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