I drive my car past the piles of personal belongings that are randomly scattered across the cement wasteland under the Interstate 10 overpass. I see blankets, bags, tattered suitcases and sometimes a bicycle. I wonder who each pile belongs to. How long have they been living there? Are they scared? Do they have family that wonders where they are? Do they know where to get help? Yet as I continue the drive back to the comfort of my home, the painful images of the piles and their imaginary owners gradually disappear.

“I wanted to change the face of homelessness. They are just like you, just like me and have hopes, and dreams, and talents and skills” says Director of Marketing/Media for the New Orleans Mission Steven Scaffidi. And he’s doing just that through Mission Media Productions, an innovative outreach program of the mission. Mission Media Productions teaches media production as well as other marketable skills to participating mission residents by using a hands-on holistic approach. The members of the program are homeless residents who create digital media projects including films, documentaries, social media campaigns and photography and music projects that feature other homeless people. Participants hone skills that can ultimately transfer to a job, but more importantly they’re empowered with a renewed sense of self-worth and value that has been stripped away from living on the streets.

A native New Orleanian who has worked extensively in the media industry for 35 years locally and nationally, Steven Scaffidi created “Hit Me America.” The project is a series of interactive songwriting jam sessions that unites musicians with a live audience and has successfully produced 10 songs – two with a group of homeless. Through this experience, Scaffidi was introduced to New Orleans Mission Executive Director David Bottner, fell in love with the mission’s work and soon was recruited to work full-time for the mission in October 2015. With an office staff of five mission residents as well as many assistants in the field, Scaffidi showcases the strength rather than weakness of the homeless in our community, while also providing a revenue stream for the New Orleans Mission.

One transformative program produced by Mission Media Productions is “Desperate Reality.” America’s first live radio rescue program airs each Saturday night on WWL-AM and WWL-FM, and is reaching listeners in 40 states and worldwide. During the program, mission representatives journey into the streets to reach destitute individuals who search for help and are then connected in real time to speak on the air with host Johnny L. “If people are willing to face the truth and allow us to intervene, we’re ready to embrace them and help them find a restored life,” says Johnny. “Desperate Reality” also offers an outlet for callers from anywhere in the listening region to share their struggles with addiction, depression and abuse, and “provides immediate help to people in desperate situations willing to make hard changes in their lives.” The program's impact is most evident on Monday mornings as several new people typically arrive at the mission following the broadcast, ready to commit to the mission’s life-changing 21-day or 12-month program.

Hope, forgiveness and love are plentiful at the New Orleans Mission. Through the creative work of Mission Media Productions, they’re striving to change the hopelessness of homelessness.

A Little Bit More …

•     Volunteer opportunities are available at Mission Media Productions: 1134 Baronne St., 523-2116, NewOrleansMission.org
•     New Orleans Mission’s annual gala, “Changing the Face of Homelessness,” is November 4, 2016, 7-11 p.m. at the Hyatt New Orleans. Call 669-0189 for more information.