Five young men sat across the table in the quiet cafeteria, telling me about their travails on the street. All had fallen prey to drugs and gangs. Most had spent time in jail. Now freed, they are eager to start their lives over, on a good path…and this place, Neighborhood House, is their ticket out.

Yesterday I spent the day in Saginaw, hearing stories I’d only read about in newspapers and magazines, meeting people in the flesh with big hearts and earnest eyes. I realized how perilous our paths can be – born into one family or another, our chances at success are carved for us almost at birth.

At the end of the day, these young men gathered to welcome van-loads of precious children, brought to “The Neib” after school for a hot meal, homework help and camaraderie in the gym – an attempt to steer their paths away from danger. These young men are their role models, their mentors, and by giving back, the young men hope to blaze a new path in a new direction.

The neighborhood around Neighborhood House, run by Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, a Your People client, is clean and sparse, with empty lots and houses that have stood witness for many, many years. Nearby, a new development of unsubsidized three-bedroom family homes are occupied and teeming with new life. Miss Yvonne, the director of Neighborhood House, provides a place to go and loving guidance to young people who she believes can do and be anything.

How lucky am I that this is part of my daily work?

And how lucky am I that I was born into a different family and community, without the immense challenges that Daniel and MC and Apollo and Ronnie face? Or sweet young Veronica and Anaya, in their pink heart-decorated clothing and eager smiles?

As I drove away late in the day, I was grateful in a way I never had been for my upbringing. I never had to worry about…anything. My parents gave me everything and even without the everything part, I still had everything.

Of course, I never really knew it until faced with a different kind of childhood, like I saw yesterday.

My parents guided me to study and become educated. It was never a question that I would go to college; and it was never a question that I’d have to scrounge up money to pay for it.

All the obstacles and barriers that many Americans face were removed before I knew they existed. How lucky. How fortunate. How spoiled.

The immense gratitude that I have for the path I was put on from birth is indescribable. We are mere miles apart but worlds different – and yet, at the core, we are exactly the same.

Hearts beating, dreams spinning in vibrant colors, passion and love and desire to be loved all the same. 

That’s the thing: we live in a family of human beings, of souls that are identical in makeup and ability, and yet but for the grace of God, one of us walks through so many open doors and another flinches at the slamming of every door in his face.

I was embarrassed that I did not know so many employers won’t hire someone with a felony on their record. These earnest young men – who will give them a chance? Don’t they deserve everything I’ve had the opportunity for, too?

Of course they do.

Where is the humanity in humanity? The coming-together of hearts and minds, to make sure all doors are open in all directions, like Abraham’s tent?

My twentysomething idealistic zeal reared its ugly head yesterday because I have always believed – and I still do today – that all people deserve chances. We all make mistakes, but our communities of origin determine whether they brand us for life or can be neatly tucked away in obscurity so no one else sees.

Today, I walk into my daily work with new eyes. I’ve always been dedicated to a path of making the world better, a higher purpose driving my work. Even moreso now. If I can do anything to make a difference for people who need it, you better believe I will make that top priority.

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