Today’s guest blog post was written by Kristin Pazulski, Development Director and Managing Editor for the Denver VOICE. It includes an excerpt from the 2012 issue of the Denver VOICE, written by Raelene Johnson.
Raelene Johnson spent years living on the streets of Boulder. The shady space under a bridge was her home. She scraped by on the money earned the typical way on the street, her drug habit keeping her in a cycle of poverty and homelessness.
In 2008 Johnson discovered the Denver VOICE, a street paper in Colorado. As soon she walked through the vendor office door, she was given the opportunity to work. She received one hour of training and a badge with 10 free papers in exchange for the promise to conduct herself professionally while selling the VOICE.
Grabbing her first paper and ducking into the lanyard that held a tag with her face, name and vendor number, Johnson had no idea she was embarking on a journey very different from the one she’d been on.
There are 122 street papers around the world, more than 30 in North America. These papers are connected through two large networks—the International Network of Street Papers and the North American Street Newspaper Association.
Some are volunteer-based, while others have large staffs and monthly circulations exceeding 100,000. A wire service similar to the Associated Press allows street papers around the world to share their stories. Thanks to this service, smaller street papers can produce quality content on a shoestring budget.
Many individuals on the street battle daily with substance abuse, mental illness, disability or other obstacles that prevent them from working a typical job or connecting with services available to people experiencing homelessness.
Street papers can give people like this the opportunity to earn money in a manner more dignified than panhandling, and can even provide them with an opportunity to express themselves.
As of this fall, Johnson is two years sober and clean and she’s celebrating her fifth year anniversary with the VOICE.
Here is her story in her own words.
A Life Change by Raelene Johnson (Excerpted from The Denver VOICE, August 2012)
July 14, 2012 marked my four-and-a-half year anniversary with the Denver VOICE. My life has really changed since I started working with the VOICE. Most of my life, I was told I was dumb, I was stupid, I was no good. I have had many head injuries, so trying to hold down a real job was very hard for me. I had no self-esteem or self-worth. I have been homeless most of my life.
On Jan. 14, 2008, I started selling the VOICE. When I first started, I was sleeping under a bridge. At first, it was hard for me to sell papers. After the first three or four months, I started to do well. It felt good that for the first time in my life, I was making money.
One of the best things about the VOICE is even if you have no high school diploma, no job reference, no home, no ID, a felony or whatever it may be, you walk into the distribution office and you walk out with a job. I could not believe how easy it was to get a job!
By the time it came to my year anniversary of working for the VOICE, I was the top female vendor. I felt good about myself for the first time in my life. People started telling me how good of a job I was doing. It felt great because all of my life I was told I was no good and couldn’t do anything right.
As my second anniversary came, I was the best female vendor and placed first or second in the top ten over everyone for two years! Boy, did that make a change in me. At that time, I was very tired of doing drugs.
The last two years have been the best so far in my life. We build self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence. Most of the vendors you see have gotten off the streets. Not bad for a $2 donation.
As of July 1, I am 22-months clean of a crack cocaine habit and two years clean of alcohol. I never knew how happy I could be once I believed in myself and became drug-free.
By telling people my story, I am doing what I can to help others. The best thing that I can say to everyone is, believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are worthless or no good. Everyone is God’s child. Treat everyone with kindness. Help someone; even just a kind word can change someone’s life.
I wanted to tell my story about what the VOICE has done for me. I wanted to let the buyer of the VOICE know how this paper has changed so many lives, not just mine, but thousands of people since 1997. So, for all of us, we thank you for caring about the VOICE and all us vendors.