Knowledge is the Best Charity

Without COVID-19, we would have been visiting Silicon Valley this week for our MBA residential trip. Now we all must stay at home, in different countries, with different time zones, facing the same shared screen. In the midst of our MBA program, this pandemic offers us an opportunity to practice resilience and adaptability towards change. Fortunately, the speakers from Silicon Valley are not disappointing. Del Seymour is one of them.

“You can send a rocket to the moon, but you cannot put the people in the home.”

San Francesco, heaven is hell.

It is heaven for the top talents in Silicon Valley, it is hell for the homeless in Tenderloin. Del and his team from Code Tenderloin, a non-profit organisation, are trying to remove the barriers and bridge the gap between ‘heaven and hell’.

Del is a slim old man in his 70s, wearing a yellow T-shirt with ‘Tenderloin walking’ slogan on it. He is hale and hearty, talking to us from another side of the world with a bright voice and big passion. He said, I could die at any minute, but I hope I could die in the work, in Code Tenderloin. We could see how much love he has for the neighbourhood, which once dragged him down and changed his life later.

He briefly shared his ups and downs in life, from his time as a paramedic in the Vietnam War to a firefighter in Los Angeles, then arriving at Tenderloin, struggling with drugs and homelessness. When he was hopeless, he went to a local church, and the people there offered him money to pay the rent and trusted him without asking any obligation. He reflected with tears in his eyes, “I don’t know why they did this, who would do this.”

It was unexpected but reasonable that he turned his life around and did the same things for the people at-risk in this neighbourhood, but with a new model. Code Tenderloin offers code training, interview courses, financial support, and volunteer services for the vulnerable people and helps them to get the jobs and change their lives as Del did.

“A gift is a gift, is not a restricted gift.”

Del never asks people how they use the money. He said, give and don’t judge. Actually, he gives the most precious thing to them — trust. He shared some real-life examples with tears and laughs. One doctor, who lost his job and lived in a car, came to him and asked for help. Del told him, “From today, you are not Joe, nobody will call you Joe, you are Doctor Joe!” Code Tenderloin helped him get his self-esteem back, found him a place to live, and supported him to open a clinic. A young woman, with a history of substance abuse and prison experience, got a job in tech in Silicon Valley through the training courses at Code Tenderloin. An old man who used to live on the street came to Del and told him excitedly that he took his kids to Disneyland… Code Tenderloin changed people’s lives by empowerment. Knowledge is the best charity, and this is what Del and his folks are keep doing.

“It is the third pandemic in Tenderloin.”

COVID-19 is the third pandemic for the people in Tenderloin. The first is homelessness, the second is poverty. Del goes to the area every day and talks to the people who live on the street. He said, “I want to take some pictures, but it is so miserable that my morality doesn’t allow me to do so.” Code Tenderloin is open during the pandemic to offer support with its ‘Shelter in Place’ programme, distributing health kits, food, and clothing to the community. He suggested people wash their hands and face.

At the end of the online chat, I asked him two questions.

“There are hundreds and thousands homeless in the same area, and probably not only you went to that church and received the kindness, why are you the only person to make the change from a homeless to a leader making a huge impact on the community?”

“When I saw the people who live on the street at a similar age as me, I asked myself, why me? To be honest, I do not know. I see them and I see myself.”

I think Del already answered the question. The vulnerable probably is a reflection for him in the mirror of his past. Hence, he is contributing his life to be a positive image in the mirror of the future for these hopeless people and help them to make a positive change with hope and love.

“What are your suggestions for our MBA students?”

“Give a smile to others. When you walk on the street, you never know what impact (you will make) on others.”

In our Silicon Valley virtual tour, I heard a word a lot of times: impact. This word was usually used in contexts such as social impact, impact investing, etc. However, I tend to doubt the real impact of these multinational corporations adopting the trending models of social innovation, shared value, or triple bottom line. But Del and his team enhanced my confidence from a practical perspective. I think we need more persons like Del in our communities, and I hope Del stays safe and healthy.

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