Homeless woman helps the homeless in Project 50/50

Here and Now

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

After losing her job and her home, 24-year-old Shay Kelley bravely decided to move into her truck and travel the country. Her goal was to visit two cities in every state, where she would interview five people and record their stories in articles and photographs. She would do the whole thing in less than a year. As it turned out, the people Kelley met were homeless.

Kelley says she started this journey because of karma. Before becoming homeless, she was working in a marketing firm, and she believes that her efforts to “get rich as quickly as possible” eventually caused her to lose her financial security. She says, “I felt like I had been focused so much on what I could get and what I could take from life that it was time for me to shift my focus to what I could give. What can one person with nothing but a dog and a suitcase give back to the world? And I realized that if I had nothing else I still had time and talent.”

Throughout her tough times, Kelley has been struck by the generosity of homeless people. On her third day traveling, a man bought her a hot meal, and only later did she find out he was staying in a shelter. “The people with the least are always the first people to give of themselves. And I see that evidenced over and over and over and over again. And I think it’s because when you lose a lot of things, you stop being so attached, you know? And I think that’s just one of many reasons, but definitely the lesson that seems to keep presenting itself is that the people with the least give the most.”

Her adventure, which she calls “Project 50/50,” has acquired 14,000 Facebook fans, but she says, “raising awareness is not the goal. It’s the side effect of achievement.” Kelley continues, “[awareness is] just a lot of people talking about something, and I’d rather see people do something.” Kelley hopes that her efforts will motivate people to take action. “Time is the most valuable thing that we can give a person. Beyond, you know, the canned food and the socks and the other things that I collect and distribute, the time that I can give to people is the most valuable thing.”

Kelley has no intention of stopping, even though Project 50/50 is scheduled to end Dec. 17th. She is optimistic about the impact of her continued efforts, and she appreciates the changes in her own life. “I think we go into a situation and we say ‘I’m going to fix this. I’m going to help this,’ and in fact, we’re the ones who walk away changed, we’re the ones who walk away improved.”

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