I’m sure yo’ve heard it tossed around in business and self-improvement vernacular all the time. For years I didn’t understand what it meant or how it might fit into my life. My name is Sam Sawchuk, and I am the co-founder of Sandwich for a Story. “
Sandwich for a Story began four years ago when I was eighteen years old living in Vancouver. This was my first venture from home and I spent my summer internship working for a tech firm that built health applications. As a company, we were on the forefront of some of the world’s most innovative health technologies, but between all the bits and bytes I saw a greater problem in society.
Like many people my age, I used to view a risk as trying something new — but this summer I began to perceive risk in a very different way…
I started to understand what it truly meant to be vulnerable.
Every day, as each of us is going about our daily routine, we pass by people from all walks of life from cashiers to bankers to consultants to teachers classifying each individual with a title.
A title provides us with a sense of comfort for a brief moment. We have trained ourselves to stay within the realm of vulnerability by placing X and Y’s on those around us.
On June 13th, 2013, as I was walking through the streets of Vancouver, BC, I approached a busy intersection filled with workers, students, and shoppers galore. It was an iconic street filled with some of the world’s most recognizable storefronts — brands that represented a successful life lived in many people’s eyes.
Between all the glitz and glamor that surrounded me, I paused. Looking around, my eyes zoned in on a man in a plain white t-shirt and blue jeans – a stark contrast to the plethora of tailored suits that created a patchwork down the city street.
Something was holding me back.
I couldn’t quite piece it together, all I wanted to do was say “hello,” but for some reason, I couldn’t. He was a person, after all, a man who had never seen me and an individual who never had the opportunity to develop a picture of me from based on what he saw on social media.
So what prevented me from being vulnerable and reaching out to this man?
I had met other men like this individual in my life before and they fell into the same boat as every Sam, Cathy, Matt and Robert I have met. They were all people with a heart, a voice, and a story.
We have all been in those situations where we just wanted to say ‘hello,’ but getting there can be extremely challenging — an inner battle to toss away the perceptions of those around us.
That day I took a risk I stepped out of my own shoes and said “hello.”
Flash forward a few minutes and there I was, legs crossed sitting with Jeremy on the street… his hand pointing up to a glistening glass office tower that stood high above us.
A single risk — a simple hello, and there I was awestruck. I remember looking over at my co-founder Evan struggling to piece together what we had just heard. It all started when I inquired to Jeremy about his life at home.
He explained to us that he had a relatively normal childhood, just like you and I. He grew up playing football and had a loving relationship with his sister and his mother in Ontario, Canada where they grew up.
Through a variety of twists and turns, circumstances and ups and downs Jeremy found himself here and his sister found herself just steps away.
Was Jeremy’s sister also homeless?
In fact, it turns out she was far from it. Jeremy revealed to us that his sister was a senior partner at a firm that overlooked that place where he slept every night. Like me, you are probably sitting there reading this thinking how is this even possible?
By being vulnerable we allowed space for Jeremy to do the same. Through our conversation, we learned that Jeremy and his sister share many common traits. They each have a voice, a story and a set of circumstances that have shaped their life experience.
Evan and I each took a small, individual risk that day to reach out and be vulnerable and we are thrilled to say that since then thousands of meals and ‘hellos’ have been passed on by Sandwich for a Story volunteers and those inspired by our mission.
We made a new friend that day in Jeremy and he left us with a simple reminder of our reward for being vulnerable that day…
“Strangers are just friends that we have never met before.”
This year we asked a large group our friends and family what they would do if they found out one of their friends was homeless and had no place to sleep. In other words, we asked our friends what it would be like to be vulnerable and open up in a way they hadn’t before.
From Calgary to Costa Rica to Melbourne, to Glasgow people responded…
“I would offer them my couch and definitely make them dinner”
“I would tell them the system has failed you and society have turned it’s back on you, but I refuse to let you fail. My home is your home.”
“I would offer them a place to stay until they got back on their feet”
“I would tell them you can move in with us. We don’t have extra room, so you can share mine!”
The energy of compassion can be our strongest tool in giving people back the sense of dignity they deserve, a smile, a handle a hello. A reminder that even if you can not give monetarily we all have something within ourselves to give once we open up and be vulnerable.
All of us have a voice, a story and a set of circumstances that have shaped our lives – take a risk, be vulnerable, share it with the world and allow others to share theirs because sometimes the bravest thing you can say is hello.
Now I truly know what it means to be vulnerable.