Chez Jones understands the importance of celebration and community when it comes to maintaining the human spirit. In addition to her role as Pay-For-Stay (PFS) Lead Coordinator at Higher Ground St. Paul, Chez also runs her own event planning business and works with those experiencing homelessness in Dakota County.
Over the past year, Chez saw opportunities to create a greater sense of community at the Higher Ground St. Paul Shelter by organizing birthday parties for guests staying in shelter. “Wednesday bingo started it all. When I first tried it, only two or three people would play. Now I run out of cards quick! There are some folks who never play but want to be part of the community, so they sit with us and watch.”
“For the most part, this [shelter] is a peaceful place to be. Across the street, at the St. Paul Opportunity Center, that’s where they focus on the stresses of life: looking for a job, coordinating services, and having doctor’s appointments. When they come here, it’s like they are home,” Chez says.
The birthday parties started last fall with hot dogs, balloons, and cake. More recently, Chez visualized a throwback 80s party and brought it to life with vibrant neon décor, MTV logos, and iconic (inflatable) cassette tape boomboxes. Though her parties are far from simple, the simple idea of a birthday party helps guests feel seen and important.
“Many of these people don’t have anywhere else to go and have been coming here for years,” she says. “We see them every holiday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are their families.” Chez reports that the impact of the parties goes beyond the events themselves: The gatherings strengthen the feeling of community among guests, lowering stress levels, and decreasing critical incidents and emergency calls on party days. It has also built strong friendships among the guests.
“Just because you might be homeless doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate something as special as your birthday. Homelessness is just a temporary situation; everyone deserves to be celebrated.”
Chez will be hosting the next birthday party in May, but in the meantime, she is brainstorming other ways to bring life and community to the Dorothy Day campus, including events for the residents at Pay-For-Stay. With your support, Chez and Catholic Charities can continue to provide comfort and stability for those who need our services. If you would like to strengthen the community-centered work happening at Catholic Charities, please donate on our website.