This mother-son duo is taking homelessness to task in an amazing way.
True
State Farm

Chris Richardson and his mom, Eileen, are close.

We’re talking the kind of close that most single moms and their children understand.

And, for Chris and his mom, this bond has only been strengthened by a shared mission to end homelessness.


His mom was always very driven — she climbed the corporate ladder, becoming a successful venture capitalist, then CEO of Napster and another high-tech startup. But it was while Chris was away at college that she decided to tackle a social issue: homelessness.

In 2004, Eileen popped her head into a food closet in Palo Alto, California, hoping to do just that. And it didn't take her long to take giving back to the next level, leading her to launch the Downtown Streets Team.

The nonprofit isn't your average "give 'em food and a place to stay for the night then send 'em on their way" kind of initiative.

In exchange for community volunteer work, Downtown Streets Team offers homeless people food and housing as well as job skills training.

Photo from The Family Album Project.

It’s a simple exchange that began in Palo Alto 13 years ago and has spread to communities across California, including San Jose, Sunnyvale, San Rafael, San Francisco, Hayward, and Novato.

The most recent launch is in Santa Cruz, and Eileen's son Chris is leading the way as the chief program officer.

"[Homelessness] is an issue we can't ignore," Chris emphasizes. And while he didn't always think he'd end up working with his mom, it didn't take him long to follow in her footsteps and join her nonprofit full-time to help give back.

Photo from The Family Album Project.

The need is certainly great: 66% of California's homeless population live without shelter, and 34% stay in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or safe havens.

Downtown Streets Team is committed to shrinking those numbers — and it's also giving homeless people the opportunity to get involved in their communities.

"We give the homeless a platform to give back," Chris explains.

What begins with community service often results in reliable employment. Through this organization, about 20 team members per month go on to take jobs that earn an average of $12.59 per hour. Of those placed, 75% have remained employed after the first three months.

Photo from The Family Album Project.

After about six months with the organization, most team members begin working with a staff member who helps them figure out their employment goals.

"Some people are ready to look for work after being with us shortly and some take months to be motivated," says Greg Pensinger, project manager of Downtown Streets Team. "We let them go at their own pace because we want them to succeed."

Greg and Chris take to heart connecting team members with gigs they want to commit to.

And the results are impressive. Not only does Downtown Streets Team give homeless people a chance to better their communities, it also gives them the tools to build a brighter, more sustainable future for themselves and their families.

"When we first meet team members, they are in survival mode. Our goal is to get them to self-sufficiency by offering them housing and employment," says Greg.

But their efforts don’t stop there. Chris and Greg advocate off the streets too.

Chris & Eileen Richardson. Photo from The Family Album Project.

They arrange for team members to share their stories with city staff, church groups, police, and schools in an attempt to challenge stereotypes.

Makes sense. For an issue that so many feel disconnected from, offering a human face and story helps drive the message home and allows people who have experienced homelessness to speak for themselves.

Listening to a person's journey, hearing them out, and connecting with their story can make a world of difference.

"We know that there is more to solving homelessness than just going out there and giving people jobs," says Chris. "We have to get people to understand the homeless. We have to change perceptions."

His mom must be proud.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less