Introducing Chuck and the Mobile Mentors
Field report by Rebecca Fontanilla, sparrow intern
One Thursday afternoon in Palo Alto, Chuck attended a meeting for Downtown Streets Team. Case managers were announcing a new program offering free smartphones to the homeless. Intrigued, Chuck listened closer…
“We also need one of you to be involved,” the case manager looked into the audience. “Is anyone interested?” the case manager continued. Only one hand was raised.
With Chuck as the First Volunteer, the Mobile Mentors were Born
Chuck had been a teacher for computer literacy. Not only is he knowledgeable, he understands the importance of technology access as a basic need for functioning in today’s society. “Not everyone is aware,” Chuck stated.
“Not everyone is aware that when you give someone a smartphone, the playing field becomes more leveled.”
How well do you function without a mobile phone? Imagine how important that connectivity is to someone who is in crisis or who has very little. Without reliable mobile, it’s hard to get a job. Hard to get housing. Hard to stay in touch with family and friends. Easy to become isolated.
Homeless = Human
In addition to a teacher, Chuck is an advocate for human rights, which can be seen through his articles written for Palo Alto City Council. In one article he addresses the issue of homeless people living out of their cars and in another commentary he voices his opinion on funding the armory. In this commentary, he questions:
“If five people die of exposure while the armory is present, how many people die if the armory is not funded and closed down?”
He raises a good point. Opinions matter and voices need to be heard. It’s not right to judge a book by its cover. After all, if a book is never opened and read, the stories are never told (and that’s the best part of the book, right)?
Life Lessons from the Phone Guy
One day, as Chuck parked his car alongside Fair Oaks Park, he noticed a tall, slender man poking into a truck full of metal. As he was stepping away from his car, he was getting a little nervous, because the man was making his way down the line of parked cars and Chuck’s car was approaching the man’s viewpoint.
“Hey, you’re the phone guy,” said the man to Chuck.
Instantly, Chuck’s worries diminished. This feeling of recognition transformed Chuck’s concerns. He felt connected to this man even if he didn’t know who he was.
After being a mentor for Mobile for All and helping homeless people get connected, Chuck has new insight on how to treat customers, in addition to reducing technophobia. He’s learned that some people may be hesitant to learn something new, like how to operate a smartphone. It’s important to understand people’s struggles and even more important to help them overcome them. He advises for everyone to be kind, as the world can be crueler than it needs to be. Smile and give back.
UPDATE: Chuck is now happily housed and working as a substitute teacher. In addition to Chuck, others are working as Mobile Mentors, providing front-line customer service to impact clients and sparrow customers.