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Lions Roar : May 2013
PHOTOBYSELASSIESAMUEL LIVING IN NEW YORK CITY, there is no shortage of joy or suffering. They’re all around you, on a daily basis. As a practicing Buddhist, I strive to see it all clearly, but when I arrive at work, that can get very difficult. I cofounded a nonprofit called the Reciprocity Foundation, which operates a holistic center for homeless teenagers on the West Side. Some days, the problems that appear in front of us loom so large that it’s hard to really take them in. Thankfully, homeless youth are generally open to change. Some of our students reconnect with their will to live through yoga classes and meditation retreats. Others awaken their hearts while making a film, listening to a guest speaker, or simply talk- ing quietly with a caring adult. Homeless youth are a wonderful population. They shoulder the consequences of our worst social problems—poverty, drug addiction, bullying, sexual abuse— and are still willing to open their hearts after as little as one pro- found interaction with a loving adult. For the past seven years we have offered services—both con- ventional and contemplative—to help homeless youth realize their potential. Because before they can put effort into select- ing a vocation, a college program, or a career path, they must first wake up to their own potential. Too many are pushed into school or work before they feel ready, and that’s risky. When dis- connected youth are pushed too far, they can disengage further, setting off a vicious cycle of isolation. But for a long time there was one service we did not offer: meals. Our reasoning was that youth shelters had it covered, providing three meals a day for residents, and soup kitchens distributed brown-bag lunches. We can’t do everything, we told ourselves. We’ll focus on personal transformation and let other agencies focus on food. But in 2012, it seemed that more students than ever were complaining of hunger. How can that be? we asked them, and the answers were hard to swallow. The food served at shelters was heavily processed and meager in nutritional value. Sometimes the food didn’t arrive at all, and when it did, it was often cold or late. Some of our students developed rashes or digestive prob- lems after a few months on the “shelter diet.” Others complained of headaches, dizziness, and low energy. Still, I didn’t think Reciprocity should create a meal program—until I met a home- less young girl named Jada. Jada always wore a scarf around her neck and refused to Home Cooking At New York’s Reciprocity Foundation, homeless youth receive nourishment for body and mind alike. Founder TAZ TAGORE explains the program’s recipe for success. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 19