On a day in 2012, a boy knocked on my door and asked, “Do you have work for me?” I replied “No” but feeling as though work was not the ultimate goal he was after, I brought him back to provide help and the true answer to what he needed slowly came out.
He was determined to save his mom and his home.
On February 23, 2018, I stood in front of my HED 477 Stress Management students at the University of New Mexico preparing to speak about financial stress. Our first task, in the words of John Assaraf, was to “set a goal worthy of our life”.
I shared with my students the relevant story below. It was a memory of how two strangers took a moment in life to share the best we had to offer and how that was more than enough to exceed what was needed for our goals.
Please enjoy this very true story, and what happened a year later.
Originally Published September 12, 2012
“Recently I woke up at my usual before-the-kids-wake-up time to grade papers. Then the family rushed through breakfast, dishes, packing lunches, and the usual hugs and kisses. I got the urge to clean house and I went to town sweeping and mopping the tile, washing windows and curtains, clearing the floor to be vacuumed, all while dressed in my workout clothes debating when I would stop long enough to do an Insanity DVD or play with my sweet daughter who had been busy with a sticker-art gift from her birthday the day before.
Then the door bell rang. I did my usual peek-through-hole and saw a young man, casual clothes, no clipboard, no car. I watched for a moment debating whether to open the door: he was in need but what kind of help was he searching for? This type of door-knock occurs only once every six months to a year in our area.
I saw him shuffle and then turn in search of a house that may answer. I found his behavior odd but seemingly harmless, so I opened my door. He heard me and came running back, and his eyes looked sad but hopeful. He kindly asked if I had any jobs at all he could help me with: yard work, cleaning, anything. I said I did not (not because I didn’t, but my husband and I are independent, I don’t carry more than $20 in cash, and for the moment was a woman alone with my daughter). He mentioned he was thankful for my time, he was wanting to help his mom pay rent and needed money right away, and he didn’t know what else to do.
He then asked if I knew anyone in the neighborhood that he could help. I shamelessly pointed to the corner home, a woman who recently lost her spouse and constantly hires help, and to the neighbors across the street that just pulled in and began unloading groceries. He said he would try those, thank you, and darted across the street.
I closed my door but felt ill. I watched through the window awhile longer and saw the boy shyly waiting in my neighbors’ entry rather than approaching their open garage. Then I picked up the phone and called 311, the Albuquerque non-emergent assistance line, and grabbed a pen and paper.
I updated 311 on this boy and asked where I could send him for help. They referred and provided me with names and numbers of the NM Department of Child, Youth, and Family services as well as Help NM. Then I saw the boy finally speaking with the neighbors, who declined, and he was headed for another home.
I opened the door and waved him back over, then asked if he would come in while I made some more calls. I said I didn’t need a worker but I could him find resources that would be safer and more sustaining than his door-to-door search. He looked like a teenage version of my own child and was physical underweight but clean. As a woman, I visually sized him up and decided if he attacked I could protect myself. I asked if he was hungry but he would only except water with such graciousness it stunned me.
As I spoke on the phone to different agencies he began sharing more information about his situation. He said he was 15 but home schooled. He and his mom were on food stamps and had dry beans to last awhile and declined my offer for food. He never asked for money; he wanted work to help his mom, currently unemployed and unable to find a job, so they would not loose their apartment for which they had received a three-day notice of eviction. I gave this information to Help NM who said they could provide $50: a choice of rent, utilities, or workplace help (one but not all) and their first available appointment was two weeks out. I told the boy to contact City of Albuquerque about a work permit as a 15 year-old so he could find a regular, safe job. He was thrilled and said he would.
Help NM gave me additional references such as Storehouse and St. Vincent’s for food, but not Meals on Wheels who could only provide geriatric aid. He gave me info for New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions which had hot lines for job assistance and placement. Help NM said wherever this boy could show up in person would be best because the phone lines were overwhelmed. I asked the boy about his transportation.
He proudly pulled out his one-day bus pass and said he’d go anywhere.
I realized he and his mom lived walking distance from a nearby library so I called and asked about computer availability and resume assistance. The librarian said it cost 15 cents per page for printing, each person has up to three hours free computer use if no wait, one hour if there is a wait, and each computer contains resume templates. She said avoid the weekends and aim for Monday before school was out or anytime during the week. And she warned that users needed a flash drive: many people would come and work for hours only to realize they had no way to save their information, email included.
Only a month prior I received a Subway Flash drive bracelet for free at the IDEA Expo in California. I retrieved it quickly from my office and handed it to the boy. He thought it was “way cool!” I agreed. He wanted to pay me back and I said it was free and happy to pass it to him. Then I grabbed a large canvas bag I used for my groceries, another convention freebie at some point, and began loading it with frozen bags of veggies, dry pasta, frozen deli meat, and a few cans of sauce and fruit with pop-tops. I told him to keep the bag so he could carry home food from the Storehouse.
I asked if he had a microwave; he declined but said he did have a stove top. At this point my nerves were getting shaky and later I remembered adding microwave popcorn to the bag but forgot to take it out. I could tell he was hungry but he continued to only accept water to drink.
When he was not looking I retrieved the cash from my wallet and slipped it in the food bag. Then I asked if he ever purchased a one month bus pass. He said it was $12. Ironically that is exactly what I had put in. I mentioned doing so then I requested he put a few dollars on his library card: could he manage to get $2 more elsewhere to make resume copies?
He said yes enthusiastically.
Then I encouraged him to go straight home so the food wouldn’t spoil, told him to rest, eat well, and shower. I asked him to make plans with his mom regarding workforce training and with that assistance they might be able to buy more time with their landlord. He said they had tried already and looked downfallen. I said without a plan, the owner had no reason to believe they would make payment anytime soon, but with a plan, he might. He perked up and agreed.
We were together for about 20 minutes and while I worked the phone, computer, and grabbed items around the house, he sat in a dining room chair I had pulled over beside our kitchen desk. He noticed my daughter getting a pair of scissors to remove a tag from her birthday toy and asked her if he could help, to be careful, and remarked on her pretty doll and how kind my daughter was. He said this as a big brother and was a normal kid.
He could have been one of my own.
He was kind, patient, and tears began to well as his emotions that someone would wish to help this way for a bit of time was actually happening to him. And finally he said, “Thank you for everything. By the way, my name is Cimione.”
It hurt to notice I was so busy helping… I never asked him his name.
I had been writing a list of the resources above and was hesitant to include it but finally I added my name and phone number as well. He said he couldn’t wait to call me to tell me how well everything was going to work out. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to let him leave, but my boundary/safety mind was finally kicking in and I had to let him go.
We shook hands, and half way to the front door I gave him a huge hug.
Then I looked into his eyes and said:
We can’t all help or know the best way to help, but
We All Care.”
Nearly a year later in 2013 or 2014, my family, friends and I were having lunch at our neighborhood Five Star Burger. I noticed a staff member and felt resonance and soon found myself distracted throughout lunch trying to identify who it was. A former student? A gym member? A friend of a friend? It felt deeply important. As our lunch was wrapping up, it hit me and shook my core.
Four inches taller, standing strong, hair trimmed, uniform sleek, and a smile on his face.
Cimione had earned a safe job.
I asked my friends and family to go ahead to the car, and when he passed our table, I touched his shoulder and began to say “Hi, I don’t mean to interrupt your work, but…” when he interrupted me and said “It’s YOU!” We hugged and I said, “I just want you to know I am so proud to see you here like this. You must feel so proud. YOU did this. You’re doing it. You will be more than fine.” He said school was fantastic, his mom and home are secure, and his job is excellent on afternoons and weekends.
And we smiled. And we hugged. And I left knowing this…
Cimione will respond to a knock on HIS door
and him opening his door,
willing and able to provide Help,
Will be GLORIOUS.
XO – Megan Merchant