Being an Advisor to a startup grassroots nonprofit organization is like running an experiment. The client had a vision and a heart for helping the homeless. His mission was to address the humanity behind the homeless to help them feel seen, heard, and cared for. It was our job to build out a program that would operationalize this vision and mission. “Make Someone Happy Hour” was born.
Every Thursday night, everyday people are invited to forgo their usual happy hours at the local bar and join Silver Lake Love as they take happy hour to the streets of Skid Row to hang out with the homeless. The concept was clear. We wanted to connect people living and working in the buildings of Downtown LA with people living on the streets of Downtown LA, to promote the power of organic human connection. Working out the logistics and execution of the concept took a few iterations, and we learned from each event and evolved it to create a memorable, special experience for both the homeless and the volunteers. We weren’t there to “feed the homeless”. We were there simply to connect and have conversation. The call to action: Forgo your usual happy hour and join us as we make someone else happy in that hour.
Imagine a small, intimate group of 5-8 volunteers out on Skid Row every week. From film directors to attorneys, actresses, to financial advisors to entrepreneurs — they spend one hour enjoying coffee, tea, hot chocolate, fruit and snacks while engaging in conversation with those struggling on the streets. Most of the homeless have not had a conversation all day and we found that a simple “How’s your day going?” from people they usually get ignored by, opened them up to share their stories, struggles, jokes and smiles. The message: We’re all one humanity.
One homeless man had been on the streets for 3 years and was an army vet. He seemed mentally sound and if you had seen him walk through a 7 Eleven, you wouldn’t have known he was homeless. He talked with our volunteers over a cup of coffee, opened up and became emotional, thanking us for doing what we were doing. He was incredibly appreciative of the fact that “people like us” would take the time to hang out on Skid Row every week.
We incorporated a polaroid camera into the experience and if someone requested a photo, we took two — we gave one polaroid to the homeless individual and one to the volunteer to capture their meeting and connection. It was surprising and heartwarming how much the homeless appreciated having their picture taken and given the photo to keep.
New programs often require a little experimentation. We asked for feedback from all involved, every step of the way and iterated to the point where after several months in operation, we knew the program was making impact. We have incredible stories to show for it.
May the program continue to grow and make impact, one heartwarming smile at a time.