Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Better Than an Oscar!

Getting people to leave their homes on the opening night of the much-awaited fall television season is no easy task, especially to see a documentary about women and children without homes. But close to 300 people came from near and far to watch on the edge, our documentary film in the Naperville Independent Film Festival screened Monday, 9/19, at the venerable Ogden 6 Theater.
Watching the crowd amass was exciting, especially because it was a mixture of people I knew from my days prior to my running the PADS shelter at Hesed House and a considerable slew of folks who responded to Bridge Community’s urging for people to see our award-winning documentary. Having screened our year-old film countless times, I could judge the audience’s engagement by their chuckles, their silence, and their palpable angst as the 7 courageous women in this film shared their heart-wrenching stories of traversing in and out of homelessness.

The opportunity to participate in Naperville's festival was an unplanned opportunity—Glessna and Edmond Coisson attended our HEAR US Inc. tribute to Mary Lou Cowlishaw last October at North Central College. The tribute included the premiere screening of on the edge and resulted in the Coisson’s inviting our film’s director, Laura Vazquez, associate professor of communication at Northern Illinois University, to the festival.

One key reason for the record crowd at the delightfully friendly and refurbished Ogden 6 theater was the push by Bridge Communities to have their current and prospective volunteers and supporters attend prior to their ambitious “Sleep Out Saturday” this year set for Nov. 5th. Bridge leaders rightly figure if more people understand homelessness from homeless families' point of view, compassion and action will ensue.

With what seems to be a growing discord about the need to help families and individuals struggling for survival, the crowd at this film was on the far opposite end of the spectrum. My challenge urging them to participate in a “compassion epidemic” brought cheers instead of jeers. This positive energy gives a huge boost to those of us engaged in helping stave off the devastation of homelessness. My Naperville-based nonprofit organization, HEAR US Inc., continues to give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth through projects like on the edge.

Little did I know that in November 2005 when I left the Naperville border heading out on my unconventional sojourn—to chronicle faces and voices of homeless kids from across the nation for My Own Four Walls—that I’d be heading out for my 7th cross-country trip and our country would be in an economic quagmire that makes previous times of trouble pale. With the child poverty rate at a record high 22%, dark clouds loom on the horizon, especially for homeless families with toddlers, the subject of our new film, Littlest Nomads (in production).

My journey away from DuPage County begins Monday. Starting tomorrow I’ll be sporting new signage on my road-weary motorhome/office thanks to a generous collaboration with Design Resource Center and FastSigns, both Naperville businesses with a track record of benevolence. I’ll be venturing out to share a message of painful reality—soaring family homelessness at a time of conflicting political will—but I will recall the surge of compassion from the crowd that stepped from their comfort zones and comfortable homes to learn from these seven experts on homelessness. It’s better than an Oscar!

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