"If You Knew Their Whole Story" by Larissa

INTRODUCTION

This 'backstory' is the third of three you will find about the experience of going to homeless camps and the mental and emotional effects this had on the writers. The words come from Amy, Larissa and Dawn who joined me as we filmed three different locations and met the wonderful people who call these camps 'home'.  We now consider them as our homeless friends. 

(Introduction by Randy Bacon)

7 billion ones, randy bacon, homeless, homelessness, compassion

Homeless Outreach is my core passion and a big part of what I am blessed to get to do every day. It is something you can be a part of all day every day and still never stop growing from your experiences of meeting people, hearing their stories, investing in their lives and doing what you can to make a difference. Whenever I drop any of my homeless friends off at their tent’s, I always leave wishing I didn’t have to leave them there. That I could take them to my home and that they weren’t spending their night on the cold wet ground. I knew God was going to use this experience of walking through camp sites to wreck my world in the best way, and what I experienced was nothing short of just that.

My friend D shared with us his love for beautiful stones, exploring, and telling stories. He sat just outside his tent and showed us his precious collection of rocks and stones and told us how each one was unique and beautiful. Let me tell you that D is a unique and beautiful person himself and his smile as he handed me one of his treasures to keep was priceless.

"Biker D" being filmed by Randy Bacon (filmmaker and co-founder of 7 Billion Ones)

"Biker D" being filmed by Randy Bacon (filmmaker and co-founder of 7 Billion Ones)

We talked with the sweetest young couple who did nothing but crack jokes with us and each other, hug the other and remind us of the little things in life we take for granted. The world may view them as having little, but you could see in the way they held each other, that they understand the things and people in life that really matter most. I am thankful for their beautiful reminder that if you have love in your life, you are richer than anything money could ever buy.

My longtime friend Michael took us to his incredibly engineered camp site where he shared his life hacks and brilliant survival skills to keep his tent and surrounding area in top shape. It warmed my heart as we were walking away from his camp site, & I turned to see Michael pick up a small twig and precisely lean it against what is fashioned as his doorway to his home area. He takes so much care in what he calls home. Michael is one of the smartest people I know.

7 billion ones, randy bacon, homeless, homelessness, compassion

It’s hard to describe the mixture of feelings and emotions I had looking around their campsites, with dozens of cans, worn out clothing, torn up mattresses covered in leaves and duct taped tents. It was one thing to spend time with my friends during the day and evening at various events and locations, but it was something else entirely when I finally walked through piles of forgotten items and endless amounts of brush, thorns & dirt to get to where they lay their heads every night. For these people who live without a roof over their head, it was a huge vote of trust and hospitality for them (some previously strangers to us) to allow us into their living areas to film, take photos and speak with them, trusting that we would not disclose their location. I can’t imagine what it feels like to know that you could come back one day to find that all your belongings were stolen, your tent burnt to the grown, and the area you were staying in is off limits and you have to leave with nothing and no money to stay anywhere. This is a heartbreaking reality for so many of our friends who then have to start over time after time. It really hit me hard, the reality of conditions that my friends live in day after day, snow or high temperatures. I will never forget the things we saw, the genuine people we met, and the impact that those campsites, and my friends, have on my life and this world every day.

Words of wisdom from Larissa

I want people to know that homelessness can happen to ANYONE and that there is so much more to every person’s story, how they got to where they are, what they may be struggling with, and what they can offer as a human being. I have never stopped learning from the lives they live and God is consistently wrecking my world views with each new friend I make that lives on the street. “Homeless” should not define who they are. The group of people I have been honored to meet over the past few years who just happen to live on the streets, are some of the most caring, selfless, unconditionally loving individuals you’ll ever meet, who would (and sometimes do) give everything they have to help another person with no strings attached…. that is how we are supposed to live our lives!!
Tommy with Larissa

Tommy with Larissa

Larissa with Wulf

Larissa with Wulf

One of the most common things I hear from my friends on the streets, is that on the days when they are at their lowest, if someone just simply smiles and says “Hello” when they pass by, it reminds them that there are caring people in this world and that they matter enough for someone to notice. They want to be recognized as valued individuals because they ARE valuable individuals. Compassion is always inconvenient and that’s the beauty of it. PEOPLE are what Latter and we need to look up from our own little world, say hello to strangers, hug someone who may not appear to be friendly or clean, and take a moment to focus on others no matter how busy you are or what kind of day you’re having. Know that everyone has a story and there is so much more depth to a person that where they live or how the look.
 

“If you knew their whole story, there isn’t a person in this world you wouldn’t love.” - Unknown

 

"A Potluck of Emotions" - My Homeless Camp Experience by Dawn

INTRODUCTION:

This 'backstory' is the second of three you will find about the experience of going to homeless camps and the mental and emotional effects this had on the writers. The words come from Amy, Larissa and Dawn who joined me as we filmed three different locations and met the wonderful people who call these camps 'home'.  We now consider them as our homeless friends. 

(Introduction by Randy Bacon)

Dawn with Jakki at her homeless camp

Dawn with Jakki at her homeless camp

The day finally arrived.  The day I would visit my first homeless camp.  As a production assistant on a film crew creating a short film of our homeless neighbors, a potluck of emotions were brewing as we approached the entrance of the first camp.  Feelings of excitement, nervousness, scared, sadness, being humbled, and happy… Happy?  Why would I be 'happy' to visit a camp of homeless people? To see their sadness and misfortune?  I was happy that these people trusted us to come into their space.  Their space that is typically private and secret to those on the outside.  They let us come in.  I walked into their neighborhood as a stranger and walked away with new friends.

I saw ultimate survival mode.  Doing whatever it takes to make it through one more night.  I am not sure I can formulate the words to describe what I saw and felt.

Jakki

Jakki

Jakki emerged from her tent to talk with Randy (filmmaker and co-founder of 7 Billion Ones). When I saw her, I didn't initially recognize her. Jakki's story and portrait are actually part of the exhibit, 'The Road I Call Home, and I have gazed upon her photograph that Randy took and hangs in his gallery.  On this day, however, she looked like a coal miner.  Why? Why are her hands and face as black as a coal miner coming up from the mine shaft? She is using warming candles and burning cardboard in  her tent to stay warm.  If her skin is covered with soot, what damage is she doing internally?  She is coughing, congested and sick.  She has no medicine to relieve her headache and help her sleep.  She is hungry, hasn't had substance in a few days. She wants a cheeseburger, Randy promises her one that night.  She can't remember her last cheeseburger.  She  just wants to take a shower.  A shower to clean her skin of the black soot.   

She appears broken, with no hope for her future.  This is not the Jakki that is on display at the gallery.  I walked away from Jakki's area of camp not able to comprehend what I just saw and heard.  When I need medicine, food or medical care, I just go.  When I feel dirty, I go take a shower without a second thought.  Maybe 2 or 3 in a day.  It never crosses my mind that these luxuries are just that… luxuries.  Most of us just go and do or get whatever we want or need without second thoughts.

Biker D at his campsite

Biker D at his campsite

Next stop is D… what can I say about D???  At first I was leery… BUT WOW… he was funny, conversationalist, smiling, finding the positives in his current situation and making me laugh. He searches for quartz, rocks and gems as a challenge and to help pass the time.  I loved that he spent so much time sharing those adventures with us.  It was time to wrap up here and go to another camp. It was so hard to end this conversation with him. But as we did, D shared a rock with each of us - an unlikely  I am truly thankful for that rock… I purposely left it in my coat pocket as a constant reminder.

Every time I feel that rock in my pocket, I will be reminded to be kind, giving, compassionate, accepting and show love towards others.  Just as we were shown by those who were less fortunate . While D is in a less than optimal situation, he was generous and kind by sharing those rocks with each of us.  I will also be reminded of their strength and drive to survive.   I will be reminded to appreciate all that I have and not take it for granted.  Yes, that rock cost zero dollars, but truly one of the best gifts I have ever received.  

Michael

Michael

After leaving this community camp, Michael invited us to his camp.  He doesn't live in a community camp.  He lives 'on his own' and prefers it that way.  He has been in this location for 2 years and 9 months.  Apparently, that is a long time to be in one location.  I was impressed with his location, the tidiness of it and the fact that he knows how  high the water can get when it rains.  His tent is setup to allow for rising waters AND he has stepping stones so that his feet do not get drenched while entering his tent.  The thought that they have to put into EVERYTHING they do is amazing.  Again, the things that we would not even consider, they are so many steps ahead.  So much strategy and forward thinking to survive the elements and unfortunately, to survive people.

Ursula and David are Michael's neighbors several yards away.  Their camp was similar to the first camp in regards to the 'stuff' laying around.  Everyone else's leftovers.  They are alone in this camp and trying to clean it up.  They are  a young couple… too young to be homeless. They showed us how their tent does not zip completely.  Which explained the excess of tarps covering it.  The naïve person I am would think that is okay and keeps them protected.  No… on cold nights, ice crystals form on their blankets.  Big deal right?  Once those thaw, the blankets become wet and useless the next night if they aren't able to dry them out.  God, once again, showed me that I take so much for granted.

Ursala and David

Ursala and David

I still haven't fully processed what I saw and the stirrings inside of me.  I did walk away from these camps a much different person than when I entered.  Selfishly, my homeless friends are helping me in my own personal life in ways that continue to unfold. By meeting and getting to know these individuals and really hearing their stories, it is helping me to look at life with fresh, more loving eyes for all people.  I will make sure that each person I meet and haven't met yet, know just how special they are.  Even in their darkest hours.  We all deserve that… no one wants to be defined by their worst moments.

As I finish writing thoughts about my first visit to a homeless camp, I am still holding that small, black rock that D gave me.  To many it may mean nothing, but to me it is almost priceless. I am so thankful for the rock that D gave me. Maybe we should all carry a rock as a reminder that kindness will cost you nothing.

 

"My (homeless) Camp Experience" - Story by AMY

Introduction:

This 'backstory' is part one of three you will find about the experience of going to homeless camps and the mental and emotional effects this had on the writers. The words come from Amy, Larissa and Dawn who joined me as we filmed three different locations and met the wonderful people who call these camps 'home'.  We now consider them as our homeless friends. 

(Introduction by Randy Bacon)

7 billion ones, amy bunselmeyer, randy bacon, homeless camp, homeless, homelessness

I am passionate about 7 Billion Ones and am part of their advocacy group, "The Billionaire's Club". As a club member, Randy presented a unique opportunity to me and a few others. He was shooting a short film for a nonprofit, Gathering Tree, and he asked if I wanted to come along and assist with the filming. The very unique part of this request is that we would be filming our homeless friends in their camps - to be allowed into their camps and to film is quite an honor.  I instantly replied, "YES"!

The night before we were to go on our video shoot of the local homeless camps, I found myself stressing over what I was going to wear. We would be walking around outside for three or four hours to film and the high was only supposed to be in the low 30s. The irony of my worry hit me pretty hard. I was stressed over the thought of spending a few hours outside in the cold when I was going to be visiting the camps where my homeless friends stay almost every night, no matter the weather.

IMG_1481.jpg

There’s not a whole lot you can do to prepare yourself for an experience like this, beyond trying to decide what to wear. I’d been seeing my homeless friends several times a week for a while now without having a real picture of what they went back to at night. I had a general idea of what to expect but seeing it with your own eyes is something different entirely. I’ve lived almost my entire life here in Springfield, but as I walked down the railroad tracks talking with our homeless friend Michael, I felt like I was in another city. The camps were in a part of town I’d never been to, hidden in a forested area I’d never seen. Walking through them, I felt like I was a world away, even though it was just a short drive across town from the house where I grew up.

It’s hard to put into words what these camps were like. The tents were scattered around, the area between them cluttered with blankets, bicycles, empty containers, trash. It’s hard to imagine anyone spending time there, let alone living there. Even still, as we walked through them some of the camp residents were eager to show us their belongings, their homes. Others wanted to straighten up a bit before allowing us to look in, the same way I do whenever I have people over. In one camp, a toy dinosaur hung from a tree branch with a walnut in its mouth. It was a little silly maybe, but it was just a little bit of character, a tiny glimpse into the sense of humor of these people who are so often overlooked.

Amy with Michael

Amy with Michael

Seeing Michael’s camp hit me the hardest, probably because I’ve come to know him so well over the past few months. It was exactly how I had imagined it would be—pristine and perfectly designed. He had truly made this place his home, in a way I never could have understood without seeing it. Two years and nine months he’d been living there—he’d told me in one of the first conversations I ever had with him that he’d been able to stay in the same place for so long in part because it was such a well-kept secret.

Randy filming Michael

Randy filming Michael

Friday is a day I am going to think about for the rest of my life. It is almost impossible for someone as privileged as I am to understand and believe that people in our community are living out there in the cold, doing the best they can to survive. And yet I saw it with my own eyes; they are my friends. And perhaps the biggest thing I took away from that day was the fact that I was so incredibly honored to have been allowed inside their camps, especially Michael’s. For so many of our homeless friends, showing people where they live means risking their camps being torn down, their belongings stolen, scattered, and destroyed. I can’t imagine going about my day having to wonder that all my belongings might be gone when I come home at night. They trusted us with the knowledge of their homes in the hope that sharing their reality might make a difference. I intend to do everything I can to make sure that it does.

7 billion ones, amy bunselmeyer, randy bacon, homeless camp, homeless, homelessness

 

 

The Story of "Hello Kitty"

At 7 Billion Ones, we have a special group of 'on fire', passionate volunteer advocates that help us with many aspects of the movement's operation and needs.  We call them 'The Billionaire's Club'.

Winter is here, so a few days ago we made a simple 'call out' for help for some of our homeless friends that desperately needed tents and blankets to survive the frigid temperatures we have been experiencing. Within minutes of posting the request, we had several offers from club members to supply tents and blankets.

Kim with her children, Pete and Lily

Kim with her children, Pete and Lily

This is where the story gets more interesting. I was working at our gallery and I heard the door bell ring and I saw Kim Mathis, a 'Billionaire Club' member, walking in with many blankets in tow to donate.  She was scheduled to come in however I didn't expect who she brought with her. At Kim's side were her two adorable children, Pete and Lily. Kim told me that when her kids found out about the homeless being cold and needing blankets to stay warm, Pete and Lily were moved to action. They said, "Mom we want to help too."  So Pete goes to his room and picks out two of his favorite bedroom blankets.  Then Lily gave to her mom her most cherished, absolute favorite blanket.  Lily wanted to give away her Hello Kitty blanket. Both kids wanted the homeless to have their own personal blankets - to help the homeless and to show them they are loved.

I was so incredibly touched and inspired by Kim, Pete and Lily's kindness for our homeless friends.  I took a few photos of these 3 heroes. We visited a little bit, we hugged, they gave me the blankets and they left to go home.

So what happened to the blankets? Just 2 hours after Kim left, I headed out to deliver the blankets.  As I was driving, I saw a young homeless man walking down the street by himself. I actually thought I knew him and so I yelled out the window, "Hey Matt, I have something for you." The homeless man did not respond. I called out again, "Matt, it's Randy, I have something for you!"  The homeless man ignored me and kept walking down the street.

This required a stronger action, so I whipped the car around and came up beside him.  It was then I realized, I made a mistake and it wasn't Matt.  I actually I never have met this man before. However, I asked him, "Do you need a blanket to help stay warm." He walked over to the car, his face showing more hope and life in it.  He said, "I could really use a blanket.  Thank you."  So I handed him a heavy one but then he noticed the 'Hello Kitty' blanket sitting right on top of the stack in the backseat of my car.  

The man really surprised me with his next words.  He said, "Can I have the Hello Kitty blanket too?"  My first thought was that this was a strange request for a grown man to be asking.  He continued, "My wife has a young daughter.  Her name is Livy. She has always wanted a Hello Kitty blanket, but we have never been able to buy her one.  Can I have the blanket to give to her?"

My heart just about blew out of my chest. This was a 'Godcidence' for sure.  Lily's simple act of love and kindness to give away her favorite blanket effected somebody in a major way that could never have been anticipated. This little girl, Livy, who I will probably never meet is now staying warmer with her new cherished, absolute favorite Hello Kitty blanket. That is what love is all about. Love changes lives in ways we can never imagine.

"What is Kevin Up To These Days?"

I have known Kevin for over six years. During this time, we shot two short films on his life, shared many portraits of him and his ongoing story. With this exposure, people now ask me quite often, "What is Kevin up to these days? How's he doing?"

7 billion ones, randy bacon, homeless, homelessness, the road I call home, gathering friends for the homeless

Well, Kevin came in a couple days ago and we had a great visit. It made me think, I have seen a whole lot happen in his life, but this year has been a huge one. 

Beginning 2016, he was still struggling with being homeless. Then on Tuesday, January 26 at 7:30 PM his life was forever altered. Petra, the love of his life, was tragically killed after being hit by a truck as the two of them crossed the street. Kevin was at her side at the accident and at the hospital until she passed away four days later. I shared in his grief and saw him deal with this terrible loss. We actually had Petra's memorial at our gallery.

Then finally some good news. He was accepted for assisted living and officially moved into his own apartment in March and he has been off the streets every since. Throughout this year, I began to see Kevin blossom and grow with a new determination to improve his life. He started doing odd jobs, including several for us. He was staying out of trouble and really handling life's responsibilities much better.

When we announced our big special project on the homeless, The Road I Call Home, Kevin was first in line to be photographed, filmed and to share his story of struggle and hope. The image you see behind him is the portrait of Kevin we are featuring in the art exhibition.

Our opening reception and exhibition for The Road I Call Home was on October 5 (special VIP for the homeless) and October 7 for the public. On both days, he helped us all day long get everything set up and ready for the openings...and he wouldn't take a dollar for his efforts. Then a magical moment. During the public opening reception, a man who saw Kevin's portrait in the exhibition approached him as he sat in our gallery. They talked for a while and then the gentleman asked, "Kevin, do you need a job? If so, come to my company on Monday morning and fill out an application. We may have an opportunity for you."

Monday rolled around and Kevin hopped on his bike and road 10 miles to the business to fill out the application. The company hired Kevin and he started on that next Friday! He has been working there every since then.


Kevin is now getting his driver's license renewed (he passed the written already..he is quite proud of this), he is starting to save a little money, he shaved his beard (now if he'll just get his hair cut, haha), and he is hoping to be able to buy a truck someday. Kevin also told me how much better this job is making him feel. He feels more important and that he is now getting to the point where he can start giving back to society. He even mentioned that maybe he can see his dream fulfilled soon. And what is his dream? His dream is to work with youth that are homeless to help get them off the streets.

Kevin ended our visit with a nice surprise. He asked me, "So, can I take you to lunch on Saturday? It will be my treat to you. I would really like to do that." You bet I am going!

My New Homeless Friend

As part of the 7 Billion One's team, Michelle Jackson plays a vital role in the growth and success of the movement, including the completion of an incredible project "The Road I Call Home" which presents the stories, lives and portraits of 70 to 100 homeless people.  "The Road I Call Home", which is set to be unveiled in September 2016, will boldly and clearly show that as a homeless person that they truly matter, are important and have stories that count. 7 Billion Ones is doing this project in conjunction with a nonprofit, Gathering Friends, which day-in-and-day-out are on the streets helping the homeless. Michelle (and all of us) are being forever changed by the experience of meeting these wonderful people that just happen to call the road their home. Here's her words.

"Cave" and Michelle

"Cave" and Michelle


"So, I openly admit I was taken aback when I first saw Donnis, known on the street as Cave - he is a mountain of a man with battle scars from his life on and off the streets. And then he told the funniest story ever within seconds of meeting him, and I was on board.  What I didn’t know then was that Cave’s goal is to make you smile… so you won’t forget him.  It felt like many people had forgotten or overlooked Cave over the course of his life.  During the photo shoot, while telling his story, he would vacillate between laughter and near-tears.  And so did I… okay, no “near tears”, just “for-real-rolling-down-my-face-tears”.  At the end of the official shoot, I was invited to take a picture with Cave, and I gladly accepted. He grabbed me into a huge bear hug immediately - one of those that you feel deep down in your soul. You know, the really real ones that come from an incredibly honest, vulnerable place.  The kind you feel for days after it’s gone. It’s funny how sometimes your mind opening kind of feels like your heart breaking… I cherish that moment in time I shared with Cave, and will remember it always."

Michelle

"The Magic Catch Lights that Reveal the Soul"

Christian is a beautiful, dark haired young woman with translucent skin. I will always remember the day she walked into our studio -- shy, quiet and a little nervous, but I could feel the strength in her opulent, unsure eyes. Christian is very poised, elegant and lovely on the outside, so you would not initially see her as someone who, at one point, admitted herself to a mental institution. In part, this is a little bit of what 7 Billion Ones and telling your story is about: shedding our rough outside layers to match the fragile ones that lay within us and being more than okay with it.

I am the "lighting assistant" during our photo shoots, and part of what I do is help Randy get those magic "catch lights" in the person's eyes so we can look into their souls, so to speak. As I adjusted the light just right on Christian's eyes, I noticed the tears; they began as small glistening diamond specks and then began to softly roll down her cheeks. I couldn't help but want to just give her a big bear hug, because I remembered my own personal battle with depression, and was a living hell.

Christian said telling her story took a lot of strength and she was at first hesitant as she didn't want people to think she was telling if for "fame or attention." After all, it took her two-years to write it down for herself.  Her goal is to truly help people through her pain, yet little did she know how she herself would be changed.

Randy and I sometimes ask ourselves why we "do" our non-profit, 7 Billion Ones, and we always get an answer from...somewhere, someone, including this email after our shoot, from Christian herself.

"The day in your studio(for my 7 Billion Ones photo shoot), was a day I will never forget.  Until then,  I thought "God has healed me.  It's over and now I can just detach myself as I  talk about who I was."  Spending time with Randy and going through those thought processes opened back up what, I had told myself, was finished.  I became vulnerable again.
 
Oh, how good this journey has been! Through prayer, reading Scripture and talking with those I trust, I realize I had allowed myself to become detached from my story.  I looked at my past self in third person instead of acknowledging where I had been, where God has brought me, and where He is taking me.  I desire to be vulnerable so others can see that God stepped in when there was no other hope.
 
As I allow God to continue to use me in whichever way He may choose, I will be grateful for that day I spent with you.  This was a monumental step in my healing journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me remember, with fresh eyes, what God has done for me.  Even writing this now, my words don't compare to the amount of gratitude I have.  Thank you for helping me to see I am one in 7 billion. ---- Love,  Christian"
 

 

"I Am Not In Control"

Control 7 billion ones randy bacon

"I am not in control. Repeat. I am not in control." Have you ever caught yourself thinking this is certain situation? Ifeel like I tell myself this about a quadtrillion times a day. As humans, why do we feel this need to be in control? Is it because it is easier to deal with stuff when it is nice and tidy in the files of our minds, inundated daily with truck fulls of trappings? Or, is it a way to cope, like the dust under the proverbial rug isn't seen? I don't know the answers, but know most of the people who have submitted their story to 7 Billion Ones have revealed that when you are the most "out of control", only then does the real power set in, the true control. I bet ya we have all been there at some time. I witnessed this as I struggled to watch my son "get comfortable in his bones" as a teen. When I finally "let go", trying to fix and solve everything, it was then that he rose to the top. I found I must allow others to be on their own path, even if it's not the path I would chose for them. When we do this and let others we love be who they truly are without emotional expectations, we can all have the ability to fully grow into the human beings God created us to be. In part, this is the gift and healing freedom of telling our stories. Is it time to tell YOURS? Are you ready to get "out of control?"

A Tribute To Petra, 1962 - 2016; "Rest In Glorious Peace"

Petra, Hensler, Kevin, Drake, 7, billion, ones, randy, bacon, photography

Written by Shannon Bacon

Several years ago, Kevin and Petra came into our lives and we developed quite the unexpected, special rapport. Our relationship started with them dropping in for bathroom and coffee stops, but then took a beautiful turn into a true friendship. Then, as they began to trust Randy and I, Kevin and Petra dropped by the studio, sometimes daily. Most of the time they just needed someone to talk to about the day-to-day struggles of living homeless, but the conversations became much deeper. Petra began to open up to me, which was rare because Kevin said "she doesn't like other women, you're the first one." I was humbled, for sure, but mainly happy to be a friend to her, not to change her.

With her cute sideways grin, mouth shut always because she hated the way she looked without teeth, Petra began to talk fondly about her childhood. She had a son and family, and proudly showed us photos she kept crumbled up in her little purse. She would drink too much and look at me and cry because she didn't want to go back home to Las Vegas -  she didn't want her family to see what the drug abuse and streets had done to her.

She spoke of her relationship with Kevin, "the love of her life', and we talked about the ups and downs of "men". She was so surprised when I told her I was no different, that Randy and I argue and struggle at times, just like her and Kevin. We talked about menopause, nail polish,(she loved to keep her nails painted), hairstyles and fashion. With a sparkle in her eyes, she told us of her love for flying kites and bowling.

Kevin, Drake, Petra, Hensler, 7, Billion, Ones, Randy, Bacon, Photography, homeless

Kevin and Petra would break up, get back together and then break up again, many times, but their deep, true love was always apparent. She was a pure soul many never saw because, in part, she was "homeless", but also many couldn't get past her sometimes drunken behavior. Petra told me she beat her meth addiction of the past, but she just couldn't fight the demon alcohol became for her. Believe me, she tried. Hospitals, and rehab only helped put a temporary band-aid on the problem. One week she would come in shy, meek and sober, embarrassed to ask me to help her fill out her Medicare paperwork. The next week, she would be drunk and loud, cursing the world...but, really just needing someone to be present, to look her into her pain-filled eyes. Like most of us, we want someone who cares and doesn't judge. I would just give her a hug, listen, and everytime she would leave our studio I would hug her and say, "Listen sassy, you stay out of trouble, you promise?" She would grin at me and tell me, "I love you." That was the last thing I said to her before she died a week later.

I remember one time when a young homeless guy came into the studio needing bus fare. Of course, I never have cash, so Petra heard us talking and offered her own money. She winked at me and said, "I have a little extra money I didn't tell Kevin about, so I can help him." She giggled and said, "A girl has to keep a little money for herself, for my nail polish and crap."

The odd jobs we gave Kevin and Petra didn't provide enough for them to get off the streets, but Kevin finally got a couple of jobs last month. They saved enough to get an apartment on Commercial Street.  She was so excited and loved our "house warming gift", a little radio/CD player we kept at the studio. She had a soft spot for music. She would tell me happily, "We listen to music all day!" She was so thrilled to finally start over. Her helping heart then took in a young, homeless couple Petra and Kevin felt sorry for. They were forced to leave the apartment when the couple started cooking meth. She told me, "We just can't get involved in that crap, and we don't want anything to do with it." They packed up immediately and left everything behind and were back on the streets again.

We would give her clothes and shoes, and she would show up without them the next time she would visit. I would ask her what happened to them and she would tell me she gave them to someone else that needed them more than her. This was just a little of the Petra Randy and I knew.

Last night I watched the sacred, rich moments of light right before the resplendent sun set into rainbow colors, and I just felt Petra was in heaven.  I saw her healed, laughing and worry and pain free. Rest in glorious peace, Petra. Your life has just begun.

"Don't Forget to Act Like a Child"

7 Billion Ones Randy Bacon Photography

(Backstory By Shannon Bacon)

Last week, we finished an unforgettable photoshoot with Madi and her brother, Blake. We will post their poignant story soon in January...it is so special! After the shoot, a thought kept going through my head - "why do we stop seeing the world through the eyes of a child? When did we get so serious about everything?" Writer Chee Vai Tang says, "If we could see the world through the eyes of children, we would see the magic in everything."

I'm almost 49-years-old but am often told I still act like a "big kid", which is a compliment. I like to have fun, don't you? I've been told I'm like "a kid in a candy shop" - everywhere I go, I'm  visually in awe and have to stop and soak it all up. I have to smell the flowers, touch everything and walk slowly because, like a child on his first trip to a toy store, there is so much beauty to see in this world.

So meeting Blake reminded me to glimpse the world with new eyes, to give it a "double take." Doing so can make you feel renewed, and often the rediscovery can be better than the initial discovery itself. Blake hugged me 100 times, kissed my hand and we joked and talked about super villains (he celebrated his 32nd birthday with a Batman party!) I was so inspired to have my childhood "playmate" back. Blake is 32-years-old, but mentally he's about 8. He was born with a hole in his heart and epilepsy, along with other problems, on top of having an undiagnosed developmental delay, but is the happiest person I have ever met. Blake is a beautiful reminder to never stop looking at the world with childlike curiosity and passion for life and the unknown. Jump off the swing and play swat with super heroes, splash around in the rain puddles and skip down the grassy path in spring! Eat icecream for breakfast and do a crazy dance like there's no tomorrow in the middle of a store! Make lots of silly faces and sing at the top of your lungs to the radio in the car. Hug and laugh a lot and don't ever stop looking at the world with fresh eyes.

Be sure to look for Blake and Madi's story coming soon!

 

"Giving Is the Best Gift"

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. We are bombarded with the message to buy, buy and buy, which is fun and good, but can easily cloud our vision to what the holidays and life are about --- living out each day giving love. With this in mind, what happens Tuesday? "Giving Tuesday" (#GivingTuesday) will be celebrated tomorrow as a global day of philanthropy dedicated to giving back --- a way to give love to the world. Giving Tuesday makes me ask: what gives your life significance? What can we do as individuals and as a community to give back, not only on Giving Tuesday, Thanksgiving and Christmas, but all year-round? It doesn't take much - a hug, a smile, or offering someone a hot meal goes a long way. Do you have time to give, listen, or help? It doesn't always mean money...it means love, time, patience and support.

Haiti

I have found most of the joy in my life comes from giving back to others and keeping in check that what I do to make my living is second to living a life of significance. I used to measure my self-significance by my job, how busy and important I seemed and by how many items I could mark off of my to-do list. Now, I realize true joy comes from giving back. This is in part why we founded 7 Billion Ones (7B1's) in April, 2015. 7B1's is already reaching over 100,000 people per month, and we're just getting started! People are grabbing on to the power of our story movement, and lives are being changed!

Leading into our next phase, we are proud to announce that we are now a non-profit, founded on this simple mission: "7 Billion Ones exists to document and share stories to connect and empower people." Our vision is "to change the world through people and their stories."  

Amy Cancer Survivor

Amy Wallace is a great example as 23-years-ago the doctors told her she had three months to live. Yet now, Amy is alive and healthy and shared her story to help give hope to others. "I cannot say thank you enough to 7 Billion Ones! Sharing my story and being part of this movement has truly been an amazing gift to me.  I have always wanted to share my story but I really didn't understand fully the impact it could have. I hear from people daily, some I know and some I do not, about how moved they were by the story. I want to share more through your project. I want to be involved beyond my own story.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude!", says Amy. (If you missed Amy's story, click HERE.)

So, how can you give "love" to 7B1's?  Tell people about the movement and refer them to our website, www.7billionones.org. You can like, comment and follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and share these stories of hope and healing with family and friends. You can tell us YOUR story or refer a friend. If you can help the movement monetarily, click HERE to learn more about making your tax deductible donation, which will greatly help propel and support 7B1's. Every little bit helps and we cannot do this without you!  You are a gift to us.

Ready to make a donation today? Click above.

Ready to make a donation today? Click above.




"Beauty Grows Out of Darkness"

Abigail Depression You are not alone

I was assisting Randy during a recent photo shoot with Abigail. She walked in our studio, a little nervous and very sweet. During the shoot, Randy asked "Why do you want to tell your story, you could have easily taken the safe route and kept it all to yourself?" The many emotions that swept over Abigail's face combined with tears, gripped our heart-strings. Abigail said, "I am telling my story because I want people to not feel alone. I was an only child and I felt so alone when things happened to me. I want people to know that no matter the struggle you are dealing with, you are not alone; whether you are an only child like me or not, you can always talk to someone and you don't have to hide it away. Things like depression may be hidden, but it doesn't have to be - you don't have to carry the weight of that. And just because it is hidden, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You don't have to feel bad about your depression or other issues. You don't have to pretend it is not there because you think it is ugly - it's there and it's real and it's actually beautiful. Depression is not ugly, it has helped me grow into me."

In essence, this is what 7 Billion Ones is about. By sharing your special story you are no longer bound to your secrets, you can be free. Often this is a first step for many to begin the healing process. Not only do you have the capacity to begin to heal (or finish), but the person receiving the story may as well.

Want to tell your story? Contact us via email and lets change lives together. 7billionones@randybacon.com

Look for Abigail's full story in December.

 

"A Bad Four Letter Word - FEAR"

When you think of bad four letter words, what do you think?  I am sure several words come to mind, but I bet the word "fear" did not make the list. Yet it may be one of the worst.

Think about it. How does fear affect your everyday life? It seems almost all obstacles we face in life will include a component of fear, which tag teams with those other evil words, worry and anxiety.  The end result is they can overwhelm us with a thick shadow of darkness, controlling our every move and decision.

There is so much crazy going on around us today - wars, conflicts, persecution, violence, crime, natural disasters, economic uncertainty, unemployment, divisions, disease, death.   We fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety.  The list goes on…long! There actually is a lot we could potentially worry about and when you read almost every story on 7 Billion Ones, at some level an element of fear is interweaved in its core. Yet here's the silver lining.  Each and every person's special story is laced with important clues to defeating the "life taking" power of this bad four letter word. Fear not, because fear can be defeated in all instances!

Now as a world of over 7 Billion people, we are dealing with an unthinkable situation - the heart wrenching acts of terror by ISIS in Paris. It is easy, almost second nature as humans, whether you live in France or in Missouri, to let fear from an atrocity such as this, put a death grip on us; some us us even quit living on certain levels.  Countless humans now feel a sense of being debilitated, controlled, and hopeless - we frantically search to find that safe cocoon to hide.  Actually experts state that instilling fear is one of the prime objectives that terrorists want to achieve with their hate instilled acts.  Despite these terrible turn of events, it is even more reason for this world of over 7 billion to unite as the "ones" and defeat fear so we can truly live as God intended.  

So, what is the best defense against fear? The ammunition is called love and hope. This is where the real power is held. Life is nothing without these two, but is everything with them. As the "ones" in this world of over 7 billion, we are called to live as soldiers of love and hope, which will empower our own lives and truly help this hurting world heal, change and become more like that "Garden of Eden" that God planned from the beginning. In essence, this is what 7 Billion Ones is all about. -  By Randy Bacon

"Why we do 7 Billion Ones"

Fallon

So why do we put so much time and effort into this movement called 7 Billion Ones (7B1's)? It's simple - we believe you matter and your story counts, even though our world presents the opposite at times. Everyone is so busy walking around judging, analyzing, looking at others with a "measurement" chart of who is the coolest, smartest, prettiest, funniest, etc. We compute people all day, scrambling over what we choose to say, how we say it. Are we impressing others? Is someone else impressing me? How do we look, what do we wear? Don't we usually love people the most when we get to know who they really are? 

With 7B1's, people have a chance to just say the heck with it...you can be "you" and help others with your unique journey. It's the sheer power of one story at a time that is changing our world. For example, this is the backstory on Fallon's Story "One Life To Live", which we featured recently. Fallon took the step and reached out to 7B1's with her story of dealing with major illnesses. We traveled to Kansas City and met her for the first time. When we saw Fallon in a coffee shop on the Plaza, we thought someone so beautiful and healthy looking couldn't possibly be so ill.  Fallon is model thin with perfect skin, amazing hair, and she is one of the smartest and most charming individuals we've met. Then her story poured out and moved us to tears. We have met a lot of inspirational people in our lives, but Fallon takes the prize.  

So what happened after we posted her story?  Fallon says, "I have gotten so much amazing feedback from my story! A lot of people are reaching out to me on my college campus who are dealing with "invisible illnesses." It has been incredible because I'm now using my story to help so many! I am so blessed to be part of 7 Billion Ones!"

Thank you to Fallon and the hundreds upon hundreds of others that are making a difference in this world through this movement. Your bravery to share your stories and love for other people clearly reminds us why we do this thing called 7 Billion Ones  - this is our life's passion and know the best is yet to come!

(story by Shannon and Randy)

Shannon and Petra "Unlikely Friends"

Shannon_Petra_Unlikely_Friends

Petra took her first selfie today. She didn't even know what a selfie was. She had so much fun, she blushed and giggled like a little girl. She's homeless successfully fighting alcoholism and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Some people don't understand how we could be friends, like we wouldn't have anything in common. Yesterday we talked about fashion, she had a cute top on, and of course the dreaded menopause, because we both have gained 15 pounds and are going through "the change".  We talked about hair style and color - she wants me to trim hers soon and advised me the color is "all natural". She is excited to get teeth again soon...dentures. We both complained a bit about how stubborn men can be, and swapped stories. Back to the selfie...she looked at it and said, "I look pretty. Will you send that to my mom in Las Vegas. I haven't seen her for a long time but I want her to see me pretty again." I get reminders like this daily - don't we all just want to be understood, loved and appreciated?

- By Shannon Bacon

 

"Experience people Rather than Judge Them"

LYDIA'S STORY COMING SOON

LYDIA'S STORY COMING SOON

I was working on a story we have coming up on a unique, wonderful young lady - Lydia. Looking at this beautiful, emotional portrait of her reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend recently. The friend said, "There isn't a person in this world that you wouldn't love if you could read their story." So true, but why don't many of us take the time to do the homework, to understand the life stories of others? I wonder what would happen if much of the human population actually slowed down and put their own agenda on the shelf, even for a day? Wouldn't that possibly be world changing, if we just stopped and ...loved and encourage others? What would we find out about the pages people hide underneath their cover? Those pages some people don't want others to read because they feel they won't be understood, loved or they think they are the only one with issues.

Maybe we would appreciate, respect, admire, console, empathize and love others more if we made more effort to experience people rather than judge them from afar. I don't have all of the answers - none of us really do. I am confident that everyone deserves to be heard, understood, appreciated and loved - no matter what. Let's start reading the stories of others.

(scenario by Shannon Bacon)