By Lori Ravelli • February 1, 2021
I want to tell you about a man living on the beach, how he came to love my dogs, How we came to love him, and how our lives are forever changed. I would like to share a story how we helped change the life of someone who was sleeping on a beach waiting to die. This is also a story where the name could easily be replaced with many. With the troubling economy, so many people and especially single mothers out of work, companies closing and massive layoffs, one can no longer say, “oh look at the homeless man”. It has now hit so close to home for many Americans. We are all responsible to each other. And, we are all, frightfully very close to this as our reality.
My name is Lori Ravelli and this is the story of Dennis. Our “home free” friend that chose to sleep on the beach waiting to die. He was told he had cancer and had a few months to live. He enjoyed watching the sun come up and set each day, until the day he would be called home to heaven. Our friendship developed because he loved my dogs so much. We had spoken to him on numerous occasions when we walked the dogs on the beach near our house. Never had he asked us for anything except to love and play with my dogs as we walked them. It was a very simple request and we were glad to oblige. My dogs are very good judge of character loved their new friend just as much as he loved them. This led to many further conversations of getting to know Dennis as a person and not just someone that was homeless we walked passed on the beach.
As we got to know more about him he had shared his stories and it really pulled at my heart strings. My husband and I wanted to try to make a difference in his life. I guess it is could have also been because I had always had the greatest fear of being homeless myself. We started out by giving him meals, clothes, blankets, pillows, personal items and sometimes a little cash because we are able to and it felt good to share. I felt even more drawn to help him because he had never, ever asked us for anything except to pet and love on our dogs. We had even questioned him...if we could give him anything that he needed what would it be? If he would have said a new pair of shoes, a warm bed, a hot shower, a huge meal...anything...he said he needed nothing... "he had Jesus in his heart". I was speechless because we would have given him whatever he had asked for. He always appreciated everything so much and would question us why we were so good to him. We did not think of it as good but as kind. Many of us have too much and there are so many that have so little or nothing, it does not take much to be able to help someone less fortunate. On many occasions I have seen him share what little he had with others on the street and it brought tears to my eyes. The first time we had seen him someone had handed him food leftover from their meal, he graciously took it and walked it down the beach and handed it to someone else that may had not eaten that day. To see someone who has literally nothing but still wanted to share what he had with others was so eye opening. The small gestures did not mean much to us but so much to him. He was so grateful and did not understand why my husband and I took him under our wing and wanted to try to make a difference in his life.
My favorite quote has always been “Be the change you wish to see it the world” and it is my motto. During one of the worst times in my life, while I was losing my mother I put even more energy into helping my friend. He was a very positive distraction and I had no control over the loss of mom but I took control of helping my friend. One day during that time he handed me this letter....and then took my kids (our dogs) for a walk on the beach. I did not realize we made such a difference in his life.
So...now he wants to live what great news!! At that moment we realized for so long no one took any time to talk to him and treat him like “he matters.” Dennis is a kind, generous, caring and wonderful soul. Dennis is not less then anyone and nor does he deserve to be treated as such. He is able to make choices like anyone of us and he chose to live on the beach and be “home free”.
Dennis fell ill and spent a week in the hospital right before Thanksgiving. We visited him many times during his stay to make sure he was getting better and knew we were concerned about him and his well being. I even brought my service dog to help brighten his day. What better way to feel better when you are in a hospital then some doggie loving! I cooked Thanksgiving dinner and I brought him a giant, hot meal for him to enjoy in the hospital. After we spent time with our friend we delivered meals to many other people that slept on the streets. It had been a very long time since he had a huge, hot Thanksgiving meal made with love. During his time in the hospital he went from wanting to meet his maker to wanting to get back to “living” on his beach.
When Dennis left the hospital we were worried about his well being and did not feel comfortable with him sleeping on the beach. The weather was changing and the temperatures overnight were getting colder. We decided to get him a hotel room for a couple of weeks to sleep in where he was safe and warm. I had some friends that were following his story online that wanted to help and were sending funds to help Dennis. We had never asked anyone for anything but people just felt they wanted to be a part of this story. I was trying my best to help this gentleman get off of the streets and into a home. I was tired of worrying about my friend sleeping outside in inclement weather. Hunkered down in a port-a-potty during a hurricane or a huge drop in the temperature overnight was bothering us greatly. Dennis was skeptical why we wanted to do this and a bit hesitant to go along with my plan. Then he realized that we cared for him and only wanted the best for him and the best did not mean leaving him to sleep on the streets. No one had taken the time to get to know him or care about him like we did.
Now it is the middle of the holiday season which causes depression for so many including Dennis. He doesn’t enjoy the holidays and it amplifies how sad and lonely he is. He had decided this year he wanted to have a Christmas/holiday tree at his spot on the beach. This tree was going to help him get out of the holiday funk. He and my husband found a small palm tree to that they decorated and it became the most photographed holiday tree in our neighborhood. It brought so many smiles to everyone’s faces as they walked passed it on the beach. We bought ornaments and Dennis handed ornaments to people as they walked by so they could help decorate the tree. People began to leave toys and trinkets under the tree. What would have been another sad, lonely holiday season for Dennis just became a joyous time because of this Christmas tree. It made people stop, they engaged in conversation with Dennis and then they took pictures. It gave Dennis so much joy and a purpose. For people to stop and spend time talking to him filled his heart with happiness. He was not asking anyone for anything but really appreciated their time and their conversations. Each night he had to hide the tree from the city workers because they had orders remove it. He took it down and put it back up for weeks to keep it safe from the workers. There was no way he was letting his link to a little happiness get thrown away until after Christmas had passed. He would not let them remove that tree until he was ready to let it go.
We were spending Christmas Day with two of our friends and they were gracious enough to invite Dennis to join us. We made sure he had presents to open and felt “included” in our holiday celebration. We had a delicious meal, lots of laughs and memories created. He had a lovely holiday season and had no reason to be depressed this year. This was the first year in many years that he actually enjoyed the season and we are so glad we were able to be a part of that.
After a few minor setbacks we found him a home where they had a room for rent. The house we found is a great fit and his soon to be roommates are all close to his age. Once I knew that he was finally ready to get off of the streets I wanted to help set him up for success. I put the word out in my neighborhood looking for items to help him start all over. Within a few hours and a few miles driving around he had almost everything he could need. The room was furnished but he did not have much else. People in my neighborhood gave us so much and were so willing to help. Pots, pans, utensils, plates, bedding, a tv and so much more all to help a stranger in need start all over. It brought so much joy for me with each stop to pick up something else that someone had too much of and was willing to give it to someone who had nothing. The day he moved into his new home he did not look like he was homeless the day before... he looked like he had just relocated to a new place.
He did relocate hand this story is not over...it is a new beginning. Dennis has new friends, a home where he is safe and warm and a purpose. He has been in his home over a month and does not miss sleeping on the streets. He wants to make a difference in the lives of others and is no longer waiting to die. He can still enjoy the beach to watch the sun rise/set but he no longer has to worry where he will safely lay his head. Dennis is now wanting to live and enjoying life. My husband and I are so glad we were the ones that took the time to get to know him and could help him (even though he didn’t think he needed help). There is so much for him to live for and my ultimate goal would be to connect him with his family that he has not spoken to in years...that would be the best gift I could give!! Especially after losing my mom and not able to ever speak to her again I hope I can help connect him with his son before it becomes too late.
There are so many more chapters that belong in this story but I just wanted to share some of it with you. To spread the words of kindness which these days more then ever are so needed. It didn’t cost much to do what we did but the reward has been enormous and the friendship we created will be lifelong. I hope others can read/hear our story and help someone if they can. We all need to “Be the change they wish to see in the world”.
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