"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Saturday, October 29, 2011

trip to boston: haley house

We just returned from a visit with our son, Max. Let me tell you about the place where he now lives and works. He has written about it before for me to post on the blog. But now I have seen it for myself!

Haley House has been in the Back Bay area of Boston since before it transitioned into the upscale neighborhood it is now. It’s odd to find a soup kitchen, flanked by boutique shops and restaurants, situated on a beautiful tree lined street. The house itself was built in the mid 1800’s and still has some of the original pine plank floors. It slants and slopes a bit and needs work, but it is home to a group of inspired, compassionate and dedicated staff members and residents. The soup kitchen is on the first floor; the other floors accommodate administrative offices, a few cats, the residents and storage areas.

Max is one of five residents. The residents are wonderfully gentle, kind people who believe in making a difference. They live in very simple accommodations. I was struck by the peaceful, quiet and supportive nature of the place. These four guys and one woman work really well together and have become good friends. They are responsible for getting the food (which comes from the Haley House farm, local food banks and various grocers), planning the menus and then leading the groups of volunteers that arrive each day to prepare and serve the nutritious home-cooked meals. (The volunteers come from surrounding colleges, universities, churches, civic organizations, etc.) The residents take turn leading the meal shifts. Breakfast prep starts at 5:30 AM and is served to 50 – 80 men (the number varies depending on weather, the time of month, etc), who are referred to as Haley House “guests”. Most of the men are homeless, living in shelters or on the street. Many have addiction issues or struggle with mental illness, problems that are, of course, common to the disenfranchised. Some are just down on their luck. At Haley House, they know they can find a safe, warm place, a good breakfast and the pleasant and supportive camaraderie of the residents and volunteers. “Elder Care” lunch is served at noon to homeless men and women over the age of 55. There is also a clothing and food pantry.

The Haley House was founded by a smart, compassionate, socially and politically active, slightly irreverent woman named Kathe. She (and her husband) began doing humanitarian work by taking in destitute men they found sleeping on the street. Haley House is now a large and loving operation that not only helps feed the homeless, but also provides programs and support for the jobless and those transitioning out of homelessness. Haley House has a bakery cafe, an organic farm and residential properties that have been turned into affordable housing for low-income people.

Kathe has become a huge inspiration to Max. Eddie and I had a chance to chat with her, and we can see why. She has accomplished a tremendous amount of good work over the past 45 years and seems to have no thoughts of slowing down. She cares deeply for those who live in poverty and on the fringes of society and has motivated countless people to lend them a helping hand. Haley House functions on private donations and grants from various foundations.

Max heads up the clothing pantry, helps out with IT stuff and works several meal shifts. He LOVES what he’s doing. The residents and volunteers are encouraged to eat and mingle with the guests; since meeting and learning about people are among Max’s favorite things to do, he’s a happy camper! Part of the Haley House philosophy is “…the possibility of transformation through personal relationships, where the advantaged and the disadvantaged are valued equally, while the intrinsic goodness at the heart of every person in honored.” What a great lesson for Max to be learning (and living).

Organic chemistry class, biology class, homework, volunteering at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and tutoring a Harvard student in chemistry are what fill the rest of Max’s dance card. Needless to say, he is a busy boy. Since he sold his car, he has mastered the T and loves getting around Boston that way or on foot. He takes pride in the fact that he's living on $50/month: $30 for his T pass and $20 for the gym! He and the other residents get to eat all their meals at Haley House, where they have access to its large food pantry and a really nice kitchen.

It was great seeing our sonny boy and learning more about what he's doing!

Tom, one of the other residents. He and Max also go to school together.

Eddie and and Max washing dishes after breakfast. We loved helping and being part of such a wonderful community, if for only one morning.

Our happy young man.


bonnie b said...

He is a wonderful young guy. You and Eddie did well!
Elizabeth works at a similar place in Denver called the Gathering Place. It has certainly been humbling, as I'm sure it is for Max.

Anonymous said...

You must be so proud. What a great guy!
- JM