From Terry Kempfert:
In early December I had the privilege of visiting People Serving People – a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis who partners with Hennepin County to provide food, lodging and services to people in transition. It was an amazing visit! Our purpose was to photograph and interview children and make them their very own storybook.
Many of these children haven’t even seen photos of themselves, let alone have a book to read. Melissa Tomas, a Heritage Maker’s consultant in Blaine, Minnesota started this program last summer. Here is her story:
“For the last two summers I have tried to find a way to get my children involved in helping others via charity work of some sort. Two years ago I called a local homeless shelter and learned about their tutoring program. The hours were strictly defined and I could only bring two out of my three children because of age restrictions. So we were unable to do that effort. I was searching for a location, and a connection…
Last April, Jon Bon Jovi came to sing in our area and while he was here he visited a shelter called “People Serving People.” On the tour of the shelter Jon stated that it was the best shelter he’d ever seen, better than any other city in the US. I saw the video that PSP made of his visit and I thought….if it’s the best in the US, it must be the best in Minneapolis. So I called to schedule myself on their next open tour.
Days before visiting I was still trying to figure out what gifts I had to offer to them. I knew there had to be something special I could do. Something I could start and then involve our kids once summer started. I went to bed with this on my mind….the next morning I woke up with Candy May’s “Tucked In” book on my mind. And just like that I thought…I KNOW what our books can do for children with a home and a secure family. Think of what our books could do for a child without a secure family or home. Amazing! Sometimes it just takes one person believing in another to make a difference. What if we told these kids how special they are, we encouraged them to dream, and to reach those dreams?
So I went on the tour and while there I learned some startling statistics that further solidified my direction. I learned that homeless children are often without any photos. Even if they have a camera, they can’t afford to develop film. Nor do they have a computer to store digital files, or a home with internet. They have no scrapbooks, no links to their family…no heritage. I also learned that there is a serious shortage of books in the shelters. No wonder kids are often a full grade level behind. The average ratio in the inner cities for children and books is: 300 kids per 1 book. Inner city daycares, preschools and shelters with NO books for small children. I just didn’t realize. 60% of the population at People Serving People is children.
I shared my ideas with the contacts at People Serving People and they LOVED it. One of the administrators put her hand on my arm and said, “these kids leave here clutching a ducky board book. What are they going to do when given a book of their very own with their own photos and name in it? What you are doing for these kids is priceless.” I cried. Within 4 days I was back with a photographer along and we made Danyla’s book using the “tucked in” book…but I changed the poem to suit these kids.”
So on November 30th, my friend Jonell and I drove to the shelter and met several other Heritage Makers’ Consultants and two photographers to visit the kids. Our contact gave us a quick tour and told us things about the shelter. They provide “3 Hot and a Cot” to everyone they can accommodate. Minneapolis School Buses pick kids up there to take them to they home districts so their education is interrupted as little as possible. They serve 1000 meals every day and use volunteers to help them. They have 200+ kids there on any given day and provide day care facilities so the parents can work at finding a job. They have a small computer lab available for online applications. 300 – 400 people sleep there every night. They need every kind of donation, from food to toiletries to career clothing (NOT 80’s retro) so people can have something nice to wear for a job interview. (Even jewelry, scarves, make-up) and books – books for their little library. They let kids borrow books and keep them if they like so they always need more.
Then we got to meet the children. Jonell, Lisa, Barb and I were introduced to the “toddler room”. The kids were outside playing, so we started there. We asked them their names and what they liked to do – and made notes of what they were wearing and some identifying things so we could sort our photos out later.
We got photos of them playing and looking at a book and cuddling a toy.
If their parent was available and willing, we would photograph them with their child.
I fell in love with my little Kenye who was outside but very sleepy. She would be the subject of my first book.
We stayed for an hour and promised to be back. We got amazing photos – thanks to Lisa Hughes who is also a Heritage Maker’s consultant.
Lisa uploaded them into a special “Tucked In Minnesota” account that Heritage Makers set up for us, and we worked on our projects. Once they are published, we will head back to PSP and give them to our families. We want them to know how very special they are and that they can achieve anything they want to in this world. We wish them well.