The St. Anthony Foundation is a refuge where thousands of people come each day in need of some form of help. Whether it be food, clothing, medical attention or technology training, the Foundation has been striving for the last 50 years to ensure that San Francisco’s Tenderloin residents have access to resources and a community they can depend on. It’s an experience to walk down Golden Gate Avenue, where the Foundation is located, on any given day and take in the surroundings: people sleeping in doorways, waiting for hours outside the Dining Room in a line stretching around the block at lunchtime, ambulances and cop cars whizzing by every so often.
Outside of StoryCorps, I work at St. Anthony’s Technology Lab where our mission is to educate people and familiarize them with the technological tools of the 21st century. Many of the clients who come in have served sentences in prison, are recovering addicts, or have just never had the confidence to actively learn how to use a computer-much less navigate through the internet. I like to think of the Lab as a melting pot; from Cairo to Kyoto, Sweden to New Orleans, it is as if 60 people from across the globe were selected at random and placed on the 3rd floor of 150 Golden Gate Ave. In other words, it is a perfect place for StoryCorps to capture a wealth of experience and emotion.
Recently, my two different worlds came together for a day of recording StoryCorps interviews at the St. Anthony Foundation. In a quiet room at the back of the lab, we were able to talk with many of the clients about their lives. There was Chris Mardirosian, who was born on an Indian reservation and lost many of his family members by the time he was a teenager, Jim Oxley who taught himself how to gamble and eventually became a professional. There was Stephen Chinazzo, who revealed to us his longstanding passion for ballroom dancing, and Jody Spaziani, who helped his mother through her battle with Alzheimer’s. Each man had a completely different story, but the themes were common: friendship, community, love, adventure, loss and acceptance.
I see these people nearly every day, but never would have known the struggles they have endured, the joys they have experienced and the lessons they have learned had they not shared with StoryCorps. I was reminded once again of the power of telling one’s story. The ability for people to find common ground if they will take the time to stop and talk to each other. Sometimes it’s that simple.