Social Media Changed My Life and Helps Me To Help Others

I really don’t know where to start because I have so many stories about social media changing my life and providing a tool to help others. Plus, to be honest, I hate writing about myself. I am also emotionally and physically exhausted right now!

I am typing this at the front desk of a homeless shelter where I am temping for the day. For the most part I have been unemployed since November, 07. Hard to imagine I’ve lasted 19 months! Crazy! I did have two jobs during that period both only lasting three months. I lost my house to foreclosure two months ago and I literally have lived without an income since the middle of March. As God as my witness my fridge only has a few bottles of water and some mayo – that’s it! If it was not for the people who network with me on Twitter and Facebook I don’t even want to think about where I’d be. It still slams my mind that I exist right now only because of the generous hearts who follow me via social media.

Sitting at the front desk of any homeless services organization may be the worst job in the world. It’s not the tremendous patience needed to deal with hurting people but having to turn people away that wrecks me. I am not a fit for this job. Again being honest; if I wasn’t in crisis and needed money I would never sit here. The stories alone will tear apart the hardest heart. Jenny, the girl who usually sits here is an angel, traffic cop and concierge all rolled into one! I love this shelter and believe it’s one of the best. There is just not enough help for all the hurt so the person sitting here is saying no far more than yes!

I only say all that not to get sympathy but so you’ll know how much social media has impacted my life. Also, as a little disclaimer, if some of this post is a little off – I am beat! Insane as it is I just returned from a few days in Seattle making new homeless friends and speaking at a tech firm about social media for social good. Me, the unemployed guy with no food or income traveling to Seattle! Crazy! Whrrl invited me up and treated me like real family! The history and reasons behind the trip I blogged about here. Takepart.com also wrote a great post you can read here. What gets me excited is how much social media can affect real change and how tech companies like Whrrl are providing the tools for nonprofits to tell their stories.  

I’m a storyteller who likes to use media to help tell a story. Whenever I go do my thing social media goes along with me. Homelessness.Change.org and Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog are only two of many blogs that wrote about my visit to Seattle’s tent cities. Below is the embed Whrrl story, “Nickelsville in Seattle. Day 1”


Please know I never planned on any of this. After seeing so much hurt I just had to do something so I started InvisiblePeople.tv with only $45, a laptop (that cannot even cut video), iPhone and Twitter. I started to use twitter for one reason – free! How I use social media is I try and tell a story and engage people to join me for the adventures. I never dreamed people on twitter would be helping me with food and rent!

I am honored that so many great blogs from many different countries have written about me and InvisiblePeople.tv. Here are two Mashable posts that relate the most to social media:

5 People Who Broke the Rules of Social Media and Succeeded – please see my comment

5 Unique Stories of Social Media Saving the Day

Then just now I found a post by one of my heroes Danny Brown who instead of putting me in a nonprofit category classified me under social media! WOW! (Thanks Danny)

Here is the deal. The world is a mess and if I think about it long enough I’ll go nuts. I have a choice: I can get depressed or I can take action to help others. Twice in my life I chased money and I failed. When your priority is helping other people you can only succeed! I cannot help the people in NY or Florida but I can help the hurting directly in front of me. In addition, I can hopefully show the nonprofit world it does not take huge marketing budgets to affect real change. Be real and tell a good story, social media will do the rest!

THANK YOU social media for saving my life and helping me to help others!

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  • http://thedigitalsanctuary.org/ Cynthia

    you’re a social media evangelist :-)

  • http://decarter.wordpress.com Dawn Carter

    Preach it, brother! Thanks for bringing us along on your journey. You inspire, challenge and bring hope to so many.

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  • Maya

    Mark, thank you so much for doing this work and bringing these stories to light. Also for the idea. I, too, am homeless, although not on the streets and not without income. I get some money from social security and earn $400 a month at my job. Those incomes provide enough to pay bills as long as I don’t have to pay rent (which is exorbitant). I have a place to stay with a friend until Aug 10. After that, who knows?

    My son is in jail and what I am learning about the criminal justice astounds me. One thing I know is that a lot of people who come out of jail or prison have nowhere to go, no jobs, no family who can help them, limited re-entry programs (none are available to those coming out of jail), and they often end up homeless.

    I am wondering why incarceration is our first response to someone doing something hurtful, rather than first trying to help them restore relationships and become (or remain) useful members of society. When someone is imprisoned, I can tell you from experience the whole family goes with them. And expenses go up – you must maintain a landline if you are to receive collect phone calls from your loved one at the rate of $2.30 per 12-minute call. Lawyer expenses, counseling, transportation to visits, putting money in the account of the prisoner so they can supplement the inadequate food they get or so they can write letters, sending them books (which must be new from Amazon) so they have something to do, all add up to a lot of expenditure. My son’s incarceration costs me $250 a month. Many times family members lose their homes because they counted on the income from the “criminal” to help pay the bills. That is what happened to me.

    I hear about a lot of suffering by people who have done very little wrong or who may be mentally ill rather than “criminals.” From what I can tell, a high percentage of people who are incarcerated are in for possession of drugs, illegal immigration, petty theft, minor sex crimes, mental illness, being homeless, etc.

    The criminals who have the hardest time are “sex offenders.” From what I am learning, they are all pretty much put into the same category, whether an 18-year-old who slept with his 14-year-old girlfriend or someone who has raped 100 women. A person who kills someone faces a lighter sentence than someone who inappropriately touches a minor. And once a sex offender, always a sex offender and no one wants anything to do with them. I recently read that even homeless shelters want to ban “sex offenders” from using their facilities. Exactly how do we expect these people to become active citizens who contribute to society instead of putting a further drain on it?

    I am just learning about all of this, and don’t know much about the reality. Many people tell me I must be wrong. We in the U.S. don’t put people in prison who don’t belong there. Our criminal justice system is about helping people, not punishing them. We don’t sentence people unfairly. There are lots of rehab programs to help them, both during their imprisonment and when they are released.

    Well, one day I watched a young woman sentenced to 2 years in prison for forging a $33 check to Walmart. I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone has bothered to ask why she felt it necessary to do that. Could it possibly have anything to do with the disparity in the world and the fact that so many people don’t have food to eat or a place or live? Was she one of them? Or maybe she needed medicine for a loved one, or a million other reasons. Whatever her reason for writing the check, it becomes a pretty expensive bill for AZ taxpayers. We, who are suffering a budget crisis, are willing to spend, I don’t know exactly how much – a common figure I have heard is $30,000 a year – so she can pay for her crime. Oh, yes, and she was told she must start making payments to Walmart right away to reimburse them for their loss. If she didn’t have $33 before she was incarcerated (she has been in jail for 17 months already), I wonder where they expect her to get money to pay this debt, and what happens if she doesn’t make the payments as instructed. When she is released, she will carry a felony on her record, which will make it difficult for her to return to society as a contributing member. It seems ludicrous to me that we are willing to spend $60,000 or more to teach someone a lesson. There must be a better way.

    I need to do a lot more research about what is happening in our criminal justice system. But what I have seen so far is that the purpose of imprisonment in the U.S. is punishment, with very long sentences being handed out to people who have done very little wrong, if anything, and there are few programs to help with rehab or re-entry. The mentality is pretty much “put them away where we don’t have to think about them,” “they need to be punished for their crime,” and “it is not my problem”. I haven’t learned much yet about the private prison system, but am beginning to understand that we have made the criminal justice system into a profit-making business and our goal is to see how many people we can imprison so those businesses maintain their profit. Hard to believe about our beloved U.S. of A., isn’t it?

    Most people who have not been involved with homelessness or the prison system think it is not their problem and turn their heads as they try to manage their own busy lives. There just isn’t time to deal with those fringe populations. I was always taught that people are poor only because they are too lazy or too stupid to work. People are poor only because they are not trying hard enough. They are in prison only because they have done something wrong. NOT!

    My brother, with whom I was staying right after I lost my home asked, “When are you going to get a job so you can get your own home?” Whatever you have to do – stock shelves, wash cars, it doesn’t matter – you need to do it so you can provide a home for yourself and for your son when he comes out.” Well, I can tell you I am not lazy, but the work I am about doing in this world is not work that one is paid for. My work is to bring voice to the voiceless. My work is to do what I can to help ALL people live in dignity and with respect. My work right now is to help my family heal through this crisis. I cannot perform meaningless work just so I can have a roof over my head, when there is so much important work to be done in the world. No, I would rather be homeless and do the work I came here to do.

    I want to do something to give voice to the 2.2 million people who are involved with the prison system – either behind bars, on parole or on probation. I want to give voice to the families of those people, which probably involves at least another 10 million people. Maybe I can find a way through social media. Thank you so much for your inspiration. A donation is on its way.

  • http://twitter.com/markmayhew Mark

    Mya,
    I don’t know Mark, I don’t want him made at me, but he would probably tell you to not worry, you can keep your money (others that are better off are going to be helping him out, I’m sure).
    You might be needing all you’ve got to help your son, etc.
    I wish I had half your heart, btw.

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