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Image of volunteers and friends in a homeless tent city.

Choose Kindness, Spark Real Change

The story of facing homelessness.


Connection, compassion, community. Believe it or not, those three simple ingredients are the recipe for change. And we’ve all got what it takes to put those together and make a real difference for people in need!

  1. [Music]

    On screen: Big Dream Gathering

    Narrator: Just a few years ago, architect Rex Holbein was happy building award-winning, million-dollar homes. But then he took some time to connect with someone experiencing homelessness.

    On screen: Rex Hohlbein, Founder and Creative Director, Facing Homelessness

    Hohlbein: Rex: I was not an unhappy little architect.

    Interviewer: Yeah.

    Hohlbein: I loved architecture.

    Interviewer: Right.

    Hohlbein: I'm not a little architecture geek.

    Interviewer: Right.

    Hohlbein: And so I wasn't actually looking for anything but when I moved my office to the Fremont neighborhood, I started to meet a lot of people that were homeless.

    Homeless woman: Do you want this, by the way?

    Homeless man: Okay.

    Hohlbein: Yeah I'm positive. Go for it. Yeah, you're welcome. It's nice meeting you. Yeah all right, buddy. All right see you later. It’s Daniel, right?

    Daniel: Yeah.

    Hohlbein: All right take care man.

    Daniel: Nice to meet you.

    Hohlbein: All right bye-bye.

    Hohlbein: In the conference room, talking about this house that was millions of dollars and then having coffee and lunch with guys that literally had nothing — I mean besides what was on their back — nothing.

    Hohlbein: I decided to start a Facebook page called Facing Homelessness and the intent was simply to come closer — to take black-and-white photos and to share stories. The community began to respond. To all these stories that we’re sharing.

    Hohlbein: Someone would say, “Oh my God,” on Facebook. “Oh my God, she's sleeping under a tree. Does she want a tent? And I would type back, “Sure!” And then you know, then the next day she would — this woman — would come to my office for, for maybe some coffee and I would say, “Hey you know what? This person on Facebook just brought a tent for you.”

    Hohlbein: That turned in to being our mission. To bring, to make a bridge between people that are inside that feel disconnected and people that are outside who feel like they live separated out from the community.

    Hohlbein: Do you want to just sit right now I'll take a photo? All right, here we go. That's a good photo

    [Music]

    Hohlbein: You rush in thinking you're going to do something for somebody — and you end up being the one that's enriched.

    Interviewer: Yeah.

    Hohlbein: You, in that moment, you're the one that benefits the most. Every time. Like, every time. What we're saying to people is you don't need to have a solution to start. You don't need to know anything other than giving that person something in some sense, that you see them. That you — your heart is open to them. And that's actually a lot that's — that's…that's — that’s more than they're getting by a long shot. And that we can do that by making eye contact. By giving a smile or just saying, “Hello.”

    On screen: Sign on building reads: JUST SAY HELLO, FACING HOMELESSNESS, FACEBOOKIT

    Hohlbein: I love architecture. But actually getting to be in people's lives and getting to share in those stories and be a part of it has — has actually kind of enriched me in a way that I couldn't have expected when I was doing architecture.

    Hohlbein: People want to help. People want to — it's not a compassion issue, I believe. It's a…it's truly a proximity issue. The closer you get, the more you feel. The more you feel, the more you act. It's that…it's really that simple.

    Hohlbein: We're all in this together. And when we walk past someone that's suffering, we're not only harming that individual, we're harming ourselves. So I would say really just begin. Just begin your journey. Just say hello. Just open yourself to someone else's struggles and — and where that leads you, I have no doubt will be this beautiful journey for you.

    Narrator: I don't know about you, but Rex's story inspires me…to be a little more intentional. To be a little more present. To see the person in front of me, no matter who they are. And to start by just saying, “Hello.”

    On screen: WANT MORE INSPIRATION? VISIT www.AmFam.com/Dream-support, American Family Insurance, Insure carefully, dream fearlessly.

Take it from Rex Holbein. For nearly 28 years, Rex ran a successful, high-end residential architecture firm in Seattle — a profession he’d call his “dream job.” But when he started to interact with homeless people living outside his office building, a new passion began to form.

“About 8 years ago, I began to meet folks that were living homeless out front of my office,” says Rex. “I had this repeating experience of talking with people that had nothing to their name, owning only what they carried on their back, while also meeting with clients just 25 yards away in my conference room that were talking about spending millions of dollars on one home. Over time, I became friends with many of these homeless people and I came to the conclusion that they were not matching up to their negative stereotypes. This created an internal struggle for me. To voice this, I decided to begin a Facebook page showing black and white photos and sharing personal stories to show the beauty of each person I was meeting. I felt by showing this beauty, a questioning of the widely held negative view of the homeless could begin.”

Turns out his intuition was right. Dozens of community members began reaching out asking if they could help! And as the initiative grew, Rex was focusing less and less on his business and more on making a difference — a dream he does not regret pursuing.

“I fell in love with the kindness that was surrounding me,” explains Rex. “Kindness from people on the street and kindness from those rushing to help. Even though I love architecture, this work was suddenly speaking to me in a way that brought more meaning. Finding this new purpose allowed me to confidently close my architecture practice and begin the nonprofit, Facing Homelessness.”

Since making this decision, Rex’s happiness and sense of purpose has grown leaps and bounds. And he’s built upon his momentum to start new projects that bring real change to his community — his latest being the BLOCK project, a housing initiative and community building project designed to provide housing to homeless and underprivileged people.

Inspired by Rex’s story? We are too. And we’re here to encourage you to follow his lead, embrace kindness and make a real difference! To get started down the path to change, consider Rex’s advice.

Be genuine and compassionate. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a crucial step in fostering change. While you may not have the time or capability to open your home, cook a meal or offer any supplies to someone in need, simply showing a genuine interest for them by smiling and saying “hi” goes a long way! Because every small, compassionate human interaction contributes to the broader picture.

“I believe we are all compassionate people,” says Rex. “There are lots of different ways we express this, but at the core of it, we all want to find a deeper meaning in our life. And when enough people in a community experience this type of meaning, you begin to create a healthy community. At this critical-mass point, community begins to make the right things important and change begins!”

Ask yourself two questions. “At Facing Homelessness, we ask all volunteers to answer two questions,” says Rex. “What are you good at, and what are you passionate about? You then take the answer to those two questions and go out into the world to help someone in need feel a little more loved. If you’re good at it, you’ll make a difference. And if you’re passionate about it, you’ll stick with it!”

So, what are you good at? And what are you passionate about? Do some thinking and find the answers to those crucial questions. If you keep them top-of-mind, you’ll always be positioned to champion change.

Just begin. Facing a fundamental issue in your community can be really challenging. And it’s hard to know where to begin. But the best advice is to jump in and figure it out along the way.

“Too often we think we need to have the answers to begin,” explains Rex. “The truth is solutions are mostly found along the way. If we wait for it before starting, we’ll never begin! Find the courage to push a little beyond your comfort zone and trust that what’s most important in life is to love. And remember, the closer you come, the more you feel. The more you feel, the more you act. It’s that simple. Just begin.”

We all have something to offer. If you can truly and mindfully connect with people by showing compassion and bringing your unique passions to the table, your community can only grow stronger. So take Rex’s advice and strive to create a better world. And remember his last piece of advice.

“To live in a world of peace, we need to not just tolerate the differences, but rather celebrate them — that’s where the beauty is.”

If you're interested in getting involved and giving back in your community, here are some tips for fighting hunger by supporting your local food bank.

Need even more support? We’re here to help! Join the dream movement today — we’ve got just the resources to motivate and guide you along any dream pursuit!


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Related Topics: Community , Environment , Health , Personal Development