Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Brother Can You Spare a Dime



I’ve never been great with money.

And I don’t mean that in the conventional sense (cents?) of spending too much or making bad investments. I mean that, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been bad with money.

I was the kid in 3rd grade losing points on a quiz cause I forgot to include the “$” in front of the answer. The kid who’d blow his whole allowance on “Sour Cry Babies”, forgetting that eating any more than four leaves your mouth painfully unable to eat the remaining twenty. And the kid whose last move in Monopoly was not with the die, but rather with a middle finger and vow to “never play this f$%@ing game ever again”.

So it should be no surprise that, in light of these examples, I’m not very good at talking about money. And even worse than talking about money, I’m infinitely worse at asking for money. But unfortunately in this case, it cannot be avoided.

So here goes my best attempt to talk about money, without talking about money.

To get the basics out of the way, in three weeks four of my friends and I will be competing in a five person relay event. Each of us will take a turn running 16.8 miles, as a team covering a combined distance of 84 miles. The race is called the 20in24, and it is both organized and benefits Back on My Feet Philadelphia, a program that seeks to engage those experiencing homelessness through running. A program I’ve been lucky enough to have been a part of for the last three and a half years.

Which is why, before I ask you for money, I want to talk to you a little bit about where that money goes, though not exactly in the way you might imagine.

Cause I feel like this is the part where the salesman begins to breakdown dollars and cents. This is where he or she would start to tell you that X amount of money goes directly to supply Y for the program. And I could do that. I could tell that you  $50 is enough to buy one member winter running gear, a necessary component when you run at 5:30am in January and February. I could tell you that $1,800 is enough to put a member through the entire program, their shoes, their grant money, and everything else that falls in between. 

I could do all of that, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t begin to tell the whole story of what these donations really buy.

Cause the whole story is a story that isn’t so easy to tell. It’s a story that doesn’t always add up.

Cause, from my experience, when it comes to Back on My Feet Philadelphia, the X we give very rarely equals the Y. Somehow, the monetary value of what we spend very rarely equals the value once it is given.

A value that’s much harder to define.

Cause $100 dollars can buy a couch, but it also buys a place to invite your friends to sit. Ten dollars can buy a shirt, but it also buys the name of a team that sits upon your chest. Two dollars can buy a bus ride, but it also buys a trip away from the front steps of a shelter. And five dollars can buy a “50 Mile Medal”, but it also buys something to wear around your neck.

And these values are much harder to define.

Cause now we’re not talking about money.

We’re talking about the dignity that comes with having a place to sit down, a place that’s yours and no one elses, a place where you decide who is welcome, and a place where you can sit with the freedom of what to do next.

We’re talking about the sense of belonging that comes from being on a team. A name on your chest that says you are a part of something bigger, that you are not alone. That you are a member of a family. 

We’re talking about the freedom of a bus ride, a ride that can take you anywhere you want to go. A ride that means you are no longer bound to a shelter, or city blocks that held you back before. A ride that cuts the chains that tethered you to old ideas of where you were destined to stay. 

And we’re talking about the pride that comes with being able to wear your accomplishments around your neck. To being able to walk around with your head held high, and saying this is me, and this is what I’ve done. 

We’re talking about a man named Steve, who received his “50 Mile Medal” in March, and has worn it beneath his coat, around his neck for every single run since.

Now you tell me, you tell Steve was that $5 dollar medal is really worth.

So here is where I ask for money… sortive.

Because, in truth, I can’t ask for money to buy these gifts. I can’t ask you to donate, because these gifts, the pride, the freedom, the belonging, and the dignity, are not things that can be purchased, or even given. They are things that these men and women must make for themselves, an undertaking that, if you know anything about homelessness, is by no means guaranteed. 

So instead of asking only for your money, I’m asking also for your faith.

I’m asking you to donate your money, not simply for the reality of what it will buy, but for the hopes of what it may become. I’m asking you to donate because you believe, not only in the potential of these men and women, but because you believe that such longshots are worth believing in. 

And I’m asking you to donate, to teach someone else the lesson Back on My Feet Philadelphia has taught me, that five dollars doesn’t seem like much when it’s folded up in your hand. But when it’s a medal, attached to ribbon around a man’s neck… five dollars is enough to change the world. 


Thank you.

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