Johnny sits in the hallway

Meeting Johnny

Johnny (left) was the name of the man who changed my life.

I had signed up for Will Write for Food, a program that sends 20 students to the Cosac Homeless Shelter in Hollywood, Fla. During 36 hours, we reported, wrote and designed an 18-page issue of the Homeless Voice, which is sold by the homeless residents on the street.

When I talked to the different residents, they all mentioned the man everyone loved. His name was Johnny McKormick . I told Sean Conorie, the shelter owner, that Johnny was who I would write about and he laughed at me. “Good luck,” he said.

Johnny was an old, frail man who lived on a mattress in the hallway. Despite suffering from respiratory disease and being hooked to an oxygen tank, he was a chain smoker and the residents snuck him cigarettes.

I sat with him for eight hours listening to him in what has been the most challenging assignment I’ve taken on.

A week later Johnny passed away. I was able to tell his story just in time.

Doing what I love

I had found what I am passionate about: Writing the stories for those who can not speak for themselves.

After hours of research, I discovered Street Sense, a biweekly street paper in Washington, D.C. I applied and was accepted as an intern for the summer of 2011.

I met all the different faces of the homeless: veterans, children, drug abusers, the educated. Every person had a powerful, emotional story to tell. I felt humbled to be able to report about their lives.

I also realized the importance of street papers. I saw how the stories changed the perspectives of those who read them. And I saw homeless men and women stumble back on their feet to start a new life.