George W. Bush said, “America is the land of the second chance and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” When Lori Wharton met Ben, he had just been released from the prison of homelessness. He was moving into his first apartment, after spending over a decade living on the streets of Oklahoma City.
Lori is one of a small band of volunteers called The Welcome Party. They provide basic necessities to new tenants, like Ben, who are transitioning to permanent, safe living spaces. Like a philanthropic militia, they arrive armed with baskets that are overflowing with essential household items from dishes to toiletries. Working on behalf of the Mental Health Association of OK, in 2016 alone, this group provided a safe place to live for 2,859 tenants, many of whom are impacted by mental illness which led to their homelessness.
On that crisp fall morning, Lori and her husband delivered a bed and welcome baskets to Ben. He greeted them with the biggest smile and expression of hospitality, as they crossed the threshold of his new home. Unloading the items, Ben was excited that his new bed linens happened to be crimson red, the colors of his favorite college football team, the Oklahoma Sooners. For Lori, it was one of many moments of humanity – a reality check – reminding her that the homeless are just like her. They are just like you and me.
The visit with Ben then took a humorous turn! Lori says that he is a double amputee.
As she unpacked the welcome baskets, without thinking she said, “Ben here are socks to keep your feet warm!” Immediately, she cringed with embarrassment – turning the crimson color that Ben so loves! Before she could fumble an apology, Ben bent over in hysterical laughter, slapped his thigh saying, “Now, Ms. Lori, what in the world am I gonna do with those socks when I don’t got feet? Guess I can use ’em as mittens!” It was another reality check – a moment of humanity and humility for both of them. Ben’s generous, grace-filled spirit wanted to make Lori feel comfortable in the midst of his circumstances.
You see before volunteering, Lori had limited experience with the homeless. Like many of us, she was uncomfortable, even fearful, because of a lack of understanding. Today, her passion and compassion have revealed that the homeless – like you and me – have needs, desires, dreams and favorite football teams.
Ben has fully embraced his second chance at life. Today, he is doing extremely well. You’ll find him in the comfort and security of his new apartment (which he keeps neat as a pin) watching the Sooners or his favorite western movie. The Mental Health Association of OK has also found funding to provide him with prosthetic limbs that have increased his activity and participation the community. He is a frequent visitor to the drop-in center for adults experiencing the challenges of mental illness and homelessness. Ben is the first to offer a word of encouragement, optimism and empathy to those he mentors and to volunteers, like Lori. Chances – and second chances – are there not just to correct a man’s mistakes but to determine his worth.
Ask yourself – will you be the one who changes the life of someone like Ben?
Will you be the one who gives more? Will your passion for humanity be the fuel that drives the engine of second chances in your community? Will you prove your own worth by lending the hand up that helps another man determine his own?