Matt is the man who started it all. He’s the first one to grab my heart and help me to sacrifice myself for others. The first day we met, he explained that he is from Kentucky and moved here to Southern California to pursue a musical career. Somewhere along the line his plans failed to live up to his expectations and he now finds himself living on our streets.
Matt’s favorite genre of music is eclectic rock and he loves the piano. With the sale of his portrait I purchased him a mini piano and he practices frequently at night when he’s alone. I recognize that it’s the creative release he needs. A few days ago, I ran into him and he was more excited than I’ve ever seen him before. He said, “I finally figured out what I want to do with my money. I’d love some studio time so I can write a song.” Matt has used some of the proceeds from his sold piece to begin recording a song in a local Santa Ana studio. I’ve witnessed his love for music breathe life into a man whom seemed to have given up.
Cindy found herself homeless and alone after her friend died unexpectedly from a brain tumor. Together they were living out of their vehicle, and one strange morning her friend didn't wake up. Doctors informed her he suffered from a brain tumor. In this moment she was alone. Without safety, and protection, Cindy has molded herself into a smart proactive woman that takes no risk in exposing herself to the dangers of the streets. She feels her systematic sleeping habits and self-inflicted curfew save her life daily.
Cindy also suffers from emphysema. Behind her colorful personality, is a raspy voice and witty personality ready to give you the toughest forms of love. She dreams of collecting a social security check in the next few months to finally have a comfortable place to lay her head at night with her friend Pam.
Cindy was fortunate enough to find a room in a home to sleep. She used her proceeds from her painting to pay for rent for as long as she could before all the tenants were evicted and the home was sold. She's currently back sleeping around Main and 1st St in Santa Ana. During the day you can find Cindy across from Downtown Santa Ana's fire station holding her cardboard sign trying to make enough money for her daily cup of coffee at McDonald's and chocolate ice cream before bed.
"Only real friends allow you to be mad at them"
A former teacher, police officer, and florist, you can usually find Daryl sitting at the bus stop on Main and 1st waving and giving accolades to the owners of cars with "cool" rims. He also greets every bus driver by name and has been helping the elderly on the bus regardless of his own physical condition. The customized walker he gets around with has become his signature due to the roller blades he retrofitted to its front wheels. His creativity doesn't end there; he also wears a bike helmet to protect himself from his frequent seizures that ground him. Darryl knows God is his friend. He explains, "I know because I get mad at him, and only your real friends allow you to be mad at them."
Darryl has around 50 seizures per year and is often hard to pin down. He sleeps across the street from the fire station so that he can be rushed to the ER when someone calls in result of a seizure. I often have a hard time finding Darryl because of this. Please pray unceasingly that he is safe and in good health.
“God saved my life by sending me to jail”
Pam has experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows in her life. A previous owner of five businesses and the first woman on the Colorado Ski Patrol, Pam's life was more than she could hope for. Somewhere amidst the success, Pam and her husband fell victim to the abuse of heroin and she landed in jail on possession charges. While in jail, Pam's husband passed away from an overdose. Pam feels if she were a free woman, the addiction would have gotten the best of her as well. She tells a story of a moment she recalls vividly when everything changed. While sitting in her cell with an appeal for her case in one hand, and a bag of heroin in the other, Pam realized she needed to make a life choice. In one hand she held freedom, and in the other, addiction and maybe death. In this moment the sunset flooded her room with light and she lost control of her nerves and began vomiting. She proceeded to flush the heroin and recounts the moment as a time where God showed up to help her make the most important decision of her life.
“My test will soon become my testimony ”
I met Shannon a few months ago and he made it quite clear that it's possible to turn your life around after living on the streets. Shannon has crested the mountain of obstacles that have kept him away from employment and a place of residence. He now resides in a sober living home called Broadway House where he continually strives for sobriety and employment. He's great with his hands and is studying to reinstate his welding certificate. He also sticks close to church and allows God to continue to write his story of determination and willingness to succeed. Shannon's test will soon become his testimony.
“There's only 2 rules in life. 1. Don't sweat the small stuff. 2. It's all small stuff”
Over twenty years ago James received a knock at his door from a police offer. He opened and the officer said, "I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is you'll never have to pay child support, and the bad news is your wife and son died in a car accident."
Words destroyed James' life. A military veteran wounded in battle, James' emotional state spiraled out of control. He lost control of what he should be living for and consequently found himself experiencing homelessness. The only love he has left is his dog Charlie and his friend John. James suffered a severe bacterial infection of the intestines. John and I visited him multiple times in the hospital and prayed for his recovery. He was discharged from the hospital and we are actively trying to find him.
“Do you want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans...”
I met James "Bo" McDonald through my friend John at the Santa Ana train station. We spoke briefly and in our conversation we quickly discovered we share a passion for art. Bo considers himself an artist in every aspect of his life. He creates art in fashion, music, sketching, spoken word, filmmaking, and poetry. As a result, the above painting is the first collaborative portrait in the Faces of Santa Ana collection. The background is Bo's creation. Bo suffers from schizophrenia and it was essential that he participate in order to capture the "thoughts and confusion" he commonly describes going on in his head. Together, his thoughts and confusion ultimately influenced the overall style of the painting for the both of us.
Bo always dreamed of the day he can visit his home in St. Louis and see his ten year old daughter Destiny again. In addition to the struggles that living on the street provide, his heart constantly aches for a longing to be a father again. After the sale of his painting, we used the proceeds to send Bo to St. Louis to visit his family and daughter. He smiles a lot when describing time spent with her and recounts the moments they fell asleep watching movies. She gives him peace amidst the chaos in his life. He cherishes those conversations.
In 2013, John's wife passed away. He met her when they were both residents in a homeless shelter and they both turned their lives around and found Jesus together. The passing of his wife left him hopeless and now he finds himself experiencing hopelessness again. John regularly displays generosity towards all his neighbors and spends much of his time, talents, and treasure helping others however he can. He spent the last few years alongside his buddy James who has continually become ill. After a visit to the hospital for a bacterial infection, his friend James was discharged and we haven't seen him since. John longs for the day he will see James again.
John now attends church with me every Sunday and I have seen a lasting change in his heart. When he first viewed his painting, he was shocked by how alive the piece portrayed him. "This is how my sister must see me", he explained. John is now finally starting to see how much life he still has left within himself.
River & Rebekah
“John 4:7 Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God”
Hello!!! Our names are River & Rebekah. We have two four legged daughters. Their names are Indicia & Azio. We are now homeless for the second time. We used to work, and had really good jobs. My husband River worked in the oil field, as the motor man/chain hand. He really loved doing this kind of work. One day, he took a slip & fall. That's when his job ended and he became disabled. I used to work in customer service for 10 plus years. I was often told by employers that I was the best agent they had. On one job in Tulsa, OK I worked with over 2,000 employees. During that time I saw over 1,500 employees come & go. However, I was chosen to stay on. Then my eyes began to fail me. I have optical nerve damage, and a doctor informed me I will eventually go completely blind. Needless to say, this has caused me to not be able to work in my profession any longer.
Since we've become homeless, our health has worsened. We collect disability checks but the high cost of living has not been helpful in getting back on our feet. One day I was looking for homeless resource help via Facebook when I found Faces of Santa Ana. I reached out for help on behalf of both my husband and I. Brian Peterson painted our portrait & put it up for sale. We went from "hopeless to hopeful". Buyers named Lisa & Brian came forth & purchased our painting and we developed a personal relationship with them. Lisa describes the experience as a "divine appointment." The entire experience is a divine appointment created by God. It is Love, for God is Love & God's name is Love. Every one of us has our roles, in this life!
We all fit together perfectly. God is beautiful & he created union & family. It is perfect. God created our Faces of Santa Ana family. We know what true genuine love is, the kind of love Jesus gave us, and it is due to Brian Peterson painting this picture of our family. Through his love, we now have hope. We now have dreams. We now have love and lasting friendships. Faces of Santa Ana has changed us, for the better. It has impacted our lives on a daily basis. We will always keep the love we have received in our hearts, and we will continue to be a part of Faces of Santa Ana family forevermore. The beautiful Godly children we have met through FoSA will forever be in our hearts & in our minds, long after we have gone from this world. Thank you, God, for our Faces of Santa Ana family.
On July 27th, Will and Veronica's life changed forever. They found out their landlord wasn't paying the mortgage with the rent she was receiving. In addition, after being evicted, their house was seized and the landlord kept all of their belongings and they were on the streets with nothing. They won their court case and are now fighting for their settlement, but their landlord has no assets to pay her dues. I pray one day they replace their physical items, but a settlement can never fix the emotional toll they've sustained.
Will, Veronica, and their three dogs now live in a Chevy van with their small family. Veronica's lupus and Will's diabetes complicate things even further. Years ago, Veronica's diagnosis left her paralyzed and doctors speculated she'd live no longer that six months. Instilled in her now isa fight to succeed. She looks at life different now after being so close to deaths door. Together, this family continues to fight an uphill battle. I ask that you all welcome them to the Faces of Santa Ana family.
“I'd love to see the city now the wall is down”
Ben is a military veteran that spent a few years in Berlin in the late 1970's. In meeting Ben for the first time, he explained how much he loved the city of Berlin despite the fact that there was a war going on during his visit. He dreams of seeing Berlin again since the wall was removed after the war.
Ben's daily routine involves sitting at Starbucks on 4th and Broadway every morning. He enjoys a warm cup of coffee and reading the OC Register newspaper. After his morning routine, Ben spends the rest of the day attempting to make money for daily survival. He also tries to support a homeless friend who he fears is falling victim to heavy addiction. Ben explains that it pains him to watch street drugs of Santa Ana destroy her life. Ben tells me he prays for her every morning and night. He hopes one day his persistence in prayer will pay off.
“I used my hands for work, now I can't use my hands”
I met Laura through my friend Ben whom I painted earlier. Ben does his best to look out for Laura and I have found she has many people rooting for her success. As I revealed her painting in Santa Ana's Civic Center, many residents gathered to express their concerns. They said things like, "Laura's too good to be here. She has got to get out!" Laura has great friends in Santa Ana, but the reality of a woman living without a home is a daunting challenge for her daily. Her husband was there with her for some time before getting arrested for outstanding warrants.
Laura spent her childhood moving around with her family due to her father's occupation. She explained that she never quite felt at home and was forced to adapt to many different environments and friends groups. Her hands were her primary source of income while working as an IT specialist for years. "I used to be able to type 100 words per minute", she explained. Laura has a crippling disease in her hands and now struggles with her motor skills in her fingers. She also has a daughter who she thinks of often. They had a falling out and speak periodically, but Laura longs for a healthy relationship with her. My prayer through Faces of Santa Ana is help restore the broken relationships in her life.
“When I grow up, I want to be President of the United States.” - Henry Provence
Joe and Kimberly Provence have five children. Henry, Haiden, Harrison, Hailey Jane and Holley. Kimberly is the daughter of Rebekah, whom I also painted prior. Kimberly and Joe recently moved to Santa Ana and are living out of their RV. After some family money disputes and relational problems, Kim and Joe decided to relocate closer to Kim's mother.
Joe has had a life full of trials including incarceration, substance abuse, and even being hit by a car. Joe still suffers from injuries from his accident and has medical issues with his jaw that never healed correctly after surgery. He's currently seeking disability.
Together, Joe and Kim do an amazing job as parents raising their children despite not having a home. The five kids light up every room they walk into with smiles, polite manners and loving personalities. The oldest Henry, dreams of becoming the President of the United States. Their children have just started school in Fountain Valley and Kim and Joe are now taking the time during the day to search for work and apply for government benefits. They stick close to the Faces of Santa Ana family and have recently had many encounters with God that have instilled a hopeful faith for the future.
“Something about reading this book makes the start of my day better”
Seven years ago ReRun left Philly and relocated to California. He explained he was running from who he had become in his hometown. "They call me Gritty. You would not have wanted to know Gritty, he wasn't a good person", ReRun explained. He arrived in California and became a door to door salesman. An altercation with his boss left him in a homeless situation with no pay or a place to call home. "My family back at home doesn't know the new me, they still know me as Gritty. They haven't met ReRun".
ReRun, born Shawn, got his new nickname when he checked into Charlie Street detox after getting fired from his job. ReRun is the new person who's striving to be better. The person not defined by his past, but the guy who's always looking ahead with a smile. He finished his time there and moved to Broadway House in Santa Ana, where he says he became an expert on all things AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Despite his claim he still struggles with sobriety. His time in Broadway house ended when he couldn't find work or sobriety and he now lives in our streets. He's picked up some small jobs like landscaping here and there, but doesn't see a permanent path for his sobriety and housing at the moment.
ReRun has six children. Five in Philadelphia, and one in Missouri. He sometimes meets us at the park for bible study in the morning despite the fact that he is Muslim. He loves reading the bible out loud and says, "something about reading this book makes the start of my day better".
Meet Bahati. Her name means "lucky" in Swahili. Originally from Tanzania, her father sent her to America because she was a troubled teen back in Africa. She went to high school and college here in numerous states on the west coast and became a victim of human trafficking at a young age. "Human trafficking is very real, and it's still going on today", she explained. My heart sank for her. As she began sharing more about her story and family, her demeanor changed. After first seeming irritated by me, more joy began to flow for her as she discussed the love she has for her mother. "My siblings in Tanzania tell me my mother prays for me every single day. My mother and I don't speak much because she becomes depressed when she hears how I am doing. She locks herself in her room and cries for days." Bahati dreams of visiting her mother in Tanzania with the proceeds from her sold portrait. Five years ago her green card issues were cleared and she feels the Lord is leading her back home to visit. I'm so thankful for her testimony. Welcome to Faces of Santa Ana, Bahati!
“It's a hard life, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy”
Kimberly Sondoval has lived in Santa Ana's Civic Center for over 15 years. She was born in Fullerton and adopted as a young child, and spent her childhood years living in Huntington Beach. "Everything was normal until one decision changed my life forever," she said regretfully. This one decision turned into a life of imprisonment and addiction. Behind this dark resume, I know the real Kimberly. I know the Kimberly with the big blue hopeful eyes that tear up as she pleads for a solution or a way out of the Civic Center. Her addiction started at 16 years old and for the last year, God's been moving in her heart to change. Kimberly talks a lot about the fears of living in "normal" society. "Everything's changed now. I went shopping with Kathleen the other day and everything is electronic now." When I was there everything used to be manual", she remembered. This big change is hard for her to realize; especially without healthy community and friends believing in her. Where she sleeps outside, she also calls home. The familiarity, the neighbors and the community have become her life and it's all she knows. Unfortunately, that very same population makes staying clean very hard.
Day to day, Kimberly's happiness is manifested through her three dogs – Chico, Diamond and Little Bit. They are her everything, and a constant stream of overflowing love in a lie filled with hopelessness and darkness. They are the source of all her smiles. I believe in Kimberly. Her parole just ended in August and I feel that marks the beginning of change. If her portrait sells, Kimberly plans to use the money to buy a van to sleep in. She'd like to slowly put distance between the ones she's communed with for 15 years, to start a new life of sobriety, hope; and mental and spiritual health.
“Look up in the sky, and you'll see a crescent moon, and that will be me smiling at you.”
These were Crescent's words to all the followers of Faces of Santa Ana. He has such a kind, patient, and caring heart. It's especially evident in his story. Crescent was born in St. Louis but grew up in Chicago with his mother. She named him after the milk company, Crescent Milk. Things weren't working out for him in Chicago, so he temporarily moved with his mom to Sacramento. Around this time his mom became ill and he decided to stay on the West Coast to care for her as her health decreased. Due to her illness, eventually Crescent's mother was evicted from her home and the two of them became homeless. While on the streets, Crescent and his mother were cared for by a woman named Bahati (whom I previously painted.) This was the start of their relationship. Bahati promised Crescent's mother that she would take good care of him and move him away from Sacramento before she passed.
She quickly made plans to move to Santa Ana and landed in Civic Center two years ago. Since then, Crescent has built quite the reputation for being a faithful and caring heart of the Civic Center, completely devoted to his woman. However, their trails as a couple are amplified by their environment, lack of shelter, and financial stress. Crescent says, "If it wasn't for love, I probably wouldn't be here right now. I just wish we could live life like everybody else. Amen to God. Without my relationship and love for her, I don't know where I'd be."
Crescent's heart is proof of the power of love. When all else fails, when hope escapes you, when darkness prevails, love shines bright. "I keep God right here (puts hand over heart) every day, and he keeps me going!" Crescent hopes to use the proceeds from his painting to purchase a van for him and Bahati. He also hopes to hire a lawyer to begin Behati's process of seeing her children again.
“Why them and not me?”
"When I was 8 years old, a little girl threw a softball at the back of my head. I turned around and said "why did you do that?", she said "because you're not talking to me." Her name was Anita Jo and I married her. She's the only woman I've ever been with. Faces of Santa Ana, welcome Mike to the family. Fast forward to 49 years, Anita Jo and their daughter died in a head on collision on the 22 freeway not far from where we met today. A year ago, as he drove his semi home from Wisconsin, he got the call that changed his life forever. He now lives on the streets searching for friendship and love. Mike, a military vet having completed tours in Vietnam, Iraq and Pakistan, often asks himself, "why them and not me?" Mike held back tears as he explained how he is unsure what he's living for, having lost the people he loved most. He explained that he's sometimes mad at God, but God is also all he has left. Mike is curious about God's plan for his life. I see a bright future for him.
UPDATE: Biker Mike's portrait was revealed to him on January 14, 2017. He passed away six days later on January 20, 2017. His friends Don and Rob found him in his tent along Santa Ana's river bed. Our last conversation was special because for the first time I heard hope in Mike's spirit. I explained that an 11 year old boy was raising money to buy his painting and he couldn't believe his ears. "Wow, maybe God is real!", were some of the last words he spoke to me.
Sammy, the 11 year old boy interested in Mike's painting, sold Boba Tea to help raise funds for his painting. This journey has taught us a lot about how love moves in between the hearts of people. Sammy's dedication to support Mike changed Mike's whole outlook on life before suffering from a heart attack. Sammy was the only person that instilled hope in Mike's life. I'll never forget our last conversation with Mike. He was different. More alive. Losing Mike on this journey has reminded me about the fragility of life. Our tomorrow isn't promised to us. Nobody is guaranteed another day.
“What did you want to be growing up? ... A Girl!"
Forty years ago, Maggie was born a boy. She grew up within a dysfunctional family in Irvine, CA. Her parents eventually divorced when she was a small child, around the time she started feeling she should have been born a girl. As it pertains to her transition, Maggie explains that she kept it within herself for about 30 years. She finally came out and told her family when she was 35, and was soon exiled and left with no support system. "Coming out was the most emotional moment in my life", she explained. As Maggie became her new person, she lost everything. "Imagine a life where you have zero support." Today, Maggie has regained a support system and community at the LGBT Center on 4th in Downtown Santa Ana. Every Tuesday she spends time with Ray, a volunteer at the community center. He is considered a dear friend to Maggie. Despite her past, Maggie finds joy and laughter in the little things. She vows to "Let the past be the past" so that she's free to find happiness in things like the word "fart" and time spent with domesticated possums she's raised on the streets.
Maggie's two rules in life are, "Be nice to people", and "Get up just one more time when you fall." She hopes to have her transitional surgery this year and aims to become an advocate for the LGBT community. When I met Maggie, I knew she was going to stretch my creativity. She asked me to "barf colors", so that her painting was the most colorful piece I've ever done. As I began her piece, a strong connection starting building between me and her story. I found myself second-guessing many of my color choices and brush strokes as I aimed to capture her beauty. I quickly became frustrated, but breakthrough was around the corner. My heart then began to build empathy as I meditated on these feelings. I reasoned, Maggie must have felt this same frustration for the 30 years spent alone in her thoughts before coming out. It made my painting irritations seem minuscule at best. But I used it to connect with Maggie's emotions. The piece stretched me as an artist. Forever grateful for Maggie's heart and friendship.
“I believe your job in life is to learn about your soul and how to honor it.”
Michael, 76, moved from Salt Lake City 10 1/2 years ago. He taught elementary school for 30+ years and painted homes on the side before moving to California. Michael has two children, a son and a daughter in their 30's and 40's. He hasn't seen his family in over 10 years but has a small circle of friends here in Santa Ana. Michael believes he's experiencing homelessness as an assignment given from his Heavenly Father. Every morning Michael wakes up before the sun comes out, leaves the shelter, and walks a different path to a quiet place where he can write. He says, walking a different route restores the sense of adventure and acknowledges his inter child. This has been the routine for the last 10 years, in which he's written seven volumes focused on the messages that are embedded in everything that has been created. His work is called "The Tree of Life".
Michael's fascination with the world around him always makes for inspiring conversation. As he explains things learned over the last year, his right hand shakes uncontrollably. He explained, "The only time it stops shaking is when I begin to write. It looks like Parkinson's, but I have none of the pain associated with the disease." In writing, Michael finds his calling. "I believe your job in life is to learn about your soul and how to honor it." His book, The Tree of Life aims to explain to readers how to do just that. He writes about how our souls carry the wisdom to guide us in the way we were made to exist. As a result, homelessness is not accidental for Michael, but instead is a place where he's learned to see differently, and found time to record his thoughts. "I'm not supposed to have money, but my time here is almost done", he assured us. Life on teh streets has transformed him. We can honestly say we have never met anyone more grateful than Michael. Janice, Michael's friend of 10 years purchased his portrait. We pray the proceeds help further his mission of releasing his writings and aid in helping him weather the tough life on the streets.
“How did you know pink is my favorite color? I've loved pink since I was a little girl"
"I'm 44 years old. I have a 24-year old daughter and three beautiful granddaughters. They are the loves of my life. I want more than anything to reconnect with them and have our lives together again. Five years ago, my mom died in my arms and a few months later I became homeless and my entire life was turned upside down. My mom was young and she was my best friend. I unfortunately am still trying to get through the grief. God has brought me through some very beautiful times in my life and carried me through some of the worst. Life is hard, but I know that is all temporary and try hard to hold onto my faith and keep smiling. I love to read and write, crochet and recently discovered how much I love art! I try my best to help other people through the things I have already gone through. Sometimes it helps to just give someone a smile.
I feel the best when I am at church or when I am caring for someone else. I have suffered much trauma but I am a survivor! I love my daughter and granddaughters and I feel very blessed even though I am homeless right now. I have firm belief that things will get better! I love easily and deeply. I am a good friend and a good listener. Homeless is not who I am, just what I am until God brings me something more special.
Katya is a 10 year old girl living in a war torn village in Ukraine. Her village was 5,000 people now only has 500 remaining. Her town is close to the Russian border and has become victim to many violent attacks from their neighbors. Katya lives with her Mom, Grandmother, and brother. Her grandmother suffers extreme pain on a daily basis from shrapnel embedded in her body from a nearby explosion. As her family struggles to keep safe and to make ends meet, they are haunted by the decision of her father to go fight with the Russian army. Katya's father is fighting for the same side that has devastated her village. Despite the war torn landscape in Katya's village, sunflowers line the city as far as you can see. They are an image of hope to the people left in the small village.
Paul and Julie, pictured, are missionaries that travel to the Ukraine. They met Katya on their last trip and fell in love with her. I painted this picture to help them raise funds to relocate Katya's family out of harms way.
“I've been to the depths of Skid Row. All the stuff you hear in my songs...I've lived that crazy life.”
Clemmie Williams grew up in a frequently homeless, abusive family – and his life since then has been far from easy even on the hip-hop standards – but the beauty of Williams' tale is the success his struggles brought for him.
"Just a year ago, I was on a bus bench up in North Hollywood," Williams says. "I've been to the depths of Skid Row. All the stuff you hear in my songs, I've lived that crazy life. Now, I've lived in a van for the last year and it's been great. I go to the beach. I leave the doors open and write. It's so much better than the bust. I'm thankful for it and everything I have."
But the transient artist doesn't use his background as an excuse for any shortcomings he may have. Williams does odd jobs every so often just to pay for his records, which he then performs at shows and open mics all over Southern California. His new album, Washifornia (a combination of the two states he's called home over the years), is a sober toast to his past and a nod toward the positive future that he's actively creating for himself and wishing upon others.
"My goals are to get the message out, push the album to the limit, and put the money I get toward promoting the event or getting my van in better shape," Williams says.
“I believe that once upon a time Jason and I crossed paths. No coincidence that we meet again in a new city, in a new life.” - Lauren P.
Meet Jason. A 30-something year old modern day Renaissance Man who has just about every skill and talent you can imagine. He plays the trumpet, the piano, he writes music, he writes theatrical pieces, he fixes things, AND he loves to cook (his favorite meal is chicken parm). Jason's story is unique. He experienced homelessness after his mother fell ill. Spending every waking moment of his life by his mother's bedside, Jason ultimately lost his job and later lost his apartment. His mother passed, never knowing that after her son's frequent visits, he would leave her side to sleep on the street.
I decided not to focus on the series of events that led up to Jason's homelessness, rather embrace and highlight Jason's growth. I met Jason when volunteering with an organization in New York City called The Legacy Center. There was something special about Jason, I just couldn't put my finger on it.
I continued to volunteer with The Legacy Center and every Monday I would find myself serving Jason a plate of hot food and a smile at Maria Hernandez Park in Brooklyn. He would never speak to me. In fact, I was lucky to even get a smile or a thank you in return for my kind gesture. Nevertheless, I persisted. It wasn't until Thanksgiving rolled around and The Legacy Center threw a huge feast for our friends in Maria Hernandez Park. Jason was there, and he was excited for the festivities. At last – had Jason warmed up to me? I asked him what he was most eager to try today. He responded, "the stuffing". Jason responded. After 2 months of radio silence and often ignored gestures of friendship...Jason responded.
Unfortunately, we didn't have stuffing on the menu (I know, I know) – but there was a breakthrough, and that caused for a celebration. We chatted about his Thanksgiving traditions and the dishes he liked to prepare. He began to cry. Confused, I asked him what was wrong. He admitted that he felt...lonely. I immediately embraced him and told him that I'm here for him, and broke into Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." Jason's tears turned into a smile.
Jason later began volunteering at The Legacy Center where he'd use his skills (both social and labor-based) to serve the community. During this time I got to know Jason on a deeper level. He told me he grew up in Miami, Florida and spent his younger years serving as a stage hand at all the popular Miami playhouses. I was certain we crossed paths in the past. I was a drama major in Miami for 6 years during Jason's theatrical stint, often visiting each and every playhouse Jason said he worked with.
I love Jason. His growth is both admirable and inspiring. We have frequent hair dates (Jason wants to go blonde -- and I fully support this) and dinner dates. We've gone to the theater for live comedy and Jason has even supported me in my homeless outreach endeavors. He's fascinated by my career and often inquires about the concept of "branding". A few weeks ago he sent me a late night text and asked "If I were a brand -- who would I be and why?" I replied, "Coca-Cola because you're timeless and classic." He's the perfect gentleman, never allowing me to pour my own glass of water, lift a heavy package, open a door or walk alone to my subway station. Jason also won't hesitate to bark at me when I take my phone out at dinner or in the theater. He's old school cool to the core!
I'm so excited that Jason is the first Faces of Mankind portrait. Brian collaborated with Matt who painted the background musical notes from a piano tune he created. I'm confident that the sale of Jason's portrait will inspire him in ways we can't even imagine.
Through your generous support, Faces of Santa Ana can contribute to the lives and legacy of our beloved friends who are suffering from homelessness. We thank you in advance for your gift and cordially invite you to join us on a journey of love, hope and transformation.