When your birthday falls on Earth Day, you can’t help but feel a sense of responsibility to give back to the greater good. So, last Friday I volunteered on the Social Media Team for United Way of King County’s Community Resource Exchange (CRE). The event was held at Qwest Event Center East Hall and was a one-stop shop of sorts connecting thousands of people experiencing homelessness with dozens of resources and services. Attendees could enjoy everything from a hot meal served by Farestart and free health services to legal counseling and employment training.
My role as a Social Media Team member was to document CRE and help put a face on the issue of homelessness. Another volunteer, Brady, and I wandered around the event, armed with a camera, Flip Video, notebook and BlackBerry. In many cases, attendees approached us, eager to tell their story. Others shied away from the camera, while others tried to use the request to wheel and deal some kind of payment. (No money exchanged hands.) It was beyond awesome to see attendee’s confidence increase with services as simple as a haircut, shave and nail care. Others received much needed services such as oral health care and extractions, eye exams and prescription glasses, and HIV and diabetes testing. The Seattle Humane Society was hand to keep an eye on the four-legged friends, while child care services were provided so parents could take advantage of the event without worry. Even the IRS was helping people file back taxes and handing out thousands of dollars in unclaimed refunds.
By the very nature of the event, many of the attendees were folks who had fallen on very hard times. But others were not the faces of homelessness that you’d expect. One extremely educated, well-spoken man, Jay, told me about how he lost his county job in 2006 after 18 years of employment. Since then, he’s had difficulty finding work with a liveable wage, so he bartends two nights a week and couch surfs. He was passionate about the issues surrounding homelessness, pegging its root causes to lack of adequate health care for all Americans, lack of jobs with liveable wages and our country’s reliance on “Black Crack” (or a need for clean energy). Jay told me he was accepted into University of Washington’s School of Law and hopes to someday be a political change maker. I have no doubt it will happen.
I saw potential in so many of the CRE attendees and feel strongly that events like United Way of King County’s Community Resource Exchange empower people to make positive changes in their lives. It was humbling and a privilege of be part of such an event and I know that the 300+ volunteers made a big difference in the lives of the 1800+ attendees. And that is the warm and fuzzy stuff that Earth Day birthday wishes are made of. Thank you, United Way of King County for coordinating such a successful event.
If you want to read some of the Social Media magic we made (we trended in Seattle!), you can find the #CRE2011 tweets here.