Isaac was born a bit early -- 3 months, to be exact -- weighing a little over 2 pounds. After three months in the intensive care unit at Stanford, and having grown to a strapping 5 pounds, we were able to bring him home. We felt that we had been given a great gift, for Isaac showed no signs of any adverse outcomes as a consequence of his premature arrival.
When Isaac was born, I had been volunteering for about a year as a member of an ad hoc group of local residents intent on helping to find a solution to the then-perennial problem of providing basic services to the homeless.
The Urban Ministry had struggled for years to do this, but lacked a permanent facility and adequate financial resources. They turned to us for help. It was Isaac's birth that clarified for me what help I could best offer.
A short while after Isaac came home, Debra and I joined other families with new babies, to share and compare our experiences as new parents. As I was chatting to a neighbor about feeding schedules and other such matters, I heard a snippet of a conversation across the room. Another new parent was describing her response when she had learned that her nanny, while walking the baby, had stopped on the street to talk with a homeless person.
"I told her I didn't ever want my baby to interact with a homeless person."
I glanced at Debra -- her eyes told me that she had heard it, too. We said nothing more until we were back home. What kind of community did we want Isaac to grow up in -- a community in which the homeless are shunned? Will growing up in Palo Alto teach Isaac that a homeless person is to be avoided -- not "one of us"? That was not the community we wanted to be part of.
If we wanted Isaac to grow up to see homelessness as an issue to be confronted with compassion and political imagination rather than with avoidance, then something needed to change.
We agreed: If not now, when? If not us, who?
We knew how great a gift we had been given, having healthy 5-pound Isaac home with us. We knew also that gifts can carry with them reciprocal obligations. On that day we made a commitment to ourselves and to our community that we would give back, and would work to include the homeless as full members of our community, with equal dignity and worthy of equal respect.
I shared this story at a meeting of our working group on homeless services a week or so later. Larry Duncan, a longtime advocate for better services to those who are unhoused -- and one who has experienced first-hand the stigma of lacking housing -- was the first to respond: "I move that Isaac be designated as official ribbon cutter for the opening of Opportunity Center."
His motion was seconded and passed unanimously. Four-month-old Isaac had a job to do. So did Debra and I.
There is a Buddhist grace offered before meals that states simply, "Many hands labored to bring us this food. Let us give thanks."
That simple blessing says everything about the many, many people who have labored with passion and with commitment for more than seven years to make the Opportunity Center a reality, as well as so many others who earlier worked to help us better serve and respect the disadvantaged, the elderly, the homeless persons who all are part of our community. Those who have labored are from the civic community, the faith community, the academic community; they are in government and out; they are housed and unhoused.
They are all part of the community we have strived to create. It is all of them -- all of us -- that we will celebrate when Isaac cuts the ribbon.
This story contains 730 words.
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