At ACSS’ 17th graduation reception, I introduced myself to Timothy Wright as we stood in line for lunch. Timothy is studying for his Master’s Degree in Social Work at Clark Atlanta University. One of his prerequisites is an internship with Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency. His is coming to an end this semester. Always curious to learn about others’ experiences with ACSS and the CareerWorks program, I asked Timothy what his internship had been like and his reply: “It wasn’t what I expected.”
When I asked him to expand on his comment, he replied, “I was facilitating a communications class and everyone came to it prepared and motivated. We were breaking down the class motto and there was a lot of discussion. I guess I thought that homeless people were not engaged. But this class was ready to engage.”
Whoa! That was an “Aha!” moment for me. Timothy probably speaks for so many of us when he frankly admits that he fell prey to a stereotype that all homeless people could do better, be better, if only they TRIED harder. Or, maybe they wouldn’t find themselves in this situation if they just helped themselves. But when he got to know the CareerWorks class and engaged with the people, they dispelled a myth many of us would like to believe: Homelessness is for other people. It’s not going to happen to US!
The demographic groups with the greatest increase in homelessness are women with children and military veterans. I refuse to believe that a woman with children chooses homelessness or that veterans don’t want to help themselves — not after helping their country in its time of need. Often what is lacking, though, is what ACSS CEO Charles Edwards calls a “foundation for life.”
“Leaders come from loss,” Charles said. “If you come through your struggles well, you’ve gained the skills to be an extraordinary leader.”
The ACSS staff and volunteers don’t see stereotypes. They see strength, tenacity, motivation, dedication, intelligence and spirituality. All of the people who are attending the CareerWorks program aspire to achieve their dreams. ACSS empowers those dreams every day in every job readiness class, in every job interview prep, in every graduation. Dreams are empowered. A foundation for life is laid.
Timothy Wright will leave his internship with a different concept of the homeless. That is one of the greatest achievements ACSS can make: dispelling the myths and removing the stereotypes.
Written by Barbara Hughes. Barbara is an ACSS volunteer and serves on our Marketing & Communications Committee.