• By saving others, she has saved herself

    by Erika Fiske

    Nancy Fountain sits in the Safe Place kitchen, talking about how she helped herself by helping others.Nancy Fountain lost her husband to cancer a few years ago, and then lost herself. She was ready to follow him wherever he was going.

    But life went on, and she managed to carry on. Nancy filled her time with volunteer work. She was proud of what she did and all the hours she gave, but there was a huge hole in her life. She felt unfulfilled.

    Then Nancy started reading a series on the homeless that began a few months ago and continues each week in Cedar Street Times. She was touched by the stories and decided to help.

    That decision gave Nancy a reason to go on, a purpose in life. She found a place full of homeless and runaway youths, young people who needed just what she could give—the love of a caring grandmother.

    Nancy’s a busy lady these days, full of energy. She has short grey hair and a few years on her happy face. “I love them,” she said of the young people she helps. “I have so much love in my heart. Now I can spread it around.”

    Many youths come from dysfunctional homes of drugs and alcohol, or abuse. Others just took a wrong turn in life. Most coming to A Safe place in Monterey range in age from 18 to 21, although there are counseling programs that work with children as young as 12.

    The center is a neat and clean stucco building at the corner of Cortes and Pearl streets, where a kitchen full of snacks awaits the young, as well as a closet full of clothes and shoes, a shower, a few basic necessities and most important of all, someone to talk with.

    There are counselors waiting to help with anything from getting a job to going back to school to getting off drugs. Sometimes, though, the most important thing to a youth alone and far from home is someone with a kind heart who will listen—someone like Nancy.

    But even Nancy can’t help when the doors to Safe Place close at night. That’s when the young people have to find someplace to sleep, whether it’s on a friend’s couch, in a car or garage, in parks or abandoned buildings, on a beach or in a tent on the hillside near Del Monte Shopping Center, where the homeless look out for one another.

    According to Community Human Services (CHS), there could be 650 or more young people living on the streets of Monterey Peninsula.

    When Safe Place is open, volunteers like Nancy make it feel like home. She helps at Tuesday breakfasts, arts and crafts sessions on Wednesdays and Thursday dinners. Staff would like to see more businesses and individuals sponsoring the dinners for six-month intervals, giving the program stability. Nancy wants to see the dinners increased to twice a week.

    If more dinners are offered, Nancy will be there, fussing around in the kitchen, making certain the kids get plenty of food. She worries about them, because so many are intelligent and gifted, but just need a chance to blossom. She does what she can to encourage and praise, something she did with her own children long ago.

    Even before she lost her husband, life wasn’t all wine and roses for Nancy. Although her husband owned 32 tax preparation offices, he sold the businesses and invested just in time to watch the stock market plummet in the 1980s. Nancy and her husband had to start all over.

    When Nancy’s health began to deteriorate and her blood pressure rose to stroke level, she’d had enough. “My blood pressure was so high that I decided I was moving to Pacific Grove. My husband said, ‘No one lives in Pacific Grove, it’s just a place to visit,’” she said. Nancy stood her ground and won.

    The couple moved to P.G. in 1997 and bought a house. “It was the worst fixer upper I ever saw,” she admitted. Luckily, her husband had the skills to make it work. The day they moved in, Sears was delivering a stove and refrigerator when a horrible noise stopped everyone in their tracks.

    “We heard the most God awful siren,” she said. It was to alert the community of an ocean rescue. The rescue was for John Denver, the environmental activist  singer/songwriter who was killed when his experimental plane crashed off the coast of Pacific Grove.

    “Some people push the envelope a little too far,” Nancy said. “But what if they didn’t try?”

    Moving to P.G. was pushing the envelope for Nancy, as were changes she made after she lost the people she loved. Her husband suffered from major back pain for years and finally came down with lung cancer. Nancy lost her father on December 11, 2007, and then her husband on November 11, 2008.

    “It was a lot of loss in a short period of time,” she said. “My husband died in my arms. I told him, ‘Do it right, because I’m coming after you.’”

    But Nancy kept on living her life, barely. One day she decided to trade in the Lexus that was just too big and buy a little sports car. Although she began to feel a little more alive, nothing–not even hundreds of hours of volunteer work–made her feel fulfilled.

    “It wasn’t fulfilling in my soul,” she said.

    Then Nancy began reading the homeless stories and volunteered at Safe Place. “This is the first year I feel in charge of my life, instead of grieving,” she said. “This fulfilled my soul. This has saved my life.”

    A Safe Place, located at Cortes and Pearl streets, offers a place for runaways and homeless youths to find food, clothes, counseling and a caring listener.

    A Safe Place, located at Cortes and Pearl streets, offers a place for runaways and homeless youths to find food, clothes, counseling and a caring listener.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 19, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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