In the wake of overly-publicized violence and emotional worldwide turmoil, it’s even more important to talk out what’s inspirational and hopeful, isn’t it? Aren’t we all hungry for examples of kindness, selflessness and generosity?
I’m not saying that a person should bury his/her figurative head in the sand, but being knowledgeable of what’s going on in the world means a little knowledge of ALL of it, not just what we’re fed via mainstream media with a sometimes shameful ambulance-chasing mentality. Unfortunately the news is primarily about ratings and we flawed humans seem to have a desire for destruction in order to make ourselves feel better or luckier in life. Learn about local volunteerism and talk about it. Counter the negative with positive. Let others know that caring people exist and that you’re one of them.
Last week my boss stopped by to touch base and as she walked away, said something about the horrible things happening in the world. I called after her, “Remember there are good things happening out there too!” and turned back to my computer screen.
She stopped, turned around, came back and asked, “…like what?” So I proceeded to talk about the new 171-bed emergency shelter that opened in Minneapolis last month and how the young woman working there often gives away her own sandwich after the food supply runs out, and about a group of citizen activists who were recently out in the terrible California heat, providing nearly 1,000 homeless people with much-needed food and amenities. “They passed out backpacks with supplies and stopped to acknowledge and speak with many of the people others just walk by every day.” That’s a remarkable thing and I’m proud of my RLSH HOPE 2012 brethren who were out there for that event. I enjoy sharing that particular story.
With all the subsequent questions she asked and the banter back and forth lasting nearly half an hour, I ended up “outing” myself. I held my breath a second, waiting…
She said she thought it was fantastic! So I talked about it even more, sharing this website S.T.A.N.D., and Domestic Violence Prevention Campaigns, books in the works that will educate children on responsible civic behavior, funding worthy causes like Child Abuse Prevention, Children’s Hospitals and ALD Awareness… I told her about visiting children who are fighting so hard against painful diseases and disorders, how a ten minute visit can make them smile, and how bringing a few things for them to hold and look at reminds them of how they are stronger than they imagined–that they are “Super” strong. I started talking and purged! It was liberating.
I realized something then. It’s important to share what we do. Criticize as much as you like for taking pictures and posting them, reportedly “bragging” about projects, but I think it’s vital to show people what we do so they realize they can join in! (I’m not going to stop “bragging” any time soon!) I’ve been a little more open with certain groups of people: work (now); church; school; and local law enforcement. Rather than have ill effects, what it’s done is offer more opportunity. Church folks provide me with supplies for homeless outreach, co-workers have donated bags full of blankets, college professors have put in a good word for me at the local women’s shelter, and the PD supplied us with direct phone numbers, have offered information about Domestic Violence shelters that were new to me and even suggested a couple of us speak at one!
There’s a fine line for some, judging how RLSH use the media, but that’s the catch, isn’t it? Use the media without the media using you? I believe that most people come from an altruistic place at heart. Really, if I talk to someone about helping others, most times I’ll be met with a reaction of “What can I do?” or “How can I help?” including some representatives of the much-bashed media. Be ready to advise and/or enlist them! Have some answers ready for unexpected questions when asked, using some examples you may already have seen and heard from veteran RLSH you respect. When asked a question you’re not comfortable answering, use a general statement you ARE comfortable making, and if they ask the same question, answer it again the same way, or when stumped just smile! It’s YOUR message.
But I suggest you remember that your message is representative of a whole lot of others doing the same type of work. like it or not. I feel comfortable in saying what most of you will agree is true: It’s not about us. It’s about what we’re doing, and in many cases how we’re doing it. Share it and watch the momentum swell to new heights. Remember your local non-RLSH volunteers and give them the recognition they so richly deserve.
These are just suggestions for those open to them. I think about these things quite a bit because PR is not my strong suit. I don’t like to be in front of a camera in any way. I get nervous and self-conscious, so I try to memorize things that others have said that I thought was inspiring and ingenious! And, when available, I step back and point to a team member who IS a good public speaker (basically anybody else–use those team talents!)
Realize that while cameras may not be rolling, you are being observed and scrutinized by the general public. Act as if you ARE being recorded, in a way that you wouldn’t mind your mother viewing.
In closing, I’d like to add that when focusing on outreach, remember these things: Compassion and Awareness. Unfortunately many of the homeless we are trying to help have mental disorders that are not being managed with necessary medications. Be caring, but be safe. Be aware of your surroundings and everyone/everything in the area as you approach. You can’t continue to be of service to others if you are out of commission!
“That’s a wrap!”
This article is specific to Outreach because I believe Media and Crime Prevention/Deterrence is another animal entirely.