, the participants said that it gave them a “reality check” of how much they take for granted.
At one point, the group set out panhandling Main Street. Their experiences varied from folks who greeted them with warmth and generosity, like a man who had spent 10 years living on the streets of Boston who gave them $25, to less generous folks who “only had hundreds” and thought “it must be nice being poor having other people working for you.” It gave them a realistic glimpse of the day in the life of a homeless person, as did our experience spending the night in the cold. The following morning participants swapped “war stories” of their restless night.
In the morning, we walked down to Claflin Landing to take in the sunrise. We came home to a warm breakfast prepared by some of our congregation. We then went upstairs and had a closing ceremony, ending with a passing of a peace candle, where we urged one another to “go out and be a light in the world."
These teens are articulate, civic minded, compassionate young people who truly embody the great commandment of “loving your neighbor”. They are a light in our world and working with them is a great privilege. We raised $1037 through our morning program - Good Friday VBS, participation fees and sponsorships for the Cardboard City and by panhandling on Chatham’s Main Street. The youth will be presenting a check to Homeless Not Hopeless and Champ Homes in the coming weeks.
I’d like to thank all who participated and donated to this great event. I would encourage all generations to become acquainted with these bright shining stars of our community. They are a gift.