Today’s #YOUAREGOVX member profile serves with a helicopter squadron here in GovX’s hometown of San Diego. Her duty is to the Navy, and her passion is in helping others.
“I think I’ll join the Navy.”
I was at a difficult time in my life, and one day I woke up and said to myself, I think I’ll join the Navy. I went to a recruiter’s office and two weeks later was on a plane to Chicago for boot camp. That was about six years ago. During training, my left femur made the executive decision to snap in two places at my hip. Four pins and a year of recovery, and I was spending time in Pensacola for school when I received orders to San Diego. I’m serving now with the (self-described) World Famous Red Lions squadron.
Counter-piracy, Navy professionalism, and ridiculous quote books.
On my first deployment, I was doing mostly counter-piracy operations in the Arabian Gulf. We had suspected pirates on board for a little over a week which made life a little difficult for us. One morning we were transferring them over to an amphibious ship, and a couple of my coworkers and I went up to the LSO shack to watch the transfer. These men were suspected of doing some horrible things, but the sailors transferring them behaved professionally and even let them pray before loading them onto the rib boats. It was a peaceful moment.
It was humbling to see. I didn’t know what drove those men toward piracy, or to commit the acts that they did, but I knew that it wasn’t my job to pass judgment just because I was on the side that apprehended them. It’s all about perspective and professionalism. Sadly, not all of my coworkers realized this, and some were prone to ignorant, judgmental comments. But just because we were on the opposite side of the situation didn’t make us better than them.
And there are some laughs and good times, as well. We’ve got a quote book in my shop, comprised solely of the ridiculousness that comes from our conversations, and quotes that definitely wouldn’t make sense in this context. And many of my stories may not be appropriate for sharing on such a large scale, but I can say that I’ve formed an incomparable bond with the people that share the work on our aircraft. We’re a big, slightly dysfunctional family that gets shit done.
Changing the view on homelessness one backpack at a time.
IN 2014, IT WAS ESTIMATED THAT 19 OF EVERY 10,000 PEOPLE WERE HOMELESS. OVER HALF OF THOSE ARE VETERANS.
I first remember being confronted with the brutal reality of homelessness when I moved to Florida when I was in high school. One of the huge news stories for a while was this Tent City in St. Petersburg and the new laws being put in place not to help all these homeless people but make it infinitely harder for them. Being from a tiny town in Kansas, I had never witnessed anything like this. My instant reaction was to want to help. I remember being warned by the vast majority of people in my life about them. People would say things like, "Don't give them money, they're just going to go buy booze and drugs," or "Be careful out by yourself, you could get mugged by a homeless guy." I’d see people walk by as if the man with a shopping cart full of everything he owns is not a man, but a cockroach that you’d prefer not to see. And I can't help but to ask questions. Why is he there? What is his story? Is he homeless because he put himself there or because society put him there simply because he wasn't provided with the proper tools to live? HOW can all of these people just walk by as if they are better than him? What gives you the right? Sometimes I just wanted to pound on the walls and scream it. To make the people that walked past look at him, to recognize the light in these homeless people just as there is a light in your eyes.
In 2014, it was estimated that 19 of every 10,000 people nationally were homeless. That number jumps as high as over 100 in every 10,000 in states like Washington and California. Over half of those are veterans. I spent years of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with humanity, how we came to this point—not just dealing with homeless people but in general.
I’ve since realized that me sitting here, thinking about it and analyzing it actually accomplishing nothing. So I went to the dollar store and my favorite thrift store and I started making backpacks. Each one costs me about $10 and I average two to five a month. It always varies slightly but typically includes a sweater, a beanie, socks, boxers, water bottles, a can opener, non-perishable food items, a toothbrush, soap, toothpaste, Kleenex, toilet paper, a notepad and pens and whatever else catches my eye. Every time I see a homeless person I stop and give them one of my backpacks I keep in my trunk. Sometimes they say they don't need it and instead point me toward someone they know who does. One time I had a woman start crying. Sometimes I just give them my leftover lunch, or I'll drive over to a fast food place and grab a burger for them. Sometimes I give them money. It's really a case-by-case thing. But with every moment, I always stop and talk to them. I take their photo for an art project I'm working on. I learn their name. I hear their story.
WITH EVERY HOMELESS PERSON I MEET, I ALWAYS STOP AND TALK TO THEM. I TAKE THEIR PHOTO. I LEARN THEIR NAME. I HEAR THEIR STORY.
When I was little, I wanted to change the world. I wanted to take all the pain away because I didn't know how to not feel it when I saw others in pain. I have since realized that without struggle, we will never appreciate or really know joy. It’s not one big person who will change the world, though. It’s a lot of little people. I live my life from the mindset that I will treat all beings as I would like to be treated—fairly and with compassion.
I recently bought a book on starting your own non-profit organization and am doing base research to establish a different kind of homeless shelter. I want to provide a stable roof, shower and assistance, so they can get back on their feet. Similar to that old adage, "Give a man a fish and you've fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you've fed him for the rest of his life."
My goal is not to end homelessness. That will fix itself over time given the appropriate evolution of the common man's perspective on the matter. And if I positively affect one person's mindset, I feel as though I have succeeded. Because that one person will open the door for another and so on.
Kaitlin kindly paid us a visit at the GovX office in San Diego, and our team members are following her lead by collecting donations for supply bags like the ones she makes. Have you ever lent a helping hand to the homeless in your area? What have you found that works? Leave your message in the comments below, and thanks for reading!
And be sure to check out Kaitlin’s artwork over at her Facebook page!