Beyond HELLO began in Vancouver in July 2013. It evolved from the simple recognition that some of Vancouver’s citizens are treated as if they are invisible. In the Downtown Eastside, Hastings Street is plagued with lost souls: the forgotten, the mentally ill, the drug addicted and the lonely. And to the commuters, tourists and city dwellers who race by, the lost souls who wander these particular city blocks are either ignored or chastised.
Five years ago, I began a student run initiative called Project HELLO (Helping Everyone Locate Loved Ones) where high school students approach the homeless and offer them the opportunity to send hand-made greeting cards to family or friends who they may have lost touch with. It began as a one day field trip – but it has now become a multi-school year round initiative. One by one, the homeless have trusted us with their stories and offered a glimpse into their lives. To date we have helped over 300 people send messages of love, through greeting cards, phone calls and face to face reunions.
This past summer, I read a book by Sean Nosek, Zen for a Crazy World. As the book explored deeper dimensions of living, I recognized that our quick curb side chats with the homeless community only tapped the surface of deeper, richer stories. I decided to go Beyond HELLO. I made a commitment to take a homeless person to lunch once a month. I offer to pay for a warm lunch and I invite them to tell their story. Together we agree that their stories can help change the perception of their misunderstood neighbourhood. I hope their stories will challenge those who race by to judge a little less and empathize a little more. By going Beyond HELLO I hope to provide light to Vancouver’s darkest neighbourhood.
The downtown Eastside is where I go Beyond HELLO. However, Beyond HELLO is not just for the homeless. It’s not just for Vancouver. It is not just for me. I hope that you too will decide to go Beyond HELLO. It is a gift, waiting to be unwrapped, if you choose to take the time. Maybe you will go Beyond HELLO with a neighbour you have never met, the cab driver whose past intrigues you or the stranger who peaks your interest. When something inside you causes you to turn around and wonder about the life of a stranger or a person in need I hope you take the time to say hello – and if the moment presents itself, I hope you take the time to go Beyond HELLO. I can assure you, you will always gain more than you give.
I invite you to submit your comments or stories through the ‘Submit your Beyond HELLO story’ tab. May our collective stories inspire others to connect on a deeper level. Together let’s go Beyond HELLO.