a special message from the director of
Upper Room of Erie, a homeless shelter

Special Moments That Make Our Work Memorable

Interesting things that happen to me as a result of the Upper Room are special moments that make our work memorable. Here are two examples.

Perhaps by now you have read here of Dan Passerotti, the homeless guy who’s experience in the Erie Library led in part to the establishment of our ministry. He was with us from day one in 1995 until he was hospitalized, diagnosed with untreatable cancer, and died.

I treasure the primitive artwork that he left behind and the opportunities for service that he gave us. Despite his mental problems, his dark moods, and his non-existent personal hygiene, he blessed us. Recently however I had another opportunity to think and talk about him. His sister-in-law, who became a volunteer with us because she felt helpless just standing by and watching him go downhill, called to tell me that his family would like me to attend a sort of memorial get-together, tell them of our experience with Dan, and show them some of this art work.

Anna Mae FamilyDanny's sister (left) Anna Mae and other family members

It was a great day, despite the rainy weather. Several dozen people, adults and kids got together to celebrate Danny’s life with food and fellowship. Wonderful! I’ve watched thousands of people like Danny come and go, but this experience was the first of its kind. It was I gift that I appreciate very much and am grateful to the family for including me.

←     →

Sean Q. was a lot like Danny. His hygiene was about the same, as were his moods. He was not receptive to our efforts to help. But despite that, he kept coming, and we kept trying.

Sean, a client of the Upper RoomLookin' Good!

Suddenly something changed. The man who would barely respond to our hello suddenly started speaking and responding, although slowly at first. Sure there were days when he ignored us, but I felt perhaps either we had finally broken through, or more likely that he was now somehow on medication.

The really big day came when he accepted some clean clothes to replace his filthy and fragrant ones. I was emboldened by this to ask if perhaps he would like his hair cut and beard trimmed…perhaps he would be more comfortable in the warm weather. He agreed! Before he could change his mind I went across the street to the nearest barber to ask would she give him a “trim”? We would gladly pay. She agreed, and soon Sean appeared with short hair and well-trimmed beard. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He looked and smelled like something out of a dream.

Some time after that he didn’t come by as much and then quit coming altogether. Then suddenly two weeks ago he appeared. He even asked for me at the sign-in desk. When I came to greet him, he was still reasonably clean and well dressed. His beard and hair, while longer, were still neatly trimmed.

I was so excited to see him this way that on impulse I asked him if I could take his picture…and he AGREED! I took two, trying to coax him into a smile. The results are presented for your amazement. No smile, but a picture of a man who had somehow found the way back to a “normal” life. He has a payee and a place to live. He said he didn’t come into Erie much anymore, so we may not see him again. But now I ..and you have a picture. He will always be with us. This anecdote probably wouldn’t impress a battle- hardened social worker, but it sure made a difference to me.

Tom Schlaudecker
October 9, 2013

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