I never thought I’d volunteer to sleep outside on the streets of New York City.
But every year for the past seven years, members of the Broadway and NYC entertainment community Sleep Out for one night at the Covenant House, a shelter and support center for homeless youth ages 16–21. Covenant Houses in 31 cities around the world provide care for 80,000 kids each year. Since its inception, the annual Stage & Screen Sleep Out has raised over $1.9 million.
Still, I didn’t think I could handle sleeping out. I have joint problems and a job to go to in the morning. The thing is, so do the 4.2 million kids who experience homelessness each year. They have aches and pains, they have jobs to report to, some of them have kids of their own; but they don’t have a choice—and their suffering and exhaustion compounds night after night. And after Broadway Sleep Out founder Stephanie J. Block invited me to participate and told me I could handle it, I decided to dive in.
Last year I participated in my first Stage & Screen Sleep Out, marked by a single “Cov dove” on my nametag. My introduction to the Covenant House moved me, altered my perspective, pushed me to contemplate my privilege. I stand by the urgent need to eradicate homelessness amongst our youth, but I didn’t know if I felt viscerally connected to this movement.
This year, that changed. My breakout session—where we meet the kids—was a Career-Mapping Workshop, one of the many services Covenant House offers. Our assignment: help this young woman (we’ll call her Faith) create a vision board for her path to professional success.
Faith is a coder. She had an internship with Microsoft in high school. She taught herself computer programming languages like C++, Python, Dos, and is working on Java.
“What is your big, giant, failure-is-not-an-option dream?” Stephanie asked her. “I want to be the CFO at Google,” she replied without hesitation.
And so, within the image of a hard drive, we mapped classes and training for Faith to explore, places she could network, ways to conquer her obstacles, like yoga or listening to ’80s music for her stress. And I thought, "I should try this career-mapping thing.”
Because the truth is, we’re all the same. We’re all striving. The difference between me and Faith is circumstance—and her wildly superior tech skills.
These youths should not be defined by their homelessness. Covenant House is filled with artists, marketing consultants, computer programmers, photographers, doctors, lawyers, and performers, but only if they are given the chance to push past what the world sees them as—homeless—and become those things.
Sleeping Out is a small challenge. It’s sweaty. It’s a little noisy. It’s buggy. But it is not homelessness. It’s an act of solidarity. It’s an exercise in perspective, and also in connection.
Monday night, 109 fellow advocates and I slept on the street, representing 4,054 donors and raising approximately $368,000.
“Only love—unconditional love—has the power to take our deepest secrets, our deepest hurts and convert them into our gifts to the planet,” Kevin Ryan, executive director of Covenant House International, told us. That’s the foundational principle of Covenant House.
That’s what I experienced as I bonded with these kids, with the generous and skilled Covenant House staff, and with my peers. The Covenant House empowers me to find my place, use my voice, and give back. Two doves in, it makes sense that doves are the birds that can always fly home.
At Covenant House, a mural reads “You Are Loved.” Another reads “You Are Worth It.” And those are sentiments we all need to hear.
Click here for more information about Covenant House and to make a donation today.