by Shannon Cohen
Founded in 2014, HQ Grand Rapids (320 State St SE) has created safe and affirming spaces for over 1,100 young people in the community experiencing homelessness and unstable housing. The organization is more than a drop-in center: HQ is committed to being a change agent in disrupting and breaking the cycle of homelessness for community members ages 14-24. Breaking the cycle of homelessness means addressing the other root causes and systemic issues that result in youth living on the street or in unsafe locales: poverty, unemployment, generational abuse and lack of educational support.
HQ believes that young people are the experts in their own lives and that holistic solutions begin where all great things do: with belonging and safety. At HQ, youth are valued for their skills, their personality and their scars. Daily, HQ provides a continuum of care that honors the intrinsic value in every human being. Using a 3-R model of Rest, Readiness and Resources, the nonprofit uses beautiful spatial and aesthetic design combined with intentional relationship building and cultural intelligence to create an environment of trust, connection and support. From this space, youth can pursue safe housing, education, employment and community support.
When you practice taking the time to see the blessings in your own life, there is a deep sense of gratitude you feel when given the opportunity to show up for someone else.”
— HQ Executive Director Shandra Steininger
HQ is clear about its mission. The organization serves youth experiencing homelessness; not “homeless youth,” and their clients are called “members.”
In reflection of the holidays, I spoke with HQ Executive Director Shandra Steininger and Volunteer Coordinator/Member Specialist Kai Giles to learn what walking alongside HQ members has taught them about gratitude and the power of giving. Steininger and Giles know what research affirms: Gratitude helps us cope with crisis, and grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.
Here are three truths Shandra and Khiley shared about how gratitude has served them in their personal and professional lives.
1. Service is a manifestation of gratitude.
Kai Giles: It is one thing to delight and be thankful for things; however, I find deeper purpose in giving and using my life to help others. At HQ, we don’t enter member’s lives as “saviors,” rather we walk alongside members as fellow human beings, advocates and cheerleaders. Each of us has something to give and something we need.’’
Shandra Steininger: I pause often to reflect on the selflessness and sacrifices of influencers in my life.
I think of the cost others have paid to be a blessing in my life. When you practice taking the time to see the blessings in your own life, there is a deep sense of gratitude you feel when given the opportunity to show up for someone else. Being present and daily giving of myself in small but impactful ways is a form of gratitude for me.
2. Gratitude is a force and source of resilience in hard times
SS: Life brings hard things and hard times to all of us, but we get to choose. We can wallow in our pain, or we can redefine and re-frame our battle scars to make the world a better place. Gratitude is found in finding the power to use the bad stuff we have gone through as fodder to produce good. Much of the resilience I have today emerged from the challenges I had to go through. HQ members teach me daily that even in hard places. We still have choice and power. I am more than my present circumstances. We all are.
KG: You are me, and I am you. How can I look down upon you when I struggle too? Members have taught me so much about the grit it takes to navigate the valleys of life. Often when volunteers start at HQ, many expect members to be sad and depressed due to the challenges of navigating housing instability and all that comes with it. There are these stereotypes you see of what a person experiencing homelessness looks like. At HQ, on any given day, you hear deep, hearty laughter — the whole big body laughter a person bellows when they feel safe. I didn’t expect members to be happy, but they are. Even as they work to overcome heavy issues, there is still joy.
3. Gratitude is maximized in focusing on what you have
SS: You don’t need a lot of money or time to make a difference. Instead of taking inventory of what you don’t have, focus on what you do have. We all do things every day that are very human and necessary to survival. When people ask about supporting HQ, I encourage them to build upon what they already do and have. When you go to buy gloves for the winter, grab an extra pair for an HQ member. When you cook dinner, make an extra casserole to share at a drop-in session of HQ. When you purchase toiletries, grab a few extra for a person in need. Every one of us has something to be thankful for and something meaningful to contribute!
Learn more about supporting and connecting with HQ at HQgr.org.
Shannon is a self-described bicoastal Michigander entrepreneur, wife and mother with a family now planted in Grand Rapids. Shannon is an award-winning strategist, motivational speaker and community mobilizer. View more about Shannon and her work in community at shannoncohen.com.