2017 May

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The Garden of Stability

Callie Sleper
Listening House Staff Member

Amy has been a guest at Listening House for years. When she was living at Dorothy Day, she first stopped by for some coffee. Now, she stays for a lot more.

Amy experiences an ongoing battle with mental health issues, and the friends and opportunities she has at Listening House help her through it.

Amy is a frequent volunteer at the Listening House Garden. The garden has been operational for about five years and is part of Healthy West Seventh Community Garden on 7th and Otto. For Amy, the garden represents far more than the onions, squash, herbs, and other edibles it produces: It gives purpose and joy to her day. From a very young age, she was already helping her mother and grandmother plant.

“Ever since I was two years old,” Amy said, “I was helping grandma plant snapping beans. I got to poke holes in the dirt so she could drop in the seeds.”

When she was older, Amy was part of an intentional community in Indiana that shared a forever-feeding garden. The housemates would eat what they raised, and the compost layered with mulch, dirt, and grass kept the garden abundant. At another point, she was hauling some 40 plant pots around with her in a travel trailer and didn’t let the fact that she didn’t have a home with a yard stop her.

Amy has been helping out at the Listening House garden for about a year and treks down to help there most weeks. Though she is still one of the fresher faces around our garden, she is already proving her talent at being a green-thumbed planter and visionary.

Amy grows whatever is edible—onions, basil, cumin, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro (among others)—and gets seedlings from the Farmer’s Market. She hopes to plant some squash, tomatoes, peppers, chives, and garlic if it indeed ever quits snowing in Minnesota.

When she is in the garden, Amy feels peaceful and very at home. For Amy, rolling up her sleeves in a garden means peace, stability, and investment a clean lifestyle. Settling into familiar territory such as gardening helps with her mental health. It is also an opportunity to develop her own skills.

“Listening House gives me the opportunity to have a hobby and do something I love,” said Amy. “Gardening gives me something to do. It really helps battle PTSD and depression. I’m really excited about [Listening House’s] new place because there will be more things for people to do. Hobbies can mean skills you can take with you into the work force.”

Amy, who has struggled with addiction in the past, is now in new housing and is hoping to start in a jobs training program soon.  The soil of her life too is rich for growth.  Hopefully the work she puts in to both the garden of her life and our community garden will produce a rich harvest.

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Homeless Runner an Inspiration to Many

Callie Sleper
Listening House Staff Member

He’s run 12 half-marathons. 3 full marathons. 2,080 miles per year. And he’s 1,460 days sober.

Ricardo Flores Solis makes running look easy; like it’s just something he does to pass the time. However, it is not usual for a homeless person to run as much as Ricardo does.

“I don’t know, I just keep running,” said Ricardo when asked why he runs. Ricardo is a guest and volunteer at Listening House of St. Paul, a community hub where homeless, disadvantaged, and lonely people can go to feel welcomed and seek practical assistance. Ricardo joins the Program Director, volunteers, and other Listening House guests for a weekly Next Steps running club which began in 2013.

“When we invite Listening House guests to join Next Steps running and walking group, we tell them to just show up and do their best,” said Program Director and Next Steps head coach, Julie Borgerding. “For some, that means a 30-minute walk; for others it is marathon training. But, as with any first step, it all begins with showing up, setting goals, and then working to meet or exceed them.”

Ricardo, who has been a part of the Next Steps club since its inception, is constantly setting goals for himself and exceeding them. If he tells himself to stop at the next streetlight, he will likely keep going. Contrary to popular thought, his goal now is to run a bit less, and to keep his runs under the three-hour limit he constantly extends. “I run too much sometimes,” he said. “My goal is to keep it under three hours.”

His favorite place to run is by the river and in West St. Paul because there are hills to challenge himself and not as many cars as in Downtown St. Paul. Sometimes, if a car doesn’t see him at an intersection, Ricardo will even give them a stern talking-to so that they don’t become a repeat offender.

Ricardo lends many other talents to Listening House as well. He makes keychains for Listening House’s Next Steps Race and bracelets for people who come in. His crop art, which he made at Listening House when it was also an evening shelter, has taken first place at the Minnesota State Fair.

“Ricardo is very zen to me,” said Julie. “He is better than anyone I know at living in the moment. He does get stressed; he’s very human. But you’ll hear him laugh with, joke, and tease volunteers. He brings joy and ease. He’s a very hard worker, and I think that’s what a lot of people around Listening House see first.”

Ricardo is an inspiration to his peers. Guests see a man who has worked through struggles with drugs and personal setbacks and shows them that change, difficult though it may be, is always possible. However, achieving goals wasn’t always easy for Ricardo.

“Running changed my life because everybody loves me,” Ricardo said. “Before, when you’re on drugs, no one loves you because, all the time—you’re in trouble. One day I was drinking and I felt bad or I smoked weed and felt tired all day. I told myself, ‘I’m done—I quit!’ Later I found Julie and she helped me start running. Listening House helps me because they keep me here and I can stay. They help me a lot; they give me everything.”

Julie compared Ricardo’s attitude to many other runners with more privilege, including her own. “I ran a marathon in Duluth once and afterwards was able to ease my soreness at a snazzy resort,” said Julie. “After Ricardo ran the Twin Cities marathon, I saw him eat a hamburger. You wouldn’t even know that he was sleeping that night in a tent because all he was thinking was, ‘Isn’t this hamburger good?’”

Running is a huge part of Ricardo’s life and has become just another part of him. He hopes to win Listening House’s annual Next Steps race this year. He said, “Last time, I got sixth, and I am not happy.”

Listening House’s Next Steps 5K race and 1 mile walk, made possible by Anderson Race Management, takes place at 8:00 AM on May 21st, and is held at Upper Landing Park in St. Paul. There, you will see Ricardo and the magic of Listening House in action.

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