Meet the young man behind ‘A Tiny Home for Good’

Andrew Lunetta stands in front of one of the vacant lots where his organization, "A Tiny Home for Good," plans to build residential units for the homeless in Syracuse, NY.

Andrew Lunetta in front of a vacant lot where his organization, “A Tiny Home for Good,” plans to build residences for the homeless. The proposal has been delayed while it awaits action by Onondaga County, which owns the land.

Andrew Lunetta is devoting his abundant energy to building “tiny homes” for the homeless in Syracuse, NY.

“For some reason, the homeless population really called to me,” Andrew said. “They’re the poorest of the poor. The most forgotten of the forgotten.”

The logistics of making these tiny homes a reality are complicated. But his philosophy isn’t: If we’re able to help others in need, we should do it.

A survey last year counted 68 chronically homeless individuals in Syracuse. Andrew’s response? In the next five years, let’s build 68 safe environments for them.


Andrew Lunetta

Andrew Lunetta

Andrew’s organization, “A Tiny Home for Good,” wants to build six 250-square-foot “tiny homes” in two city neighborhoods a couple of miles apart. That’s six homeless people who could be indoors before winter.

But the proposals have hit a snag or two.

Onondaga County owns the land where “A Tiny Home for Good” wants to put four units, and would have to agree to transfer the property.

Andrew hoped the county legislature would discuss the tiny homes proposal at its monthly meeting Tuesday (Sept. 1), but he was told it won’t be brought up. The legislature previously delayed a decision and is doing so again because of “community pushback,” Andrew said.

County legislator Monica Williams, whose district includes the vacant lots, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Now the other “Tiny Home” site, where two units are planned, may be delayed as well.

Two homes are framed and ready to be moved from a warehouse onto the site as soon as a billboard is removed. But now the company that owns the lot has more questions, Andrew said.

“Since the city or county wasn’t involved, I thought the process would be smoother,” he said.

Time is running short, and a lot has to be done — soon — if the tiny homes are to be up and inhabited before winter.

Andrew’s approach is a calm blend of idealism and realism, but the delays have him frustrated.

While he waits for things to play out with the two parcels, he’s looking for other vacant properties in Syracuse that would be suitable for tiny homes. (Contact him via the “A Tiny Home for Good” site.)

Just 25, Andrew has devoted the past several years to helping the homeless and underserved in Syracuse. He worked the late shift at a men’s shelter for two-plus years, and is on the board of the Brady Faith Center ministries.

Four years ago at the Brady Center, Andrew started the “Pedal to Possibilities” bicycling program for community members as well as the homeless. Three mornings a week, a group rides up to 10 miles through Syracuse. The rides provide exercise, socialization and empowerment.

But to tackle homelessness effectively, Andrew believes in the “housing first” approach championed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The idea is to provide a safe living environment, and follow it up with an umbrella of services — case managers, physical and mental health evaluations and treatment, clothing and job training. It’s working in other cities, and Andrew insists Syracuse has enough resources, financial and otherwise, to succeed.

Government agencies, not-for-profit organizations and individuals can all do their part, Andrew said.

“There are so many faith-based communities that can cover the bases,” he said. “People can check in on the residents, and see how to help once they’re housed.”

Maria Sweeney, a Syracuse advocate who runs Maria’s Outreach, says Andrew’s tiny homes plan reflects his compassion and his innovative ideas to solve the problem of homelessness in the community.

“A Tiny Home for Good not only provides housing, but also fosters a sense of dignity and respect,” Maria said. “Andrew is an amazing leader.”

Andrew has felt the pull to help others for a long time. After high school, he joined City Year and worked with kids in a school in Cleveland. Then he earned a bachelor’s degree in Peace and Global Studies from LeMoyne College and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University.

He’s putting all that to work on the streets of Syracuse, where he can directly help the people he most wants to serve.

The poorest of the poor, the most forgotten of the forgotten.

Posted in Homeless, Irish Investigations, poverty | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

An exceptional man and his journey: Exhibit B

James. June 1, 2014.

James. June 1, 2014.

Yesterday I gave an update on Brian D’Apice and his 10,000-mile Bicycle Around America solo trek for charity.

Today brings the tale of another exceptional man on a very different journey.

Here in Central New York, my homeless friend James pushes a shopping cart several miles a day.

James, 49, is a survivor and a loner.

He sleeps on a bench under some trees, between the county justice center and a building designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei to house art.

A couple of weeks ago while James slept, someone stole his shopping cart. It held everything he owned except what he was wearing. James also relied on it to transport the returnable bottles and cans he redeems for a nickel apiece.

Ever resourceful, James obtained a wheeled trash toter, but it was hard to maneuver and he didn’t go far with it. Collecting returnables was difficult.

James’ informal network of supporters stepped up. They brought him clothes, gift cards, sneakers — and a replacement shopping cart.

The cart came about when a colleague of mine told a grocery store manager about James’ situation. The next day, she and her husband picked up a well-used but very functional cart.

James is back in business, making his daily rounds pushing the cart through Syracuse. His life, his journey, play out in an area no larger than a few square miles.

For a closer look at James, check out this fine video by Kevin Rivoli, a photojournalist with The Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse.

Posted in Homeless, Irish Investigations, poverty | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

An exceptional man and his journey: Exhibit A

Brian D'Apice at Mount Rushmore on July 26.

Brian D’Apice at Mount Rushmore on July 26.

This is the first of two updates on a pair of exceptional men I admire, and the vastly different journeys they are on.

I’ve written here before about Brian D’Apice and his 10,000-mile solo bicycle ride for charity. Many readers have asked to be kept informed about how he’s doing. (An update on the second exceptional man and his journey will soon follow.)

Brian, 30, is nearing the West Coast on his Bicycle Around America trek that began May 4 in New York City. He has pedaled 4,000 miles across almost 20 states. He left Missoula, Montana Thursday en route to Spokane, Wash.

Brian is faring quite well, remains upbeat and has encountered far more kindness and appreciation than hardship. Perhaps the worst thing he’s faced, other than steep hill climbs, rain and headwinds, is the occasional middle-finger “salute” from motorists.

(Wouldn’t you just love to tell those idiots that the guy they just flipped off is a U.S. Army veteran giving up a year of his life to ride a bicycle 10,000 miles to help military families and children living in poverty?)

I’ve said this before, but it’s impossible to be around Brian and not feel inspired, uplifted and encouraged about young people and the future. He’s the real deal. His parents did a helluva job.

Learn more about Brian and his efforts. If you’re so inclined, lend him a hand — he’d appreciate any offer of kindness: a jar of peanut butter, a gift card, a place to stay, a donation to one of the charities he’s devoting a year of his life to helping.

If you’d like a positive and thoughtful look at life and why we’re here, check out his blog.

Here’s a sample from his most recent post:

“Part of me enjoys the challenges and discomfort—it makes me feel closer to the people I am helping. It seems that in the most trying times I feel the most purpose in my life. It’s invigorating, which is exactly what I need to push through the task at hand. I also enjoy challenges because they give me the opportunity to grow.

“I recognize that overcoming the numerous trials I’ve faced in the past has only made me a stronger person today, so I welcome whatever experiences I will face in the future, knowing that they will only teach me more about myself and the world around me.”

Posted in Travel, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The enduring power of imagination: Bedtime story, 1997

In my basement today I found a copy of a newspaper column I wrote in April 1997. I am reprising it here, with edits, for my three sons — now 27, 24 and 22.

The allure of the mud — if not the mud itself — had worn off my three boys by early afternoon Sunday, a cold, raw day.

We went inside, where a raucous game of “wall ball” ensued in the family room. I searched for a less destructive activity. In the corner amid a stack of cassette tapes, I found an old favorite, “Best-Loved Stories Told at the National Storytelling Festival,” which I hadn’t played for them in quite a while.

Because my two oldest sons are 8 and 6, I knew their memories of the stories would be incomplete. The 4-year-old wouldn’t remember them at all.

So I broke out the milk and cookies and had them sit down and listen to four of my favorites. All the stories were recorded at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., sometime before 1991.

My boys must have thought it strange, as they listened in utter silence, to see me laughing and wiping tears from my eyes at the same time.

Compressed in these four tales are invaluable lessons of love and pain, forgiveness and acceptance, life and death.

“Flowers and Freckle Cream” by Elizabeth Ellis deals with a 12-year-old girl’s painful self-consciousness about her looks. Jay O’Callahan’s “Orange Cheeks” is a joyous celebration of a 6-year-old boy’s relationship with his wise grandmother. “A Friend of My Father” by Maggi Kerr Peirce is a hilarious and poignant tale of life and death in Ireland. And Steve Sanfield’s “Could This Be Paradise?” is a clever parable about the grass always being greener on the other side.

The boys laughed at the funny parts, of course, and the two older ones seemed to be figuring out how to react to the painful parts.

That night at bedtime, my 6-year-old asked if they could hear an original story.

I said OK, but they had to help me create it. I ripped a sheet of paper into tiny squares and wrote a story element on each — “a color,” “a problem to solve,” “a boy’s name,” “a girl’s name,” “a cool place,” and so on.

I folded the scraps and put them into my oldest son’s Seattle Mariners baseball cap, and had each boy pick one without peeking. Because it was his idea, the 6-year-old went first and chose “a problem to solve”  . . . “Rats eating clothes!” he said. (Oh, boy.)

The 8-year-old had to come up with a boy’s name: “Eberhard.” (Whose idea was this, anyway?) The 4-year-old, who picked “a cool place,” looked at me with his bright green eyes and said, “California.” (This one’s going to be trouble.)

The story I came up with wasn’t all that compelling, and may have contributed to the 4-year-old’s bad dreams that night.

It was the heroic tale of Eberhard Smithfield III, who lived in a mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean. With the help of Madeline the Maid, Eberhard figured out that a raccoon that had been wreaking havoc in the Smithfield mansion’s laundry room had found its way in by climbing through the clothes dryer vent.

(I know it was supposed to be a rat, but how could I send them off to never-never land with images of a disease-carrying rodent in their heads? Raccoons aren’t much better, but at least they’re cuter).

Now, a bedtime story isn’t complete without a moral, but I didn’t figure this one out until I was finished: Keep it short. (My 6-year-old fell asleep during the telling.) Or maybe I should just put in the cassette tape and let the pros handle it.

The greater lesson, of course, is that stories have incredible power — the power to help children laugh and think and feel, to use their imaginations, to figure out how to cope with their small world and the more harrowing grownup world to follow.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if the stories come from a professional on a stage, or from a rank amateur sitting on the floor of a dark, quiet bedroom.

According to the National Storytelling Festival schedule for 2015, Jay O’Callahan is a featured teller. (“Thank you, Grandma!”)

Posted in Children, Irish Investigations, stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

In Syracuse, NY, why do we accept mediocrity?

A busy intersection in Syracuse, NY. Faded pavement stripes and signage lead to driver confusion -- and frustration.

BEFORE: Faded pavement stripes led to driver confusion — and anger — for years.

It took way too long for a frustrating, often dangerous traffic situation in Syracuse, NY, to be remedied.

What did it take?

Two e-mail exchanges, three years apart.

How the solution came about is not as important as what the long-standing problem really symbolizes — a struggling city’s low self-esteem, pervasive apathy and chronic acceptance of mediocrity.

For the past seven years I’ve driven through and walked across a particularly busy intersection a dozen times a week. Harrison-at-Almond is a major connector to hospitals and universities, and is at the foot of a ramp to a highway.

The striping on the pavement of the five northbound lanes faded at least three years ago.

I saw regular incidents of driver confusion, frustration and road rage. Because of ambiguous overhead signs and a lack of paint to clarify lanes and directions, some drivers in the middle lane who had a green light thought the adjacent red turn signal was for them.

So they sat there. And held people up behind them, resulting in horns, shouts and dangerous maneuvering to get around them.

This went on for years, until last week when . . . an e-mail was forwarded.

In 2012, I wrote to the state transportation department about the intersection. The overhead signs and signal heads had recently been re-positioned, but the problem persisted because the lanes weren’t clearly striped. There was a misunderstanding over whose responsibility it was to paint the lanes. Nothing was done.

After that, I did what everyone else did — nothing — except shake my head every time I saw the same scenario of frustration unfold.

Two weeks ago, I decided to revisit the issue and e-mailed the state. A state traffic engineer wrote back and copied a city traffic engineer on the e-mail. After a followup from me, the city acknowledged it was responsible for striping the lanes.

The work was done in less than a day. (The “after” photo is below.)

I’m not pointing the finger at government entities as much as I am at those who live, work, drive and walk near that intersection. I include myself among those I’m disappointed in, since I gave up in 2012 after just one inquiry.

Thousands of other motorists and pedestrians endured that potentially dangerous situation for 1,000 days or more. (The crosswalk paint was basically invisible, and that’s been re-striped as well.)

Unless someone can show me that the city or state ignored years’ worth of complaints about this intersection, I’ll assume no one else bothered to say anything.

Sure, Syracuse has more important things to worry about (see the New York Times “Spike Nation” story about our synthetic marijuana problem). And yes, there are bright spots, energetic residents and business owners who are doing their best to revive a once-thriving place to live and work.

But the Harrison-at-Almond intersection is a clear example that we’ve come to accept here as the norm — an inconvenient, frustrating and unsafe situation that’s easily remedied.

So look around where you live. Are there teeth-rattling potholes, eyesore buildings, litter-strewn roads? Are you dealing with sleazy slumlords, surly parking lot attendants, incompetent contractors?

Don’t expect anything to change on its own. Call or write whoever you have to. And don’t wait three years to follow up, as I did.

The same intersection in Syracuse, re-striped.

AFTER: The same intersection in Syracuse, re-striped.

Posted in driving, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

‘I can’t go into Canada — I’ve got felonies’

It wasn’t exactly the welcome we expected when we crossed the border.

We drove to Michigan last weekend, cutting across Ontario, Canada from western New York to save a couple of hours.

After crossing into the U.S., we pulled into a “welcome center” to stretch our legs. A few other vehicles came and went while we took a bathroom break, raided our cooler for sandwiches and walked the dog.

We had the entire parking area to ourselves, and started getting organized to get back on the road.

“Sir! Sir! Can you help me out?”

I turned around to see a large man who must have emerged from the welcome center.

“With what?” I called back. My “spidey sense” kicked in. There were no other vehicles in the lot, although there was another parking area for trucks out back.

“Directions!” he called out.

“I’m from upstate New York, so I don’t know how much I can help!” I replied. I kept a distance between us as I sized up the situation. I’ve been told I think like a cop, which can be good and bad, I suppose.

“Let me get a map,” I called out, trying to sound annoyed or at least aloof, and walked back to the car. At this point, Michelle was getting her phone out.

I strolled back to the man, who stayed where he was, about half the distance between the building and our car. Not another person or vehicle in sight.

I unfolded the map as I walked over to him. He outweighed me by about 100 pounds, but for whatever reason I wasn’t scared. Wary, certainly, but calm.

The man had a piece of paper with directions and addresses scrawled on it, and said he didn’t know how to get to Detroit. I showed him where we were, and that he needed to take I-94 westbound.

He seemed confused by the map, and I was waiting for the request for a ride, which would have been denied. The whole thing seemed “off,” not quite right.

That’s when he said, “I can’t go into Canada. I’ve got felonies.”


OK, so this was a little awkward. But I didn’t react, and just reiterated the route he needed to go, even pointing toward the highway ramp and adding that Canada was in the opposite direction.

I folded up the map and may have wished him good luck as I walked back to our car. End of story.

But we wondered if it could have ended differently. Badly.

As the man and I parted, Michelle was standing outside our car, phone in hand. If he noticed her, did he think she was looking up a Google map to help him? Or was she ready to call 911 if needed? (It was the latter, as things didn’t seem right to her, either).

Where was his vehicle? Maybe it was on the other side of the building, where several truckers had parked. Had he asked anyone over there for directions?

I had been close enough to him that I could tell that he had recently washed up, maybe even showered. If that were the case, how long had he been driving? Had he been driving at all?

And why, since we were already in Michigan and he needed to go to Detroit, did he mention he couldn’t go into Canada? And why volunteer that he’s a felon?

The most nagging questions: Was this an innocent encounter with a directionally challenged person, and we were overthinking it, overreacting? Or was he up to no good, and thought better of it when he saw Michelle with her phone at the ready?

We’ll never know, of course. But too many things just didn’t add up.

The only certainty is that we’re forced to balance our desire to help others with our personal safety. It’s not cynicism. It’s common sense with a little “spidey sense” added for good measure.

Posted in crime, driving, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

‘What the Lord would want us to do’ in South Sudan

Former "Lost Boy" John Dau. Photo by Michelle Gabel.

Former “Lost Boy” John Dau. Photo © Michelle Gabel.

History is in danger of repeating itself in the African nation of South Sudan, where a generation ago a lengthy civil war killed an estimated 2.5 million people and displaced millions more.

In 1987, 12-year-old John Dau and other young boys fled violence in Sudan and began walking across Africa, separated from their families, seeking shelter and safety.

They became the Sudanese “Lost Boys,” 3,800 children who eventually were resettled in America.

“You couldn’t tell if you were going to survive that day,” John said, noting that many boys died from disease, malnutrition or animal attacks. “We went through that for 15 years.”

John settled in Syracuse, NY, in 2001, and said he had three options: Try to recover his lost childhood . . . Be bitter and ask God, “Where are you?” . . . or “Take it from where I am, and move on.”

John chose to move on. He’s now at the forefront of relief efforts in South Sudan, a sovereign nation formed when it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

The John Dau Foundation arose from the connections he made with First Presbyterian Church in Skaneateles, NY. The foundation built a medical clinic and hospital in South Sudan in 2007, thanks to what John called the “big American hearts” who have donated money and provided medical care.

“We’re able to deliver life-saving medical treatment,” John said in an interview. “The generous American people have given us a platform to be able to heal. . . . It’s no longer hopeless.”

Former "Lost Boy" John Dau after his presentation about conditions in South Sudan.

Former “Lost Boy” John Dau after his presentation about conditions in South Sudan. Photo by Jim McKeever.

John spoke recently at a gathering in Syracuse’s ArtRage gallery, where the current exhibit, “Impressions: South Sudan,” showcases photographs by Syracuse photojournalists Michelle Gabel and Bruce Strong, who made separate trips there in 2009.

John’s talk followed a showing of the documentary, “Duk County: Peace is in Sight in the New South Sudan,” filmed in 2011. It is an incredibly powerful 40 minutes, and the story it tells is as inspiring as it is gut-wrenching.

The film follows a visiting medical team from the United States that performed eye surgeries on hundreds of South Sudanese. The volunteers restored the sight of children, adults and elderly alike.

The documentary’s portrayal of gratitude and joy amid extremely harsh conditions is powerful. The team returned in 2012 and restored eyesight to another 600 people.

But violence has returned to South Sudan.

In late 2013, the John Dau Foundation’s clinic was forced to move nine miles away after rebel fighters looted all of its supplies. The buildings still stand, but are empty.

Bloody conflict has intensified in recent months, including the rape and murder of women and children, according to media reports. Animosity between the leaders of two powerful tribes sparked the renewed violence.

The clinic continues to treat people — more than 130,000 thus far, John said. Trained staff provide maternal health care, nutrition screenings, vaccinations, infectious disease treatment and many other medical services.

And, John told the gallery audience, it doesn’t turn anyone away.

“Those who destroyed the clinic, their children, the women and elders, their families can get care,” he said.

Treating and healing all people regardless of what tribe they come from, John hopes, will help bring peace. “We’re helping them. That’s what the Lord would want us to do.”

Living in America for more than 13 years has shown John that people can live in peace. When Americans get together, he said, they talk about movies, travel, their jobs. “When South Sudanese people get together,” John said, “they talk about war and losses — who lost who, and how many people you’ve lost.”

He hopes the fighting stops and peace returns. In the meantime, the John Dau Foundation has work to do in South Sudan.

“What we do is help people who need help the most,” said Executive Director Daniel Pisegna. “We can help people in so many ways.”

To help the foundation’s efforts, visit its website.

John Dau speaks to a group about life and conditions in South Sudan.

John Dau speaks to a group about life and conditions in South Sudan. Photo by Jim McKeever.

Posted in Africa, Irish Investigations, war | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Information overload often brings more heat than light

MLKinjustice copyInformation overload got the better of me the past two weeks.

It’s not that I didn’t want to keep up with the SCOTUS rulings, the South Carolina church murders, and the escape and capture of two convicted murderers in northern New York.

I went online often to catch up, and there was just too much — too many posts, too many tweets, too many angry, polarizing comments.

Too much noise.

I tuned a lot of it out, figuring the passage of time would bring some welcome light, rather than heat, into the court of public opinion. So, with a nod to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words above on his memorial in Washington, D.C. …

The South Carolina murders and the Confederate flag: Why did it take the premeditated murders of nine black church-goers by a white racist to force an entire nation to do something about state-sponsored racism?

Let’s look around. Are there other symbols besides the Confederate flag in our midst that we accept, or will continue to ignore, until another act of hatred wakes us up? (And has anyone noticed that eight black churches in the south have caught fire since the murders?)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The SCOTUS rulings

When I toured the Supreme Court a couple of years ago and looked up at those nine chairs, I was in awe of our nation’s history, its Constitutional foundation and its balance of power. Sitting in the very chamber where decisions have been made to shape this country (school desegregation, due process, the right to counsel, etc.) was almost overwhelming. I felt proud and fortunate to live here and now. 

Last week I tried to educate myself on the dissenting justices’ positions on the Affordable Care Act and especially on same-sex marriage. I couldn’t understand such opposition to equal rights, and hoped for a reasonable explanation based on their interpretations of law and the Constitution. 

Starting with Justice Scalia was a mistake, as the snarkiness in his dissent on same-sex marriage was far from informative, and downright discouraging. And I had more than a little trouble with this statement from Justice Thomas: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.”  

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The Dannemora prison break: A convicted murderer (who dismembered one of his victims) was shot and killed by authorities Friday, three weeks after he and another inmate escaped from prison. Two days later, his fellow escapee — a cop-killer — was shot but captured alive.

Comparisons to films like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Cool Hand Luke” (by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others) and speculation about who would portray these two bad actors in a movie, made me cringe. The escapees didn’t vandalize parking meters, or spring from the imagination of Stephen King. They killed people, including a sheriff’s deputy. So why make mythical cult figures out of them?

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Posted in American History, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Bicycle Around America update: A promise from Switzerland

Lukas Amann, a supporter of Brian D'Apice and Bicycle Around America, poses on a mountaintop in Switzerland.

Lukas Amann, a supporter of Brian D’Apice and Bicycle Around America, poses on a mountaintop in Switzerland.

Brian D’Apice’s Bicycle Around America adventure has gained momentum and an outrageous amount of support from across the country.

Friends and strangers have donated to Brian’s designated charities (Pencils of Promise and Connecting Families), put him up for the night, fed him, invited him to speak at schools, etc.

And then there’s Lukas Amann, a young man who is supporting Brian spiritually and physically from thousands of miles away.

Lukas and Brian met in Thailand, and I’ll let Lukas share that story below. But first, here’s part of a message he sent to Brian before his 10,000-mile solo trek began May 4.

“Chances are there will come a point where sh*t hits the fan and things get rough. And when that happens, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your suffering.

“So, I combined several of my jogging routes into one big one that leads through part of Zürich and up Üetli-Mountain, where this pic (above) was taken.

Brian D'Apice

Brian D’Apice

“So when you feel like giving up, shoot me a message and I will run that 15k route (9.3 miles) the very same day, no matter what. That way, you can be sure that on the opposite side of the planet some guy is torturing himself with you for your cause and can – at least to some degree – feel your pain. All the best from Europe!”

Brian was touched by Lukas’ offer, although he has yet to take him up on it. The first 1,400 miles have gone quite well.

“I have not had a day rough enough to ask him to do that,” Brian said this week after a day of riding in Ohio. “I don’t want to jump the gun, but I feel I may never have a day that rough. This is mostly because of how I ‘enjoy’ the challenges of a trip like this. . . . I appreciate his willingness to suffer with me as I enjoy suffering with the people for whom I am raising money.”

Here are excerpts of Lukas’ account of how he met Brian, and why that meeting left such an impression:

I met Brian when I traveled in Thailand. I was doing this journey as an adventurous holiday trip, but I was also seeking an approach to spirituality and wanted to get into meditation which is so widely practised in numerous monasteries there.

Eventually I was introduced to the world of spirituality by this American guy, Brian, who stayed at the same room in a youth hostel. He was having a vivid conversation about religion and society with a German guy who also stayed at the place, when I entered the room.

I was very interested in what Brian was saying and the three of us spent some days together in Chiang Rai, visiting a museum, eating baked grasshoppers, playing football (soccer) with a traditional ball made from bamboo and most of all, having lots and lots of talks about spirituality, mindfulness and meditation. Brian was and is deeply inspiring and contagiously positive person to me.

We did not keep contact a lot, but as I hit rock bottom for a while, he was one of the very few people who I very much felt like getting in touch with and seeking advice. If you’d ask me which accidental acquaintances I am most grateful for in my life, he’d belong to that small bunch of people.

Posted in Irish Investigations, poverty | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

‘Community Build’ house looking more like a home

'Community Build' house  will soon be home to three men from the Rescue Mission of Greater Syracuse.

This ‘Community Build’ house will soon be home to three men from the Rescue Mission of Greater Syracuse.

The “Community Build” project in Syracuse to house three formerly homeless men is nearing completion.

Two months ago, a group of us from Upstate Medical University spent a day volunteering at the property, which was in pretty sad shape.

We went back Friday to do more work, and the house is looking more like a home. The three men are slated to move in by the end of July.

It’s an exciting transformation to behold. On our first visit in April, I wondered why anyone would bother to try to save the house from demolition.

Assorted volunteer groups have been helping contractors in many phases of the project. I’ll post another update this summer when the work is done.


Main room, with stairs leading to three bedrooms.


A view from the center of the house toward the street.

One of three upstairs bedrooms.

Posted in Homeless, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments