September in Kansas City
The journey began - as many things do - on a whim. After a fruitful and love-filled visit to California in June, to rendezvous with their Divine Master and the youth from around the world; the youth from Kansas City were inspired to start playing their own small role to expand Swami’s Mission. They were especially touched by the stories of the kids in California who were taken off the street and were given a new lease on life. These young souls were the first to have been given refuge through Sai Ashraya, an initiative which had been commissioned a few years prior by Swami, an initiative with the stated goal of permanently ending homelessness. With guidance from the youth in California who had been involved in Sai Ashraya - and blessings from Swami - our Kansas City youth had all the fuel they needed. Little did they know what they had signed themselves up for! But the goal was clear: to permanently end homelessness, this time in the heart of the country.
Kansas City, unlike many large American cities, has a rich history in art, culture and architecture and has had a thriving economy in recent years. But like most American cities, very minimal resources go into helping its displaced and most disadvantaged citizens. In addition, many displaced souls from throughout the American Midwest converge to Kansas City seeking shelter and opportunities to start a new life, further burdening the already limited resources. Given the scope of their undertaking, our youth started small. They wanted to understand what was working and what was not and see where and how their help would be most effective. They knew, from talking to the Sai Ashraya team in California, to target kids between 16-24 years of age, since they had the most hope to be reached before falling prey to society’s pitfalls. They did not know much about the existing resources for displaced kids in Kansas City and so they started by reaching out to youth shelters in the area.
They were able to set up a meeting with ReStart Inc., a homeless and rehabilitation services shelter and immediately took to the mission of the shelter and its workers.
“We can definitely be of service here,” thought the youth, “but let’s start small.” They were given the green light to provide free, nutritious breakfast on the weekends at the Emergency Youth Shelter where ten children could stay for up to 30 days until more permanent housing could be found. The youth also found out about an opening to provide dinner once a month for ReStart’s Thursday drop-in program, where approximately 20-25 displaced or formerly displaced kids come in and enjoy a community presentation or activity followed by a hearty dinner. The youth, with the help of local Sai devotees and other kind-hearted souls, eagerly embarked on providing these meals and in the process, got to interact with and really understand the plight of the kids who either stay or frequent these overburdened shelters. Their stories left some volunteers in tears and others in disbelief; but it opened all their hearts to the real needs of the community, needs that are so briskly swept under the rug to hide the true ailments and shortcomings of society.
The conversations and the love have only just started to flow, but it is very clear to the youth that Divine work is indeed in progress. The journey of transforming their communities begins with their own transformation and with each passing day of hanging out with and serving the kids, looking out for them as their little brothers and sisters, and seeing the kids - and all those displaced - as just themselves, the youth lose a bit of themselves and gain a tiny understanding of what it means to go from I to We to He.