Larissa "Love Changes Everything"

A Backstory written by 7 Billion Ones' Movement Director, Larissa

Intro: What does it take for someone to really believe that their life is important? How many of us have spent so much time feeling unworthy of genuine care and love, that we don't measure up, that our story, our life isn't important or unique? This is something that humans from all walks of life, all over the world struggle with and societal pressures can often be so strong that we believe the lie that we have to do or be something else, something or someone other than who we already are in order to be deserving of love and to be valued. One of the reasons 7 Billion Ones was created and exists is because we truly believe that every single life is important and valuable, that each one of us has the power to make a difference, and that by empowering each other to love ourselves and others well, we can make a radical change in hearts and minds wherever we go.


"People ask me often what my favorite part of my job is, or what the coolest thing I get to do is. Those questions always makes me smile, and a dozen things I love about what we do at 7 Billion Ones flood my mind each time. I think about the incredible people from all walks of life that we have the honor of meeting and sharing the stories of, I think about the amazing partnerships with groups and organizations that want to bring awareness, new perspective and hope to the people they know and serve… I think of the traveling adventures to document stories that range from sitting on a leather couch surrounded by gold statues inside a high-end home in the heart of a wealthy city, to trudging equipment through the woods in the heat of the summer to stand in a tent and hear the story of a man and his dog that have lived there, homeless for decades. I think of the lasting ripple effect that happens when someone opens their heart to share their story with the world, and how that creates this cycle of healing for the storyteller and the people all over the world reading it...

But if I had to narrow that down to just answer with what I love most about my job, what fuels the fire in my soul, what helps me to keep going, what reminds me the power, healing and importance of documenting & stories is...the thing I love most wouldn’t be what people may view as the adventurous, exciting things I just mentioned...I would tell you that nothing beats watching someone’s face change, watching the light in their eyes brighten the moment they realize that they matter. That moment changes everything.

Larissa with our friends Aaron, William, Caitilin and Hailey

Larissa with our friends Aaron, William, Caitilin and Hailey

If you’ve followed 7 Billion Ones, Randy or myself for a bit, you know that our homeless friends come into the studio where we work every day (many of them are storytellers in ‘The Road I Call Home’ exhibit featuring the portraits and stories of people that have experienced homelessness, or are currently homeless), sometimes to just visit and catch up, to get away from the outside weather and elements, to rest and refuel and sit somewhere they aren’t kicked out of for simply existing; and then some days too, our friends bring in someone from their street family and friends that they want to share their story. Two Friday’s ago was a combination of those sweet reasons to stop into the studio, and for a few reasons we weren't expecting too… Our friend Caitilin, who shared her story last year as a part of The Road I Call Home, had sent us a message a few days prior, telling us that her boyfriend had committed suicide unexpectedly and she was of course devastated and really hurting. She asked if she could come see us, and so we planned to have her stop in that Friday. What we didn’t plan for, was meeting, photographing and documenting the stories of some of her street family.  

Caitilin walked into our gallery and told us about her boyfriend’s funeral, and how she was happy to have the support and love of his family and her street family - who she wanted to introduce us to. It broke our hearts to see Caitilin in so much pain and her eyes tear-filled from the sleepless nights and heartache. We shook the hands of Aaron, Hailey and William and they each set their backpacks down and talked over coffee and tears. Randy (Founder & Head Photographer for 7 Billion Ones) and I asked if they wanted to take a family photo since they were all together, and a series of beautiful and deeply personal family & individual photos later - they were each laughing, reminiscing on good times, poking fun with each other, holding hands, crying. They started off a bit like most people do when you shine a large spotlight on them and ask them personal questions - a bit nervous...stiff and reserved. Then there was that magic moment...the moment that I crave to experience again and again, knowing the lasting impact it has on people...we saw each of them become at ease, comfortable in their own skin...we saw them toss aside trying to “pose” or look any certain way...they stopped trying to adjust their clothes and posture, they spoke from their hearts, they let go...they felt free to be themselves, now knowing that they were in a safe space, reminded that they are important and that are loved.

That’s the power of love. Love changes everything.

Randy behind the scenes (street friends) shoot (1)
Story sharing (Hailey & WIlliam) behind the scenes

Hailey and William (boyfriend & girlfriend) then decided that they’d like to tell their story together, and we set off to record it. I then heard and experienced them laying it out there, as each of them shared about their lives...I saw them being real, raw and honest, and hopeful for their futures, despite their circumstances or the troubles they’ve faced. Before everyone left, there were lots more hugs, tears and laughter, and as we thanked each of them for choosing to share their story and be a part of this movement, each of them hugged and thanked us sincerely for making their sad day brighter...not yet seeing that they brightened our day all the more.

There is such a sense of community, of family, of real hope, and desire to make a difference amongst our friends on the streets...they remind us constantly what is important in life, that we have so much to be thankful for, and that you can have nothing in the eyes of the world, but can still be truly filled with all that you need (love, hope, faith, family). We are honored to be in the lives of every individual that chooses to share their story with 7 Billion Ones, and we truly believe that when you not only validate someone’s existence as important, but remind them that they already have the power to change the world...big things happen, hope and healing spreads, and lives are changed.

When people are considering sharing their story with us, it is so important that we create a safe space and an inclusive culture where storytellers not only feel like they won’t be judged for their past or present, will be accepted unconditionally and seen as they truly are with no strings attached, but that they leave feeling empowered, important, loved and worthy. They become part of the 7 Billion Ones family and we hope that they invite others to join in, too.

 

Randy+Street Friends (1)

Hailey and William’s story will be a part of ‘The Road I Call Home’ project and featured on 7 Billion Ones in the future, as well as a 2nd chapter of Caitilin’s story that she is sharing in hopes to help heal, and to pay tribute to the life of her boyfriend. We are happy and honored to know each of you, dear friends. Let's keep shaking up the world together."

Cara "The Opposite of Fail"

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Cara and her 2 kids Cameron and Zeke shared part of their story on 7 Billion Ones recently, and their lives were impacted by the feedback from sharing their story, the portrait images from their photo shoot, and the love and encouragement from the 7 Billion Ones community in response. We have experienced how empowering it is when you share your life with people through storytelling and photography... the way it creates this lasting ripple effect in your own life, the people in your community, and people on the other side of the world. Here are some of Cara’s words following her photo shoot...

“There’s some days when I go through what I call a “relapse”. And I bet a lot of domestic violence survivors go through something similar. I just can’t handle life outside of my home. People send me into flashbacks..life feels heavier and more raw than a normal day.

And on that Saturday, when you sent me the images from our photo shoot...I was having one of the worst relapse days I’d had in YEARS. My daughter made everyone’s meals. She did our laundry. She handled her brother. I just failed at everything that day. Then I woke up. And I got these pictures. And every single one of them showed me how incredible my kids are. And how beautiful. And strong. And how I did the opposite of fail when I had them.

So, thank you for what you did for me. And for them. Thank you SO much for those pictures. And for sending them at the exact right moment.”

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We are honored to have these 3 as an important part of this people-centered story movement and the 7 Billion Ones family. You can read Cameron & Zeke’s story here.

Cameron and Zeke spreading the movement and love in their 7 Billion Ones t-shirts.

Jennifer "An Indescribable Feeling"

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Jennifer knows the impact of sharing your story with the world, and has chosen to share hers so that she can help bring hope, healing, and encouragement to people suffering from an Acoustic Neuroma (a noncancerous tumor on the main nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain). She sent us her incredible story recently and then came in for her photo shoot. Following the honor we had of meeting and photographing Jennifer, she sent us a message that reminded us the importance of sharing your life and journey.

“7 Billion Ones is helping to give me a voice to help make a difference for all of those suffering from an Acoustic Neuroma...that is an indescribable feeling. What you guys are doing for people like me is truly amazing. Thank you again for making me feel so welcomed. I am so excited to see what is to come!” - Jennifer

Jennifer is the founder of ‘Team ANA 417’ a non-profit that exists to raise awareness in the local community for acoustic neuroma research, and "to inspire patients and their families, educate communities, and drive research to find answers for a rare brain tumor."

 

In Jennifer’s written story, she says, “I wouldn’t change what I went through now because I truly feel this is where I should be. That is why I want to share my story with others; my story is unique and I want others to see that a positive recovery is possible amongst those days when you feel the whole world is against you. I want to help in any way I possibly can, I feel as if it is my job to do so.”

We are inspired by Jennifer’s courage and mission to take what she has gone through, and to bring light to others through the power of storytelling. You can check out Jennifer’s full written story, coming soon!

"Hope Over Fear" -- Behind The Scenes

Image by Larissa Ruggeberg

Image by Larissa Ruggeberg

How do you get out of bed each day, go out into the world and believe that there is still hope, that God is still good, that life is still beautiful...when you’ve endured such great loss? Cindy still misses her boys every day, her love for them still strong...but she is choosing hope over fear and is determined to be a light for others who are struggling with loss and grief.

Cindy, we are in awe of the way you are honoring your boy’s lives and living as a beacon of hope for others.

During her shoot, Cindy’s story tugged at our hearts and brought tears to our eyes...my heart ached, watching as she held tightly to each photo of her grown sons in each arm that have since passed away, just as she must have once held each of them in her arms when they were only babies.

Cindy is taking the brave and healing step in sharing her story, so that she can be a part of bringing hope and healing to people who are also hurting, to people who have lost loved ones...bringing hope and healing to herself in the process too. We are honored to welcome Cindy into the 7 Billion Ones family, and honored to share Cindy’s story on 7 Billion Ones, coming soon.

Hudson Hawk Barber & Shop - 'Humans Not Statistics'

Founder Randy Bacon

Founder Randy Bacon

We are beyond excited and honored to be partnering with Founders Paul Catlett and Thad Forrester of Hudson Hawk Barber & Shop, to present portrait images and stories in their multiple shop locations in 2018! They see and believe in the mission and impact of what we do at 7 Billion Ones, and with such compassionate hearts that are on fire for people, we know together we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves. 

Co-founder Paul says, “After reading the stories along with the intense imagery, not being a part of 7 Billion Ones wasn’t a option. By having these faces and stories in our Barber Shops, we hope that every person that walks through our door is positively impacted from this exhibit. My hope is that we can start looking at all people as humans and not statistics.

These two portraits featured above of our dear friends Kevin & Donnis are the first selected and we are so overjoyed to present many more portraits and stories of people from all walks of life, in an in-house exhibit at all Hudson Hawk locations coming soon! We love partnering with people that want to use their passion and specialities to change the world and the people they serve...we are so looking forward to the way these images and stories affect every person that enters a Hudson Hawk shop!

 

Words from Co-Founder, Paul Catlett:

Paul Catlett with his son (Photo courtesy of Hudson Hawk Barber and Shop)

Paul Catlett with his son (Photo courtesy of Hudson Hawk Barber and Shop)

There isn’t a better feeling than looking in the mirror and seeing a better version of yourself. After 30 minutes with your barber for a cut and a conversation, this is the result. This experience is something that we must not take for granted, or think that every individual in our society feels that. This is a luxury that so many homeless and less privileged never get to experience. Let’s choose not to overlook these amazing beings, and reach out our hands and eyes to them and view them as real people, no different than ourselves.

7 Billion Ones is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bringing awareness to so many marginalized groups and individuals (including the staggering number of homeless and less fortunate). After reading the stories along with the intense imagery, not being a part of this wasn’t a option. By having these faces and stories in our Barber Shops, we hope that every person that walks through our door is positively impacted from this collection. My hope is that we can start looking at all people as humans and not statistics.

"Simple Blessings"

"Portrait of Two Buddies”  

"Portrait of Two Buddies”
 

A short story from our Founder & Photographer, Randy Bacon:

I can proudly say that Kevin and I have been good buddies now for over eight years. Yet with life, it is way too easy to get caught up in all of the 'to do' list items (especially this time of the year) and then you miss out on simple blessings of the day. I was at the studio last Friday frantically working away at crossing off one task after another and then I heard the doorbell - in walked Kevin, which I had not seen in quite sometime. My first inclination (considering the myriad of things to do) was to merely say hello and get back to the grind, but I heard that small, powerful voice in my heart say, "Slow down and relish these moments". So Kevin and I ate some fried chicken together for lunch and visited about life. We talked about memories, relationships, dreams, keys to living a full life and many more topics. I am glad I listened to my heart and simply stopped for awhile. It revealed to me what is really important about life - it is people you love and sharing life together. Thanks Kevin.

More on Kevin:

Kevin and Petra's Story "(I will not)Abandon You" --- Short Film

What Is Kevin Up To These Days?

Kevin and Petra "Judgement" -- Short Film

"We Will Forever Be Grateful"

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Last week at the studio, we received a card overflowing with love and encouraging words that absolutely just punched us in the heart and left us wrecked. I was able to meet this wonderful family recently in Kansas City during their photoshoot as a part of sharing their story through 7 Billion Ones. When we start to feel the pressure and heartbreak that can occur when being a part of such an impactful movement, or things get busy and we start to lose focus on the core of who we are and what we do, a reminder as loving as Kelly’s letter is exactly what refuels our hearts and reminds us the power of sharing stories and bringing hope to people all over the world. YOU (the readers, storytellers & fans alike) are the heartbeat of this movement, and YOU help us create that change and cycle of healing in the world. Thank you Kelly for expressing the impact of story sharing and how it changes you. <3

“Dear Randy, Thank you so much for inviting my family to be a part of your 7 Billion Ones stories. It was healing for both Aaron and I to put our short version on paper and spend time reflecting on how far we have come. Your vision with this project is something I support with my whole being… it is something I taught relentlessly to my young students, hoping they would make a positive change in the world by noticing, acknowledging and listening to others’ stories. Your team was simple amazing with out family. You all put us to ease and showed great patience and grace. We are so honored and humbled to be a part of such a brilliant project. We will forever be grateful." 

Sincerely,

Kelly

 

"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.

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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