Local teacher, writer to educate the homeless
Gus LaFosse, an instructor at Lamar State College in Orange and a freelance reporter for The Record Newspapers will be traveling to Shreveport, La. for several months to establish an educational program at Commonground Community, a homeless outreach. In order to make this effort most productive, he is collecting used books, clothes and canned goods to carry with him.
Commonground Community is a revolutionary shelter in many ways. The operation began ten years ago with the genuine concern of one neighbor for another. A couple of Christian families, moved by the extreme poverty all around them, pooled their money and bought an old house in the poorest neighborhood in Shreveport. They repaired it and began to cook hot meals and give away clothes from it. They served homeless people, whom they call their “outdoor friends” and other destitute men, women and children bearing the burden of inner-city life.
For ten years, the operation has continued “in love,” with no money from the government at all. They have a large garden and greenhouse to help with food. They have bi-weekly community meals, outdoor church services, after school programs for neighborhood children, outdoor visitation, and many other gestures that can be used to gain the trust and friendship of these hurting members of society.
This attempt to reach out certainly moved the hearts of the homeless who reached right back. Hundreds of people have been adopted into “the family” in one way or another.
When the operation was too large to be contained in one house, the “family” bought the next one and fixed it up. In this manner, the group has taken over an entire city block, renewing the community. This is not typical of homeless shelters.
LaFosse states, “Any attempt to feed and clothe these good people is a noble effort. But I am proud to be a part of this operation in particular because they not only serve the needs of the entire person, but they at least attempt to build these hurting people back up, integrating them into society again. The government can give away food and money, but they do not do it with the love of God.”
He states “Too often we consider these people a problem instead of what they really are- hurting people- weeping mothers, ashamed fathers, and forsaken children who don’t know where to turn. If they knew any better way, they would be doing better. Christ teaches in John 13:35 ‘by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.’ I just want to do my part.”
One church generously donated an entire property, which happened to be across the street from the original “community” house. After some legal issues and a couple of years of slow, voluntary renovations, the new center – a huge multi-building complex – is ready for use. The group plans to serve from the new complex and use the old house to accomodate volunteers. New services in the works are medical treatment, an education program, a pantry, a clothing closet, and beds.
LaFosse states, “Last time I visited Commonground, I sat down with a elderly man who reluctantly revealed to me that he could not read. I had never met an illiterate person. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be unable to read. We took out a storybook, and we struggled through it. I wanted to do more for him, but I had to leave. I told Mr. Brian, the director, that he needed to build a school, too. I was joking. But Mr. Brian never forgot that and a school program has been in the works ever since.”
In his attempt to start the educational program, LaFosse is collecting books.
“The most useful kind of books will be elementary and middle school readers. While there are educated people in this group, most of the people I will work with are at an elementary or middle school reading level. Any books that teach phonics, and fundamental reading skills will be most helpful. But any books will be appreciated. The kids love science books.”
LaFosse states, “I love people and I want to help them. I truly believe that the best way to help people is to educate them. Then they will be able to help themselves and other hurting people.” Although books are his main concern, LaFosse will also be collecting clothes and can goods because “if one cannot eat, one cannot learn.” LaFosse assures, “Any canned goods donated will be personally delivered into the hands of people who live on the street.”
LaFosse encourages anyone who feels compassion for others to get involved.
“Do something. Anything. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Whatever your little hands find to do, do it. Do it in Jesus’ name. You can be the change that you want to see.”
Anyone who is interested in donating any useful supplies can e-mail Gus LaFosse at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Commonground Website at commongroundcommunityshreveport.com.