Because together, we are GIANT.
Hunter Pence spoke to a stadium full of hopeful fans right before the playoffs and gave them a mission to envision success, and permission to stay true to their superstitions. This means some said a prayer before each game or drank a chosen beer; others wore the same jersey or hat, while making sure to NOT clean given jersey or hat, all in the name of good luck. Whether or not Hunter had been demanding such extreme commitments, fans, nicknamed this year “The Forever Faithful”, dutifully obeyed. While this might seem a bit crazy to some, it doesn’t to us. San Francisco is chock full of prideful and loyal believers. With the Giants in the World Series, a word that comes up again and again is FAITH. This faith pumps through the city on so many levels, from sports to religion, from business to the individuals that make up the community.
The 500 year plan
To hear Carmen Barsody and Sam Dennison talk about the people in the tenderloin, it’s easy to forget they are talking about one of the poorest communities in San Francisco. That’s because they find the beauty and importance in everyone they come across. They help run the non-profit Faithful Fools, a “ministry of presence” that acknowledges every person’s worth in the world. The building they both live and work in keeps them deeply in tuned with the needs of the neighborhood, and the people who live there. Faithful Fools has built a safe, homey place for people from all walks of life, whether they are living middle-class or living on the street, to gather together and build strong relationships through different programs including art, writing, poetry, and play just to name a few. They help people find housing, help take the steps to stop an addiction, or even simply reconnect with their family. What is most important is the connection they make with each individual.
Not only is Faithful Fools the stability that someone down on their luck needs, because their door is always open, and staff accessible, but the practice in mutual respect, and self reflection is what keeps people coming back. One of the programs they run is a Street Retreat, where, much like a regular retreat where one goes away for self reflection, the street retreat is the same, only it also it brings that reflection to their surrounding area, the Tenderloin. Since 1998 over 5000 people have participated in these Street Retreats, ranging from schools, churches, orientations for new employees, and individuals. Once a year, the staff also participate living on the streets for one week, this helps them keep in perspective and get a better understanding some of the challenges some of their neighbors face on a daily basis. What has resulted is the” 500 year plan”, a plan of building close, long term relationships with anyone and everyone who wants to share, or who needs a helping hand, on a person to person level. They refuse to join the chorus of businesses telling people to move out, rather they believe as long as you can take care of people on the street, then the street will help take care of you. That is having faith in individuals, that is having faith in their neighbors, that is having faith in the community.
When Zendesk had an opening for their new building, guests enjoyed an assortment of hors d’oeuvres prepared by the CHEFS, Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Services, program from the Episcopal Community Services. The ECS traces its history in San Francisco back to 1894, and has been in its current location since 1994. Their mission addresses the value of the basic human spirit, and having a strong belief that people can change their lives for the better given the right tools. Individuals seeking direction can find life-changing opportunities in their program “CHEFS,” where they spend 6 months training to cook for a variety of restaurants throughout the city. 75% of graduates from the “CHEFS” program have gone on to find housing with the help from the earned employment. Such a formation not only instills marketable skills, but also develops the sense of confidence and self one needs to succeed, particularly difficult to find once having faced dire circumstances.
ECS extends beyond the kitchen. They provide 900 units of housing for 1,200 formerly homeless people, including 100 family homes. In an area where single room occupancy has become the norm, the need for family homes is reaching an all time high. The presence and influence ECS has in their community is immense and palpable.
They’re on a mission from God
Youth with a Mission, or YWAM, has a strong public faith in God. They are a part of a Brotherhood for 4 nonprofits in San Francisco and another 4 in the Bay Area. The space they provide in the Tenderloin of San Francisco acts as a home to many. Individuals who are down on their luck find solace and a place to take a shower and get a haircut, grab groceries to cook with, with an option to participate in a program that offers employment development life skills like one on one interview training. The interpersonal relationships built go beyond professional mentorship. The YWAM building is also a place to relax, to be oneself, and connect with others- friendships are often formed and family is built.
With the infamously current rising housing costs in San Francisco, the most imminent challenge YWAM faces is maintaining this space they provide. An outside offer was placed on the property; they took the opportunity to match this offer and have now purchased the buildings against all odds, thanks to fundraising and donations. But they are still looking for donors to complete the shortfall they are facing. Their story has become an all too common theme for organizations that depend on donations. To lose the building, means losing the space where so many go to feel like a human being, because, when you can’t take a shower, enjoy a haircut, or simply talk to someone, then you’ve lost the piece inside you that makes you feel that you belong in this society, you’ve lost the piece that makes you feel that someone cares. That feeling is immeasurable.
There is a common thread that runs throughout these three organizations, and that is faith. They each have faith in the potential of the human-being, and they have faith in the power of the community. They take people in and give them the tools they need to function in the real world, enabling them to not only improve themselves, but also their surroundings. This kind of faith in the individual is as generous as it is purposeful- there is an innate responsibility transferred to the beneficiary to pay it forward and to keep that spirit of San Francisco alive. And much like Forever Faithful, these organizations and many others like them believe in each individual that ultimately makes up the team. They believe that by empowering each person, they empower the community as a whole. Though they work on a smaller scale than San Francisco’s local baseball team, to the community and the people they serve, they are Giants.
Yves-Langston Barthaud is the Founder and Executive Director of It’s Your District, a non-profit that connects non-profit organizations through communication and collaboration.
Elizabeth De Nola is the Director for It’s Your District. She completed her Masters in business administration with a concentration on non-profit management at Mills College in Oakland, CA.