Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Presents and Christmas Cheer

Thursday Dec. 20th was one of the best days yet for Street Sense, and really reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

It marked our fourth annual vendor Christmas party, which was bigger and better than ever. It was also the day our new t-shirts finally arrived (just in time for the party.) And that day the organization also received a long awaited grant of $10,000 from the Rapoport Family Foundation. (Yeah!) And the already fabulous day ended with the Homeless Memorial Day Vigil, where there was a huge turn out and a great and meaningful program.

But besides these milestone events, the day was just great because of the happiness, appreciation and excitement that most all of the vendors were displaying. (I hugged more vendors on Thursday then I have in my entire three years at Street Sense.)

Like last year, volunteers had “adopted” vendors and bought them Christmas gifts (of around $40 each) based off of lists that each vendor composed. And we also a about 15 pairs of boots (thanks to my wonderful mom) and 15 tote bags with socks, gloves and hats in the them (thanks to the International Science and Technology Association.) To give out to all vendors, even the new ones who had joined after all the Christmas lists went out.

And most all of the vendors were visible touched by their gifts, as many of them have not had a Christmas present especially for them in a long time. Don Gardner was thrilled with a new jacket he got commenting, “There is no way they spent just $40 on this!” Corey Bridges was left speechless opening up his multiple gifts including a sweat suit and some new gloves.

And it was also neat to be part of this energetic interaction as its rare we have nearly all of our vendors in one room at time. Many of them were talking about how Street Sense has helped them in different ways. Others were devising plans on how to improve sales, and still others were discussing ideas that would make great editorials.

One particularly memorable and touching moment for me was when longtime vendor Bobby Buggs decided to offer up a blessing before we ate. He began with the traditional thanks to God for food and friends to share it with, but ended thanking God “for bringing Street Sense into my life and the lives of others” and “for all that Street Sense has done for me.”

But the one comment that really got into my heart was something said in passing by a new vendor, Kevin Singleton. He came up to me to tell me how great the party was and how much he appreciated it and he said, “This party and everything is so great! I am so thankful I can be part of this – part of a family. Even real families don’t do things this nice.”

Though I have only received on two or three Christmas presents so far, I can assuredly say that this comment from Kevin is the best Christmas present for me this year….LAURA

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Vendors Rock!

I don't know if its Jesse's efforts as the new vendor manager or the anticipation of more income that comes with going semi-monthly or if its just the excitement of the holiday season, but we have had a swarm of new vendors in the last week. And not only are they willing to give Street Sense a shot but they are also very excited about the paper and the opportunity to sell and spread the word.

Last Thursday we trained three new vendors, which is a record in one day for probably the last year. And two of them have already come back enough times to get their permanent badge. One vendor Michael Higgs, sold 40 of the super-old issue in one day (he was accidentally given the October issue in the midst of confusion on Thursday) and when the new issue came out he immediately bought 60 papers without hesitation, explaining that "Its hard work but people love it!"

Another one, Kevin Singleton, came in Monday all excited about the paper and was really taken a back by how people responded to it and how the respected him for selling it. And a new woman vendor, Louise Davenport came in all wide-eyed about the prospect of selling Street Sense in Virginia.

And then there are the old/new vendors (those who have not been vendors in over six months, but have decided to return for one reason or another) that include Anthony Crawford, Willie Alexander and Henry Washington. And all of them are selling papers like mad men.

And its great because these new vendors are spreading their excitement to other homeless individuals and encouraging them to become vendors as well, so it really just a domino effect. Its funny because many new vendors lately say that they have heard of Street Sense for sometime but are suddenly coming to be trained. I cannot pinpoint the draw, but I am sure its a convergence of many things at this very generous time of the year.

So while these new men and women may not have yet earned their vest (it takes at least three weeks for that) please so them the respect and courtesy as old vendors.

And don't get me wrong,its great that we have many established vendors who have been with us for two or even three years, that provide much incite and excitement to Street Sense, but like anything, its always good to mix it up a bit with changes and additions, LAURA

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Editorial Crunch Time

When the first couple of issues of Street Sense came out in the winter of 03-04, there was serious doubt that they would actually be completed and in the vendors hands in time. But with the great efforts and creativity of Ted and I, we made it happen, even if we did not have the content to fill 16 pages (the size we started at.) This would include making really large pulled quotes, including random stand alone pictures we took at the last minute, pulling stories from other street paper or creating ads or wish lists for us, NCH or other nonprofits helping us out. In fact, there was only one time, I recall, that we came out late (outside of the 15th falling on a weekend) and that was just by a day or two.

Now, there is no longer the question of will the paper come out on time. It always does, no matter how frantic or calm the days following its release is. We have dedicated volunteers and vendors that are willing to make it happen. And for that I am ever grateful because its allows me to keep my sanity and few extra hours of sleep.

Case in point, today Jesses Smith, who typically is managing and helping out the vendors did a last minute restaurant review today after several other canidates fell through. (He is typing it up at home as I write.) On his way there, he also ended up snapping a photo for the recipe contest. And Cliff Carle took a last minute photo for the library article this morning. And Corey Bridges gave up 20 minutes of prime lunchtime selling time to be interviewed for the vendor profile, which we nearly forgot about after skipping it last issue.

As for volunteers last minute efforts, as I write, Marian Wiseman and David Pike are also doing a preliminary copy-edit of the laid-out issue, and David Hammond will be doing the final proof (as he has done for nearly the last year) tomorrow. And today Linda Wang and Joe Knight did some last minute photo formatting, allowing me lots more time to work on lay out.

Its great how everything comes together. I really don't have to worry and my fretting has gone down considerable in the last year, because I know that things will get done. People will step up and all will work out, and we will have a pretty damn good paper in the end!


Wednesday, December 6, 2006

A Feel Good Day

So today was a great day in the office, and it was really all about the vendors and the feel good feelings and excitment that they spread through the office.

(It was quite a contrast to the crazy day that was yesterday with Mark Jones rambling a mile a minute about being a Boy Scout and learning how to make a fire, and Cliff Carle playing office volunteer Amy Orndorff in chess while loudly trash talking to no end and saying "umm, umm, umm. toasty" one to many time.)

Anyway, the day began with vendor Anthony Crawford talking about how he was working hard to recruit new vendors and spreading the word to all the panhandlers he saw saying "This is what I do, look how Street Sense has help me. It can help you too."

Later new vendor Lee Mayse came in all excited, exclaiming how he had been spreading the word about Street Sense and how the paper was "hot." He said that all sorts of people were snatching up the paper and giving him well above the $1 donations.

Then veteran vendor Conrad Cheek came it at the end of the day talking about a "blitz" idea. Him and Jesse (the vendor manager) plotted out a grand plan where four or five vendors go to an area where vendors don't typically go and sell the paper and promote it intensely for a day or two to really get people interested and to open up new locations for vendors. I think it is a great idea and really hope Jesse and the other vendorsfollows up on it.

But the best part of the day was when Jesse and vendor Jake Ashford came back after seeing an early screening of "The Pursuit of Happiness" (The Will Smith movie about a homeless man and his son that is due out in theaters next Friday.) Both of them came back raving about the movie and saying how realistic and touching it was. In fact both of these grown men admitted to crying during the movie. And then Jake called his teenage son and talked briefly but nevertheless, started getting teary-eyed.

I love the vendors!! They are such great men and women with genunine hearts and real enthusiam. And I hope through the brief encounters readers have on the street with them, they get to see this truely human side as well....LAURA

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Good Bye August

So yesterday was August Mallory's going away party. For all that don't know, August is a vendor/writer/volunteer who has been with Street Sense from the start. He helped bring in some of our first vendors and was the first vendor to ever purchase papers from Street Sense. He has also been writing a fictional series called Marvin Hammerman since the the second issue. (Fortunately for us, he said he would continue it when he leaves DC.)

August has decided to pick up and move way across country to Seattle, Wash. for reasons that are still unclear. But he has his mind set and will be flying out tomorrow. So last night we had a little going away party for him in the Parish Hall of the church where we are located. To be honest the party was kind of thrown together in a couple weeks, but it turned out wonderfully with great food, lots of people and many memories (and inpersonations of August.) A great mix of people attended including vendors, volunteers and readers.

The main part of the evening consisted of people standing up in no particular order to say a little bit about August and what they like/remember most. There were quite a few, "Street Sense. $1. $1." inpersonations and many comments about August's reliability and, um, dry, sense of humor ("Boy, I'll tell ya.") And at the end of it all long time volunteer David Hammond "retired" August's number complete with a 3-foot tall badge with his photo. But the great surprise of the night was this acapella gospel trio that sung two songs for August. (Really the biggest surprise of that was that vendor Charles Nelson was the one who actually brought the group in.)

It was a great night and very heartwarming and enjoyable. It was great to see how many lives August has touched and effected. That's what Street Sense is all about: our vendors putting a face to homelessness and showing people that we are all the same inside and have the same hopes and dreams and common caring for others.

We will miss August greatly at the Street Sense office. From the beginning he has been Mr. Reliable and has been a great promoter of the paper as well. But his legacy will remain in his many had written signs around the office, his continued Marvin Hammerman story, and most importantly the empty space that is now left at the corner of Conn. Ave, and K streets near Farragut North.

If you have any memories of August, PLEASE share them. We would love to here how he has effected your life....LAURA

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I know this blog entry is super late and I know I have already broke my promise of writing on a consistent basis. But I will try my hardest now to do at least one (maybe two) entries a week, as I do in my personal journal. Its much more manageable then the overly ambitious 3 a week, I promised.

Anyway, onto the walkathon....

The Walkathon was Saturday Nov. 21, a huge event for our vendors giving them ample opportunity to sell papers, make money and promote Street Sense to an even wider audience. And like the past three walkathon's this one was very fun and very profitable. It might have been our best yet.

I got downtown 7:30 am and set up our distribution point at 7th and Indiana, NW. A fabulous location as it was near the Starbucks closest to the National Mall. Obeying orders we got from police last year, we decided to stay off the Mall this year and sell on the sides streets. And that worked just fine as floods of people were coming and going from the archives and gallery place metros and the parking garages all around them.

The first vendor to arrive was Wendell William and he brought a table. (I couldn't believe it!) but he excitedly set it up at the corner of 7th and Penn. I was sure the police were going to yell at him to put it away but fortunately that never happened. About a dozen other vendors came to pick up papers and in total we distributed about 1,300 paper that day, not counting what vendors brought along with them....not too shabby, I must say, especially when all the vendors I talked to reported making $100 or more that morning.

Me and Jesse stayed at the Starbucks locale all morning handing out papers and promoting the paper with our banner and jesse's yelling. "Street Sense. All the news the Post doesn't cover" "Street Sense. Stories about housing, shelters and health care" one point in time I even think he said something about porn but he claims he said poetry. And I did a few Street Sense cheers..."Give me an S. Give me an E...." And vendor Anthony crawford also sold papers nearby and made some great money.

We even got to talk to Anthony Williams and get our picture with him. (He got a paper but did not looked too thrilled about all the photos.) We also met a few loyal subscribers and donors who also stopped by to say hi.

So it was a great day for a walkathon and for selling Street Sense and I had much fun and the vendors did as well.

And to top it all off after the walkathon me Jesse and a few other went back to the office to unload our new used office furniture compliments of Lattice Group (our website hosting group). Which has since been set up and makes our office look far more professional then it ever has.

So a good day for Street Sense indeed.....LAURA

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Three Year Anniversary

So today marks the third birthday of Street Sense. On Nov. 15, 2003, the first issue of Street Sense hit the streets of DC. I won't bore you by regurgitating what my letter to readers in this current issue (though, do read it if you get a copy) but I do want to reminisce a bit about the first day to remind people of how far we have come.

Street Sense's first issue had a print run of 5,000 (this month we printed 13,500) and that was probably way too much. I remember standing outside of the National Coalition for the Homeless's office building (where we were originally headquartered) on a misty morning with the other co-founder Ted Henson anxiously awaiting vendors to come and pick up papers. I had even brought bagel and coffee to welcome them. We were so geared up because the Washington Times had run a front page article about us. And all that showed up in the first hour was August Mallory (who had helped us with starting the paper and recruiting vendors).

And following August, probably another 5 vendors showed up. It was a bit disappointed as me and Ted and many other volunteers had put most of our time during the past two months into developing and creating the paper (and many of our friends and family helped to financially support the first printing), but we did not give up. Ted and the Fred Anderson (who was our volunteer vendor coordinator) went to shelters and helped to recruit vendors. A few of our first vendors include Phillip Howard, James Davis, Allen Jones, Conrad Cheek Jr. and Bobby Buggs. In the next few weeks we had about 10 vendors and I think we sold about 3500 papers (I cannot remember exactly and we kept terrible records back then.) that is the beginning of Street Sense....

Now we have a 43 active vendors -- 18 of them came in today to buy papers -- and the numbers will only be growing as our new vendor manager Jesse Smith Jr. just joined us, doubling the Street Sense staff, which I only joined a year ago. (For the first two years it was all volunteer run.)

Our office is still very chaotic and some would say disorganized by its 100 times better than what it once was. Its funny to think of our live and learn process and neither ted nor I had ever run a street paper before. Simply things like setting office hours, specific times for training, putting the papers in a room far away from the office and having limits on papers on credit were implemented early on and vastly improved our operations.

I also look back now at the layout and stories from our first couple issues and ask myself "what were we thinking?" as they look amature compared to our most recent issues. But I remember that we had to start somewhere and that this whole Street Sense thing is really and evolution. And three years from now I will probably look back at the current issue and say the same thing. So change is good, but hopefully those at street sense will never forget its beginnings.

I could reminisce for hours about the early days of Street Sense but I will end here (for now). However, I really welcome comments from any long time readers and volunteers about their first impressions and the develop of the vendors, the paper and the organization.

Happy Anniversary Street Sense,

Laura Thompson Osuri
Executive Director

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Office Begins

So this is the start of "The Office Street Sense Style."

This blog is meant to kind of be a journal of the amusing, chaotic and exciting place that is the Street Sense Office. Either myself or our new vendor manager Jesse Smith will be writing entries on a regularly (at least three times a week) basis.

And pretty much everything goes when it comes to what to expect from these entries (Except disclosing the private information of our vendors and volunteers, of course.) so its worth checking on in on a regular basis. Not only will the antics of our office provide a great distraction to your own work day, but they will also give you a glimpse of who the vendors, volunteers and staff of Street Sense really are.

In the last week alone there have been some great highlights. For example on Friday vendor Chris Sellman was downloading wacky music onto one of our newly donated laptops (which he just purchased Monday) and me, Chris, Jesse (the new vendor manager), and Peter (the intern) had a brief seated dance party has he cranked up "Barbie Girl."

And yesterday the vendors were chattier than ever as me and volunteer Marian Wiseman were intently trying to edit the final layout of the paper. So in between reading stories, we heard about Cliff Carle's days of fooling around in high school and Chris Sellman's many musings about his ex-wife. And then there was vendor Allen Jones who trying to sell Marian on some new gardening device he recently read about, and trying to explain to me some new tennis racket he wants me to buy. (Allen is never at a lose for new ideas!)

Today was calmer, which was much appreciated as I had to get the paper up on the FTP site and to the printers by 3pm (three hours earlier than normal.) But the was the amusing distraction of Cliff Carle trying desperately to hit on Anne Marie (a pastor at the church of the epiphany) and her pastor friend) telling they the were "fine black women" and trying to impress them with his Bible knowledge.

So that is just a glimpse of things to come!

Enjoy reading on and comments and questions are also welcome,

Laura Thompson Osuri
Executive Director