For most of us lucky enough to have a roof over our heads and a job that puts food on the table, it's nearly impossible to imagine life without those basic needs covered, to think of sleeping in a shelter or asking for and accepting help from others.
Mike DeMeritt can picture it, though.
If you goWhat: Run 4 Home 10K run and 5K run/walk
Why: Proceeds support DuPage PADS' mission to return homeless people to self-sufficiency
When: 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7; race day check-in is 6 to 7:30 a.m.
Where: DuPage PADS, 703 W. Liberty Drive, Wheaton
Cost: $35 for adults, $15 for ages 6 to 13; pledges and donations encouraged
A volunteer with DuPage PADS, DeMeritt can't shake the memory of helping at a shelter and identifying with a homeless man who had come to sleep on a mat on the church floor wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase.
"It really hit me at that moment that that guy could be me, or my brother, or my friend, or my neighbor," he said.
The image is part of what drives the West Chicago resident to be one of the most dedicated fundraisers for DuPage Public Action to Deliver Shelter, which offers emergency shelter for homeless people in DuPage County, as well as transitional programs to help clients return to self-sufficiency.
For four years, DeMeritt has aimed to raise $10,000 for PADS by taking part in a 100-mile trail run in Wisconsin.
DeMeritt now serves on the committee overseeing the Run 4 Home, a run and walk raising money to support PADS' mission. The event offers both 5K and 10K running courses, as well as a 5K walk, starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, from the organization's Client Service Center, 703 W. Liberty Drive, Wheaton.
Proceeds will help fund PADS' array of services that aim to end homelessness in DuPage County.
Best known for the overnight shelters available every day, PADS has evolved to offer guidance for clients as they seek public services and confront the reasons for their homelessness. In addition, case workers help clients develop a career plan and secure employment.
Today, DeMeritt tells us more about the Run 4 Home and what inspires him to help the cause.
Q. Who or what inspires you to participate?
A. I have been volunteering for the DuPage PADS Run for Home for four years, working on the race committee. I am involved because of the mission and its vital importance to our community.
Q. How have you been affected by homelessness?
A. Homelessness has never darkened my door. However, that is the silent horror -- because it actually could happen to any of us. And it really does happen to ordinary folks. The danger is often unforeseen but can very quickly become a reality for one of my neighbors, family members or even me.
So many people don't realize how easily their ship can be capsized by an event that depletes them financially. It can be as simple as being fired from a job they thought was secure and then finding themselves unable to find another and not having enough savings.
It can be a divorce that came about suddenly. It can also be any number of other catastrophes, including illness or injury. There are also the more complex cases involving mental or chemical issues and the like that are difficult for me to fully understand.
But what really rocks me is when I realize that many of our homeless are ordinary people that had something bad happen and all they need is some help to get their lives back.
When they do regain their footing, the benefit to them and their families may be obvious, but the benefit to all of us is what's unseen and is what really drives me to want to be involved.
Q. What has been difficult about the experience?
A. The most difficult part for me is when I have volunteered at one of the overnight churches. I saw firsthand, a man in modest business attire and a briefcase, laying down on a pad next to all the others. It really hit me at that moment that that guy could be me, or my brother, or my friend, or my neighbor. The silent horror roared in my brain.
Q. What might surprise people about the experience?
A. You inevitably get more out of it than you put in. There are so many different opportunities to get involved.
Q. What have you learned because of the experience?
A. I've learned to more fully appreciate the simple things in life. I've also learned to get outside myself a little more and not be so self-absorbed.
Q. What support have you received from DuPage PADS?
A. The staff at DuPage PADS has been very supportive to me. In my efforts to support them, I have, in turn, been supported back in every conceivable way. They make it easy for someone to get involved.
Q. Have you ever done this run/walk before and, if so, what was the experience like?
A. I've certainly run around the course a lot in helping to manage the event along with the rest of the committee and volunteers. In fact, last year I ran and walked the entire course in a gorilla costume. My father and I and a couple friends were in charge of keeping the walkers on course.
Q. What would you tell someone who is interested in participating but might be the slightest bit hesitant?
A. Whether you are a walker or a road racer, you will be in good company. If you cannot do either or don't want to, there are many volunteer opportunities. Sometimes a new experience can seem a little intimidating, but once you jump in you'll quickly wonder why you didn't jump in sooner. It's a great way to spend a summer morning and it's for an important cause that affects all of us in one way or another.
Q. How can readers donate to your fundraising efforts?
A. Along with the PADS Run 4 Home committee, I also have helped to raise funds for DuPage PADS in a different way. For the past four years, I have attempted to raise $10,000 each year for DuPage PADS by collecting pledges and running a 100-mile trail run in Kettle Moraine Forest in Wisconsin. With the help of many generous friends, associates and other citizens, we have reached and surpassed this goal in each of the last three years.
This year has been more challenging. Unfortunately, although I gave my all, I was able to complete only 100 kilometers on a very hot and humid day. We have raised $5,665 so far. I'm still striving for my goal though, and look forward to persevering next year as well.
If you or anyone you know feels motivated and has room in your giving plan, I would greatly appreciate a pledge on my web page, MIKE RUNS 100.