Casting hope this holiday season

Published 6:12 pm Saturday, December 19, 2015

By Rep. J. Randy Forbes

We often don’t see them unless we are truly observing. Nearly 600,000 people across the United States, on any given night, live in our communities without homes (according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress). Some live in their cars. Others use makeshift shelters around our cities. Others move from abandoned building to abandoned building.

People experiencing homelessness are usually well-hidden, often by choice. When we see them, we don’t always know what brought them to this devastating reality. What we do know is that most of us ache for home — for a safe place.

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We also know that there are some organizations that are seeking to bring those experiencing homelessness into the light and offer hope and a brighter future. There are a number of such organizations serving the communities of the 4th District, although we don’t always hear about them.

CAST — the Chesapeake Area Shelter Team — serves as Chesapeake’s only overnight program for homeless people. What is unique and wonderful about CAST is that it taps into the resources and talent of the community to accomplish its mission.

CAST partners with churches of all denominations in the Chesapeake area to provide shelter during the cold winter months. Each participating church volunteers one to two weeks to serve as the homeless shelter for the community. The program has 36 church partners and provides 20 weeks of shelter during the harshest winter months. Last year, CAST provided meals and a place to stay during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In 2014 alone, it served 130 families experiencing homelessness.

There is one thing I have observed about giving collaboratively: when you empower people to serve, they are determined to take it to the next level. In addition to providing shelter, church partners have gone above and beyond, hosting meals and providing services like haircuts and health assessments. One young congregant baked cupcakes so guests could celebrate their birthdays. A spirit of giving is contagious.

If one thing is certain, America needs some wins today. As I think about CAST and all it’s doing, I’m reminded of the hopeful and giving nature of the holiday season. I’m also reminded of the wins it is creating for our nation. CAST might be a tiny effort in the context of our larger national challenges — but it is important in the way that it spreads the basic goodness of America. Moments like this make up the greater American story.

At the lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree 30 years ago, President Reagan remarked about the special feeling we get when we light up a tree — how the lights send a spirit of love, hope, and joy through the heart of America. That is how I feel when I see Americans coming together and opening hearts to those in need.

This holiday season is an opportunity for us to look around and see the wins that are happening all around us. Wins don’t come at the hand of the federal government — they come when people in their communities join together with a common purpose, a common mission, a common voice to make a difference in the lives of those around them. CAST serves a purpose that is greater than one person’s vision. It is building upon the vision of many organizations, and its footprint is noticed in the community.

CAST is just one story. There are countless other organizations like CAST doing good work all throughout the counties, cities and towns of Virginia’s Fourth District. These organizations serve their communities in meaningful ways. They see needs and they answer them. Perhaps you volunteer at one of these organizations. Perhaps you or someone you know is a beneficiary of the services that are so graciously provided.

This season, may we look at the hearts and service of others and see how helping those in need sends a spirit of love, hope and joy right through the heart of America. And may you experience tremendous hope and peace this Christmas season.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at