Community Champion Sherry Cole is a tireless advocate for people without housing.
For Sherry Cole, recognizing human dignity in all persons begins with how she describes the community she serves: “people who carry their homes on their backs.”
“Many don’t want to be called homeless,” she explains. “They’ve chosen the town they live in, or they grew up here. They just don’t have housing, and that’s different. Home means more than just walls.”
However, housing is a major issue within her community of Grand Junction, Colorado. She explains, “There just is not enough because we are growing in this area. If you have to wait 2.5 years to get into housing and you don’t have another option, that becomes … a big challenge for people.” One of her ongoing goals is to collaborate with other organizations to reimagine community housing, such as providing sanctioned camping or tiny homes. “Often we forget that housing doesn’t have to all look the same. I think these options are important.”
After working, through her church, with the nonprofit Grand Valley Peace and Justice to relocate men seeking shelter during the harsh winter months, Sherry stepped into the role of program coordinator for the organization’s overflow shelter program. Eventually, she gave up her own salary to alleviate some of the organization’s overhead costs and now works as a full-time volunteer. “God is my source and supply. I firmly believe that, and it has been proven true for me again and again and again. That money has allowed this organization to begin to prosper in different ways,” she asserts.
Sherry is a dynamic advocate. “Her delivery is professional, but always, with passion, she advocates for understanding of the most vulnerable in our community,” remarks Patricia Amadeo, member of the Board of Directors of Grand Valley Peace and Justice. “I cannot articulate strongly enough that Sherry is the most dedicated, generous, compassionate, and talented person I know.”
Countering the stigma that surrounds those who carry their homes on their backs is paramount for her. One misconception is that they are just too lazy to find jobs and adequate housing. Sherry explains, “Being homeless to me is not a lazy proposition. It means that every moment of the day you might not know where you’re going to sleep that night, or what you’re going to eat that day, or what happened to your phone.” She emphasizes that any person could find themselves without a home, and that we must think of each individual as we would ourselves or our own family members.
Her focus on honoring the dignity in every human person and in walking with those whom she serves creates a space for people to begin to believe in themselves and their own worth. She believes the world is filled with people doing good for others, and that every person has the capacity to treat others with the dignity they deserve. “I know that the golden rule runs through all religions, but practicing it really means that if I were that person standing there right now, what would I need? What would help me feel better, feel heard, feel that you were really acknowledging me and being sincere? And that’s not always as easy as it sounds.”
Sherry recalls that often people do not believe that she will truly be able to help them, and they may end up walking out the door. “But what you can do,” she stresses, “is create a space where people can feel welcome again.”
To assist Grand Valley Peace and Justice’s efforts in supporting those who carry their homes on their backs, please visit www.gvpeacejustice.org, where you can contribute via PayPal.