"Sure. I took part in an event for Covenant House (last year, for the first time), which is an organization that opens it's doors for homeless youth. The actual event is called "The Sleep Out". Every year, different people get together and raise money for homeless youth. Usually in March, we go to the outreach center. This year I'm doing the one in Philadelphia (last year she did it in NYC). People get together and we sleep on the street outside the shelter. Primarily, it's to raise awareness for people passing by, but it's also for the kids, the kids that live there. To show them that people do care. That we're willing to sleep on the street and be uncomfortable, even if it is only for one night, to show them that there are people that care and support them. It just gives them a little hope and courage."
ARE THEY RECEPTIVE TO YOU? DO YOU THINK IT REACHES THEM?
"Absolutely. Everyone that's participating, usually gets there around 7:00 pm. We get together, people from all walks of life. We all kind of mingle, talk about anything. Then we all go inside the facility and there's a ceremonial type of thing. There's chairs set up and all, and a couple of the kids that live in the covenant house and have used their services, who were once on the street and homeless, get up and tell their story. It's pretty awesome. There's little workshops where we get to break down into smaller groups and talk one on one with some of the kids. (Find out) what their struggles are, how they became homeless, where they're at now in their life. Some of their stories are absolutely amazing. Some of the kids are runaways because of horrible situations at home. Some of the stories are tragic. When it comes to kids, there's a special place in my heart because to them, at that age, the streets were a better choice than they're home environment. It's devastating."
WHAT'S THE AGE RANGE OF THE KIDS?
"The kids that I met last year, ranged from 14-20."
DO THEY HAVE ANY CONTACT WITH THEIR FAMILIES AT ALL?
"I guess it depends on each particular case. We were asked, obviously, not to take pictures with any of the children in case there is a situation where someone out there may be looking for them (in a negative way). We were allowed to take pictures of ourselves outside and all of course though."
HOW MANY OF YOU TOOK PART IN THIS LAST YEAR?
"Last year it was me, my friend Nicole Fox, who I absolutely have to acknowledge. She's a good friend of mine that works at the Covenant House in Philadelphia. She was the whole reason I started helping with this organization and charity. There were about six of us. Between us, we raised $11,000. It was pretty amazing."
THAT'S INCREDIBLE! HOW IS THAT MONEY ALLOCATED?
"It keeps the lights on in the facility. It provides food and shelter. (Provides) bedding, essentials like toilet paper, conditioner, etc. Like when Nicole got started, she would drive a van around and pick kids up off the street to bring them to the Covenant House. When they're there a little while and stable, they provide medical services, therapy, education, trying to stabilize them to send them on their way so they can live a happy, healthy life so they don't go back to being homeless."
DO THEY HELP THE OLDER ONES WITH JOB PLACEMENT?
"Oh yeah. There are services like job placement."
HOW LARGE IS YOUR TEAM THIS YEAR?
"So far there's 7 of us. We're hoping that we'll grow in numbers and donations."
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE LAST YEAR, SLEEPING OUT?
"It was amazing. I didn't know what to expect. I was excited just to raise the money and then it was time. We met up at Nicole's house and drove up to New York. We drove up with a bunch of people, it was a kind of chaotic. It was pretty amazing. They gave us cardboard boxes to sleep on. I brought extra clothes. I put on a bunch of layers. It's not the same experience as being homeless cause you're surrounded by a bunch of your friends, and because it's for a good cause, you're happy and excited. I actually did wind up getting sleep that night. I was able to bring as many layers as I wanted, whereas these children don't have that many layers. They may not be able to find that many clothes. They're not surrounded by their friends. They're not laughing and joking. They're under a stairwell somewhere alone, scared and frightened. It's more about showing these kids that there are people out there as opposed to feeling what it's like to be homeless for a night cause there's no comparison. I would (and will) do it again in a heartbeat."
WHY DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN NEW YORK'S LAST YEAR AND NOT PHILLY?
"No real reason. That was just what Nicole presented last year. It was just the way it happened. But me being from NY, it meant even more to me. Having all my friends from Philadelphia drive up to NY Covenant House made it a little more special for me. There's 27 different locations around the country, Canada and Latin America. This year we're doing it in Philly and maybe will again next year, or who knows, maybe we'll pick another location."
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH RAISING FUNDS AND AWARENESS ABOUT THIS?
"When it comes to homelessness in general, but especially homeless youth, people don't wanna think about it. It's kind of out of sight, out of mind. I've even found that when using social media, like Facebook, that it didn't grab as much attention as if I were to post a silly article or a picture of a cute kitten. For example, last year, for a different organization I was posting about, it barely got any attention. Then two seconds later, I put up a profile picture of myself that received about 80 likes, whereas the fundraising post only got about 4 likes."
EVEN IF SOMEONE CAN'T AFFORD TO DONATE, IT COULDN'T HURT TO PASS IT ON TO SOMEONE THAT MAY BE ABLE TO AND JUST TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE PARTICIPATION.
"Yes, even if my friends just share the link, I'd be so grateful for that. The more people who see it, the more awareness there is. Part of the sleep out for me, and you have more than 200 people sleeping on the street, people that are walking by, the pictures that are being taken, it's making it more real. I think because it's not my sister or father or niece or brother that's on the street...if I posted something like "can you please help my brother who's homeless and on the street", I'm assuming there'd be a crazy amount of people to support me. Like I said, out of sight out of mind. It's not personal."
WHAT MAKES THIS CAUSE SPECIAL TO YOU?
"Living in Philly, I'm sure you're aware, there's always people asking for money, panhandling, asking for cigarettes. A lot of people out there get mad or upset about that. And that's fine. But for some reason, I just have a sense of compassion for these people. Everybody has a story. When you see alcoholics or addicts on the street, a lot of times people don't wanna give them money and I choose not to either. We feel like they're just gonna use that money to buy more liquor or drugs, so I'll give them a bottle of water or something along those lines. There's a special place in my heart and I think some of that is because of my background.
Part of my background is that I am an alcoholic and an addict. I'm in recovery and just celebrated 6 years sober. I've been there (homeless) by choice cause that's where the drugs took me. I had a mother, a home, a family, but there were nights that I did end up on the street cause that's just where the drugs took me. Again, that was by choice just because I didn't wanna be at home. I had a warm home, a warm bed, a loving mother, food in the fridge. So I can't even imagine the abuse that goes on that these kids will run away just to get away from. Especially in the streets of NYC. Even Philly. It's scary out there. There are neighborhoods that I wouldn't even alone into at night. And these kids are sleeping on the streets, trying to find their next meal or trying to find a warm coat or blanket and they're alone and scared. It breaks my heart.
A lot of people on the streets are drug addicted or suffer from mental illness, and I feel that more people need to be aware of them or have some more compassion for that. Everyone has a story. As an adult, you kind of make that choice, even if drugs and alcohol are involved, you're old enough to utilize services on your own. Children are not able to make those choices. So places like Covenant House are absolutely crucial for helping the children."
DO THEY GET ANY FUNDING FROM THE STATE?
"I don't think so. They're the largest privately funded charity in America. I like people to know that they're also work to stop human trafficking in exploited youth. They hold a lot of workshops to try to bring that to light. That's even more hush hush or not so in your face, the trafficking that goes on. It's something we'd watch on a documentary on Netflix, but it's happening right here in Philly. Before I did the sleep out last year and before I really started looking into this organization and becoming a part of it, I did not realize the amount of children that are trafficked and how big a problem it is. We don't think that happens here."
CAN ANYONE JOIN YOUR TEAM?
"Yes, I'll give you the links (see below). Then on March 20, we all would go down to the Covenant House of Philadelphia which is in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, and sleep out. And I guarantee it would be the most satisfying, rewarding experience you'll ever have. It's for the kids and looks on their faces are priceless."
To join or donate to Babz's team, the 215 all stars, click on this link:
To learn more about Covenant House:
And check out this video to learn more: