Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The University of Notre Dame Asks: What Would You Fight For? My Answer: Homelessness

The Thanksgiving holiday reminds me that I have a much bigger family than I think. Though there will be but a few people at our table for turkey dinner, on Thanksgiving morning I will gather with family I find in the school community where I teach. Alumni, current students, colleagues and families run, walk and stroll around Lake Merced to burn a few calories, release a few endorphins and raise money for St. Anthony's. A Turkey Trot is a great way to start this national holiday.

And every other year, the Notre Dame family descends upon the San Francisco Bay Area as the Fightin' Irish travel west to play Stanford. Though we may gather for a football game, those in the ND family know there's more to it than what will transpire on the gridiron. There is a pep rally, a golf scramble, tailgates and mass (after the win?!). All are welcome, Blue, gold and green are a must.

I am ever grateful to be a member of the Notre Dame family. It connects me to men and women, students, alumni, teachers and fans near and wide who hold similar values and desires. One of those values is the conviction that there are things worth fighting for. 

During every football game, The University of Notre runs an advertisement entitled "What would you fight for?" As written on the Notre Dame website
The University of Notre Dame’s award-winning “What Would You Fight For?” series, now in its ninth season, showcases the work, scholarly achievements, and global impact of Notre Dame faculty, students, and alumni. These two-minute segments, each originally aired during a home football game broadcast on NBC, highlight the University’s proud moniker, the Fighting Irish, and tell the stories of the members of the Notre Dame family who fight to bring solutions to a world in need.
It's encouraging and inspiring to learn about the study, work, and efforts of the Notre Dame family. If  I could make a request for but one episode, I might ask that the University would "Fight to end homelessness."

I say that because in the city I call home, I am reminded everyday that many people—too many people—are living without one. The video "At Home with the Irish" taught me many things, one of which is that "the number of homeless children in the United States has surged in recent years to an all time high amounting to one child in every 30 according to a comprehensive state-by-state report. —AP, Nov 17, 2014."

The message of this video speaks for itself. I sincerely hope you will watch it and pass it on. 

If you watch it, you will quickly realize the story of the two teenage girls, Felisha and Alliyah is unique. Their day to day reality is far, far different. They tell us, "we are the first people to get on the bus in the morning and the last to get off." They wake up in a single room that they share with their mother; their possessions are confined to a small storage area.

They know what eviction can and does to the notion of home. As Steve Camilleri Director of the Center for the Homeless in South Bend points out "for teens, it's not easy to be at the Center. One great example is when I was a teenager I had my friends come over to my house. They knew where I lived. It's not like we're seeing all of their friends come back here, hang out and spend time in their rooms."

Their differences may define them, but their faith and total lack of egocentricity has shaped them into something beautiful. Without knowing it or intending to do so, Felisha and Alliyah have taught me a lot. 
What we learn about their faith, though simple is quite profound. Alliyah says "I believe in God because if He weren't true, we wouldn't be here right now." And being here—at a football game—is a big deal.

As the girls walk through the tunnel to the field, Alliyah starts to cry. "I was anxious. I was cold and at the same time, my tears was getting cold."

When asked why she was crying she said "it's tears of joy. I'm happy. It's too much for kids our age." And her tears spawn tears in Felisha and Casey, the student-athlete who accompanies them at the game. 

It was hard for me not to get choked up at this moment. I have been to, by now, hundreds of football games. Their joy and appreciation reminded me that a ticket to a game is a big deal; it's a wonderful opportunity. I hope it's something I never take for granted. I hoped in that moment, that I too could be so happy that I might cry tears of joy for an experience like a Notre Dame football game...or be that happy for a friend who I can share it with!

Their story is perhaps one of the more important stories I have learned and taught this past year. They have endured more hardships than people of their age ought to face and yet their suffering, their belief in a higher power and their care for another person makes them more than human; they are holy.

It goes without saying we have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving holiday, the least of which is a place to call home. Many of us will open our home for family or friends. Others will traipse "over the river and through the woods" to the home of our grandparents, our parents, aunts or uncles etc. I am ever grateful the Notre Dame family has opened its home for those who don't have one, be it in the Center for the Homeless or the House that Rockne built.

We are...the Fighting Irish.
We will...fight to end homelessness.

Photo Credits
What would you fight for?

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