Even before the official 7:30 a.m. check-in for The Breakfast For The Bridge on Friday, November 20, people like Kimberly and Shannon Wynne, Judy Gass and Jennifer Karol were in the Trinity Ballroom at the Omni. In the reception area outside the ballroom were two large walls with cardboard sheets and colorful markers. Some people got it. Others just walked by. They’d soon get it.
By 7:45, the ballroom was filling. Maybe it was because it was less than a week from Thanksgiving. Maybe it was because it was breakfast. May it was because it was a Friday. May it was because it was the fundraiser for The Bridge. Maybe it was because it was all of that. But there was a genuine sense of conviviality as guests greeted each other like a family reunion. There seemed to be no stranger in the room of 600.
A voice asked everyone to take their seats. There were scheduled to keep and a lot of suits that had place to be afterwards. The Bridge Development Director Teresa Hiser was hopeful that more money would be raised at the breakfast itself.
A few minutes later the voice repeated the requested, as more people arrived. The back of the room heeded the voice’s request. Those near the stage weren’t so responsive. They continued catching up. Gunnar Rawlings represented Dallas’ First Family. Seems First Lady Micki Rawlings was nursing an eye infection. Tom Dunning described Lynn McBee as “the next Ruth Altshuler” to Bill Barnett. As for Lynn, she had a full schedule. Later in the day she would be chairing The Salvation Army’s 2015 Annual Doing The most Good Luncheon.
Just after 8, The Bridge’s Co-Chairs Elect Lynn and Bill got the program underway explaining the The Bridge Chairman of the Board John Castle was unable to make it, so they were subbing in. He recognized last year’s Bridge Builder awardee Jennifer Karol, who has taken on development efforts.
Rev. Joe Clifford gave the invocation and Event Co-Chair Megan McManemin told how Shannon had gotten them involved five years ago. Seems on a visit to the McManemin’s home, Shannon had noticed a photo of Casey McManemin’s grandfather Mack McManemin in front of his barbershop that had just been a couple of blocks away from where The Bridge is located today. Six months later “Mack’s Barbershop” opened at The Bridge to provide free haircuts for the guests thanks to the McManemins.
But their involvement didn’t stop there. Megan described Shannon’s and Jennifer’s working with the McManemins as the “Bridge Two-Step.” Megan ended up working in the library and eventually moved on to the music therapy program. Today she and Casey were co-chairing The Breakfast.
Speaking about the importance of music therapy, she told how one day at the music therapy session a couple of clients were a little louder and a bit rowdy. But music therapist Kamica King’s use of music pretty soon changed the situation 180 degrees with one of the fellows ask, “Who are you?”
With that Kamica and her guitar came on stage and played while the guests had breakfast. After the last song, Kamica introduced the question, “What is home to you?” The answer came via video from various people saying, “Peace,” “Rest,” “Safe,” “Family”, “Security,” etc.
The Bridge President Jay Dunn introduced public officials, Bridge partners and the 2015 Bridge Builder Larry Sykes with a video featuring Rev. Bruce Buchanan, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Rosemary Robbins and Mary Russ.
In the video, Larry explained that he changed careers from real estate to The Bridge. In this transition, he discovered the difference between him and The Bridge’s guests is the safety net.
Following the video, Larry accepted the award reporting that since 2008 there have been 1,000 volunteers with The Stewpot providing three meals a day every day. When Larry asked that everyone in the ballroom, who had volunteered at The Bridge stand up, about one-fourth of the 600 guests stood.
Returning to his thoughts about the importance of the safety net for the guests, Larry said that The Bridge is just that for the guests, with 2,100 people having found hosing through The Bridge, homeless jail stays have dropped and serious crime has been reduced by 49% since The Bridge’s opening.
At 8:49 Larry concluded his acceptance speech and introduced a video of Help USA Chair Maria Cuomo-Cole who helped produce an upcoming documentary about Willie.
Following Maria’s introduction, Willie appeared at the podium with mammoth slides appearing on the screen behind him. He read notes from those who had been touched by his 20-year art project in which he bought the signs that the homeless would hold on streets. In the background slides of the signs would appear. Eventually the project undertaken in grad school became a mission resulting in his first homeless sign art show in 2009. He told of the installations of other exhibitions of the signs and the quilts by the homeless that he and his sister had worked on. It was at his 2012 TEDxSMU talk that the project opened up a personal issue for Willie about his relationship with his father. For the first time he “wondered if there was a part of me that was homeless.”
He then asked the audience to consider three questions:
“What is home?” For many it was a roof over the head, but for others it was a feeling.
“Is there any part of you that is homeless?” He told how he had been told by people that they homeless spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, etc. For Willie it was about safety and a longing for a relationship with his father. During his cross-country trip to collect signs that was filmed for the documentary that will be shown in January 2016, he met countless homeless people and others who help the homeless, driven 7,200 miles, bought 292 signs and produced an exhibition of the signs at NYU that took three days to install.
He told how when he started buying the signs, he had done it with a feeling of discomfort seeing people asking for help. But over the years, that discomfort had been transformed into an understanding and sharing of what is homelessness. He admitted that despite his efforts and encounters the problem demanded a more complex answer than he could muster. But in undertaking his project, he had created ripples that would lead others talk, to create policies and to do the next thing.
His final question to the audience was, “What will you do next?”
He concluded his talk with a story about “Trey,” who approached him at Tom Thumb one day. He asked Willie if he drove a white Mountaineer. It seems that years ago he had been “a homeless dude at LBJ and Abrams,” who had lived in the woods off of Chimney Hill. But thanks to an encounter with Willie, Josh had gotten a job, an apartment, gone through rehab and was off drugs. Willie said, “Things were really hard but he was doing well. He remembered my face and my car, someone who had helped him.” Trey then explained to Willie, “I want you to understand this. Every time somebody helps, you remember.”
The breakfast could have ended with that, but Co-Chair Casey McManenim came on stage and was one of the best closer in these parts. He told the group to do the right thing, to do the smart thing and to do something. That, according to Casey, is exactly what is happening at The Bridge. The facility is providing a safety net for those who want to transition from the streets to permanent supportive homes.
But today was more than writing a check. Casey admitted that guilt was not a very good fundraising tool, but sometimes shame works. He asked everyone who had visited The Bridge to stand up. “So, those of you who are experiencing shame at this moment know who you are.” Laughter arose from all the guests. He pointed out that the envelope at each seat revealed a match was available for funds raised that would allow expansion including critical medical services and follow up.
He added that the state of Texas was now using The Bridge model for the homeless problem and was providing a two-year match for funds raised. In addition, an anonymous donor was will to match dollar-for-dollar the second year funds raised up to $50,000.