I’ve seen many articles on those who are homeless. Take one look at the street corners in Grand Rapids and you will see someone begging for money. A walk downtown can usually yield two or three needy pedestrians asking for help.
My office is located downtown, near Memorial park and Mel Trotter Ministries. I’m surrounded by and have the opportunity to interact with the needy almost daily. I can see why some people call me naïve when I donate to the homeless, but I beg to differ.

I can agree that some beggars are not truly needy. Maybe they’ll squander your donations away on drugs and alcohol. But, how can we find those that are humble, honest, and caring if we don’t take the time with everyone we cross paths with?

I’ve spent periods observing the interactions between the “working class” and the needy in Grand Rapids. Often, they’re not given the time of the day and treated like they are not even there. The truth is they are there, and it’s time to recognize this.

At my company, Professional Fitness Consulting, we don’t donate much money to the various local charities. Instead, we like to get out and see first-hand where our money is going. It’s the most rewarding experience to bring a smile to someone’s face who is truly in need. To treat a homeless person to lunch and spend time with them is amazing. Not only for one’s self, but for the individual who’s enjoying every minute of your time. It’s nothing short of humbling. I understand it’s a lot easier to sign a check and be done, but until you experience giving first hand, I’d argue that you’re missing out.

I have many stories, but I’ll begin by sharing one of my favorite with you:

Meet Ron (and me):

Ron has an amazing soul. Some of you may know or have seen Ron. He spends most of his time on Leonard Street between U.S. 131 and Alpine Ave.

Ron is unique. Never once have I heard him ask anyone for money, food, or even a favor. The majority of the words that come from Ron’s mouth are “have a blessed day.” Even when I speak with him on the street, he makes certain to see that everyone who passes him receives his blessing.

Many would call Ron homeless, but the truth is, Grand Rapids is his home. I took Ron out to Taco Bell once and had the opportunity to hear is story. Ron’s normally closed off, but what he does share with me, is truly inspirational.

Ron first became “homeless” while living in Downtown Chicago. He’s been through many states in his lifetime. He spent much of his life living in Chicago doing factory work. He doesn’t have any family living in Grand Rapids as most are scattered throughout the southern United States.

Ron spent many cold winters by Lake Michigan. He made it a point to tell me the story of when he woke up with his butt frozen to the cement. The wind had carried spray from the lake over to where he was sleeping. All Ron could do was laugh when he awoke.

He told me that he picked up a magazine one day. On the front cover was a city with tall buildings and a beautiful sunset. This city, was Grand Rapids, MI. “I just knew I had to get there,” Ron told me. He saved up his money and hopped on the first bus to Grand Rapids. Since, Ron has called this city his home. He sometimes dreams of returning to Chicago where he spent much of his life. But, Ron’s not in much of a hurry to go anywhere. He loves Grand Rapids and doesn’t have one regret making the move.

Unfortunately, Ron has been in and out of the hospital lately. He recently shared with me that he’s been battling the life threatening disease of AIDS since the mid 90’s. Knowing this has given me even more respect for Ron and has humbled me in so many ways. Sadly, Ron is treated like the majority of the needy in Grand Rapids, like they don’t even exist.

At the end of the day, even if you don’t give Ron the time of day or a donation, he’ll still give you his sincere blessing. I’ve learned from Ron that we’re all the same. We all have problems and fears. Unless you actually take the time to get to know someone, you’re only as good as your assumptions allow you to be.

After reading this, I wish for you to do two things:

First is that you give your time to get to know someone who is less fortunate than yourself. Don’t give your time or money to the middle man, but go directly those in need, and share in their experience. I can promise you that it’s one of the most rewarding feelings you’ll ever have. In a world where many fail to make eye contact with others, a conversation or smile can brighten someone’s day more than you think.

Second, I ask that you share this story. If everyone in Grand Rapids shares their time with  someone less fortunate than themselves once a week, you can imagine the positive impact this would have on the lives of others.

There are AMAZING people out there, but you’ll never find them unless you take the time to open your eyes and get to know them. As many try to find a way to clear our street corners and parks, I continue to realize how important it is to show compassion for everyone, and you should do the same. After all, when all is said and done, we’re all struggling in one way or another.

From both Ron and me, “Have a blessed day.”

Blog Post by Kyle Johnson, Owner, Personal Fitness Agent at Professional Fitness Consulting

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