At 21 years old, McCarrel has walked miles wearing shoes in turns shiny and tattered. After graduating high school, the young man found himself homeless.
“It was humbling,” he said of the three and a half months he spent without an address. “I realized an important thing: I don’t need anything to be happy. I mean, it changed everything; I had to be broken to see what genuine happiness is.”
For McCarrell, happiness means love and peace, working collectively and building relationships within the community. Pursuing Our Dreams, his first foray into collective building, sponsored mentorships at city rec centers, leading youth to find their talents and areas of achievement.
“I thought that there has to be more than this,” he recalled. “I love the kids, but you can’t just talk to them. You have to show them change, that small actions can make big statements.”
The resulting action group, Feed the Streets, makes and distributes lunches to anyone in need once a month. The core group is made up of people under 25 years of age.
“Our generation gets put on the back burner … the media loves the thought of us being out of control, they blame us for everything that’s wrong…‘Let’s blame the youth!’” he said, shaking his head. “I wanted to do something that was youth-led, something that shows leadership and shows people that we’re here, we care, and we know.”
Feed the Streets had its first event last fall and is steadily growing in terms of visibility and number of volunteers who join with McCarrell and company to distribute meals. There are no sponsorships, either corporate or religious; the Feed the Streets crew buys and assembles all meals during epic sandwich-making parties.
“It’s important that this is community taking care of community,” he explained. Costs are usually offset by donations from volunteers.
The first time the group gathered, McCarrell overestimated how many lunches they would be able to give away and ended up with 50 extra sacks. “Everyone was like, ‘Shawn, what’d you get us into?’” he laughed. “So we took them to Faith Mission.”
McCarrell was no stranger to the downtown shelter. One night during his time living on the street, he continued, the police picked him up and dropped him at the Mission, and now he was back, giving food and showing love.
“It knocked the wind out of me…to be put in that space,” he said. “I took 10 minutes to bask in the moment.”
With Pursuing Our Dreams and Feed the Streets, McCarrell is the pied piper of selflessness. He recently threw a block party in his neighborhood backyard, Westgate Park.
“People showed love,” he said, opening his hands expansively and smiling. “People who don’t even like each other on the streets came and danced…we can come together and share space with no drama.”
At least 20 times during the event, McCarrell took a breath and looked around at the community he helped bring together. “It was beautiful to me, it was like family,” he said. “In city life, we might not know our neighbor for years – community is not just folks occupying space, it’s building relationships.”
“It’s just love, that’s it.” •
For more info, visit www.facebook.com/PursuingOurDreams.