By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
Dressed in a chic royal blue blazer and with modern geometric earrings, hair neatly pulled away from her face and perfect white teeth shining in her bright smile, Marion Delray asked a crowd of middle and high school students, “Do I look homeless?”
A chorus of “no’s” answered her query.
Yet two months ago she was homeless. She and her four youngest sons — ages 13, 15, 16 and 17 — lived in a shelter for several weeks. Her eldest son lives on his own.
“I had the same basic clothes; I looked the same,” Delray told her young listeners.
She spoke about her experience of homelessness during a Festival of Faiths pro-gram on Nov. 16 at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in West Louisville. That was the hub of the 17th annual festival, sponsored by the Center for Interfaith Relations.
The program on homelessness explored the topic in terms of compassion — a central theme of this year’s festival.
It was facilitated by Patrick Lynch, the youth minister at St. Gabriel Church. He told the students — who came from a variety of local schools — that while the issue of homelessness may be too big for a young person to tackle, young people can make a big difference in the life of a homeless person.
It’s an issue that hits home for young people, sometimes in ways they don’t realize, Lynch said. He said he recognized three children in the crowd whom he knows are living in a shelter.
“One in nine Jefferson County students are experiencing some kind of homelessness,” he said. “The average age of a homeless person (in the United States) is 9 years old.”
Delray’s children contributed to those statistics for a brief period. Their grades suffered a bit, said Delray during an interview after her presentation. But all in all, the experience wasn’t damaging to the family — thanks to compassion shown them by school staff and charitable organizations.
“I’m pretty tough skinned, being a single mom,” said Delray. “But I really worried what it would be like for them (her sons).”
The family moved here about two years ago from Wisconsin and rented a home until the owner sold it. They had plenty of notice to find a new home, Delray said, but she couldn’t afford to move. So, she and her sons sought refuge in a local shelter.
“We stayed at a motel the first night. Then we were at a shelter three or four weeks,” she said. “It took time to save up the money.”
“I was very open with the kids,” she noted. She told them what was happening and why. And then she explained, “It’s not always going to look like this. This is temporary.
“Their teachers and principals knew,” Delray noted. “But no one else did. I was comforted that the kids weren’t teased.”
Delray told her young listeners at the Festival of Faiths, “You don’t have to be a bum to be homeless. Homelessness doesn’t have a face. Someone next to you in your class could be homeless. My kids didn’t look homeless.”
She urged the students to “be compassionate and caring to everyone around you because you do not know the situation they come from.”
Delray said the experience reminded her to “put pride in my pocket and ask for help” and “put the Lord back in my life.” She found help through Dress for Success, which she said, encouraged and empowered her.
Lynch, the St. Patrick youth minister, said he hopes the students came away from the session with new ideas for helping. He told them it’s easy. They might collect soap and shampoo for people in need or donate food to a soup kitchen.
“These are practical sorts of things, so even at their age, they feel they can make a difference,” he said.