by Dustee Hullinger
Cardboard. We usually throw it away.
Homeless people save it.
They often live in cardboard boxes because cardboard helps stop the cold wind. They place cardboard over city steam grates, seeking a little warmth, privacy, and perhaps even some security.
I thought I knew all about cardboard. We use bits and pieces of it in many of our arts and craft sessions. But that was before I met Reynard over 20 years ago. You see, Reynard lived in a cardboard box. He called it his “cardboard condo”. “Don’t get too big a box,” he told me. “Get one that’s real snug; it’ll hold your body heat just right.”
But it was still cardboard. Stuff we usually throw away. An item prized only by people who find themselves at the bottom of today’s inner city residents – today’s “throwaway people.”
Reynard found his way into one of our classes. We opened our arms wide to him, without question or judgment. You could see the desperation in his eyes and the enormous need for a caring touch. Sitting at our table, drawing a picture or assembling a simple trinket, Reynard allowed the warmth of our friendship to gradually penetrate his lonely shell.
Weeks turned into months and casual friendships evolved into nurturing relationships. As his skills grew, Reynard became a prized volunteer at Gifted Hands where he was able to relate to so many of the “throw-away” people we love and serve.
And it wasn’t long before Reynard reached a point where he was ready to return home to the out-of-state family from where he had drifted and lost contact. We made sure he had the resources to make this next transition and celebrated with him as he embarked on that long journey home. We assumed we would never see him again.
But 20 years later, my husband and I were walking down the street in the French Quarter in New Orleans. We heard a man shouting after us. “Dustee, Ms. Dustee . . . it’s Reynard!”
How thrilled we were! Here was Reynard working as a waiter in a French Quarter restaurant. He brought us in and introduced us to his co-workers and excitedly exclaimed to everyone about his life in New York and how those early arts and craft classes and the warmth of caring friendships helped him discard the heartache and despair of years past.
We had dinner with him. Embracing our long-lost friend, we celebrated the miracle of a changed life.
Sociologists call them “the disenfranchised.” Society calls them “homeless” or even “lost.” At best they are called “marginalized.” But at Gifted Hands we call them “our own.” Sometimes they live on the streets. Often they’re in shelters or HIV/AIDS hospices or senior citizen centers.
But wherever they are, at Gifted Hands we find that gestures of love can be the catalysts for helping people find new self-esteem and hope for the future. Yes, it often begins with a simple craft, maybe a drawing or a small pendant. But that initial encounter of creativity leads to new friendships and renewed self-esteem. A “throwaway life” becomes something meaningful with a purpose.
The journey with Reynard started 20 years ago. But new encounters, new friendships, new beginnings on life’s journey are starting every day at Gifted Hands.
It's a privilege to share this story, this ministry, this dear friend with you. I've had the privilege of serving alongside Dustee in many venues in the US and in South Africa. (Some of you may remember her from our Outstretched Arms Woven Weekend in Newark, Ohio.) She is the real deal and cares deeply for the needs of people. Her ministry is changing lives. I've added a link below if you are interested in partnering with her to meet the needs of the helpless and hopeless...and yes, even the homeless.
Merry Christmas with love,
Merry Christmas with love,
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