Editor’s Note: Brian Cashman is senior vice president and general manager of the New York Yankees. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
I’ve slept more than a few nights inside my office at Yankee Stadium, especially around trade deadline time. But this past week was the first time I slept outside at Yankee Stadium.
I was not alone. There were more than 220 business leaders with me, sleeping side by side with nothing but cardboard boxes and sleeping bags for cover on a cold, windy night in the Bronx. Young people who were formerly homeless also came to the event to bravely share their stories.
It was the first of 19 nationwide Sleep Outs that took place in late November during which Covenant House, an organization that cares for homeless and trafficked youth in 31 cities across six countries, raised over $11 million for young people overcoming homelessness in America.
I’ve been a part of the Sleep Out movement as well as a Covenant House board member for almost a decade. I have seen firsthand, that when we take the time to get to know young people fighting to overcome homelessness, lives are changed.
This movement – and others like it – will literally save thousands of lives. Founded over 47 years ago, Covenant House has grown into an organization that reaches nearly 74,000 young people each year. Every young person who walks through the door gets a warm meal, clean clothes, medical attention and a safe bed. But Covenant House is more than a shelter. There is also robust job training and educational opportunities. So many doors are opened for young people through the Sleep Outs because the business people who attend provide internships and career opportunities.
Last week, a 19-year-old current Covenant House resident shared with all of us at Yankee Stadium how just a few years ago she had to sleep in an abandoned apartment building. “We would break in, sleep there, and then get up before anyone could find us,” she said. “I did that for months, I felt heartbroken, poor and really alone.”
She shared how she found Covenant House and is now sleeping in a safe bed, and recently landed a job. “I know I want to help people and create things. I want to find a job that challenges my mind and challenges me creatively, and I know I’m on the right track.”
Covenant House President Kevin Ryan often says that being homeless is the least interesting thing about these young people, and I couldn’t agree more.
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We talk often about courage in sports. But the kids who survive the streets and turn their lives around show real courage.
When you have the privilege to meet them, you see the light in their eyes, the goodness in their hearts, their talent and their burning desire to succeed. When you have the opportunity to sit with these young people and hear their stories, it is striking how driven they are, and how they have chosen to fight and not give up, even though they have had such a tough start in life.
While business leaders from sports, and entertainment and finance get the fanfare at events like the Sleep Out, many of their employees volunteer their time to serve meals, help kids with resumes and conduct mock job interviews. It is this hands-on show of support that really resonates with young people going through hard times.
So much more needs to be done. Youth trying to overcome homelessness need more mentors, more job opportunities and more people in their lives to lift them up and let them know that their futures are limitless. Think about volunteering, either individually or through your business. You will make a real difference in the lives of some great kids.
Collectively, I know we can do more. I’ve seen the miracles happen.