Needed Change

Sisco in Miami.

By: Christine Martinsky 

Sometimes, the unlikeliest of experiences bring the greatest meaning to life. That was the case for 25-year-old Galen Sisco of Bethel Park. On a journey that Sisco thought he was embarking on to help others, he got more than he bargained for.

Not so long ago, Sisco found himself in a situation that is familiar to many. A recent college graduate of California University of Pennsylvania, Sisco struggled to pin down a steady job. After a string of frustrating events concerning employment between Sisco and his friend Kevin Saftner, 25 from Hickory the two began to think outside of the box.

“Kevin and I decided that we were unhappy working for ourselves and that if we wanted things to change and we wanted to be happy, we had to start working for other people who needed help,” Sisco said.

That’s when the concept for “Needed Change” was born. Sisco and Saftner decided that along with friend Drew Dayton, 26, Franklin, they would travel the United States, live among the homeless, and document their experience. Their hope was that through this, people would see the preconceived notions they had of the homeless community were false.

“Our goal for Needed Change was to raise awareness about homelessness and to get many people involved to help the cause,” Sisco said.

“We wanted to show that homeless people were not all drug addicts, or criminals, or bad people,” he added. In order to fully achieve this, the three lived as if they were homeless.

Leaving Pittsburgh on March 2, 2010, Sisco, Saftner, and Dayton begain their journey in Miami. The trio spent about five weeks in Miami, continued on to Charlotte, N.C., for eight days, New Orleans, L.A., for eight days, and ended their trip with a week in New York City, N.Y.

“We traveled to each city by car, but when we got to each city, we ditched or hid the car until we left that city because we did not want to have the advantages of an automobile, since most homeless do not,” Sisco said.

The three got a taste of how rough it can be in the streets. Each day brought the question of where they would eat, and where they would get the money to eat. They were even robbed at one point losing two laptops, two cameras, microphones, sound equipment, and personal possessions. Sisco estimates they lost between $5,000-$6,000 worth of equipment; equipment which was essential to the project.

After that incident the three were as Sisco put it, “deflated, but not defeated.” Too determined to give up, the trio posted what happened to their Website and fan page and immediately received responses from friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. Because of the kindness of those individuals, the three were able to carry on with their mission.

“Through those people, we were able to obtain enough equipment to continue filming. Right there I knew this project meant something important. It was another one of those life-altering experiences…something as its core was meant to help people in a terrible situation,” Sisco said.

Even when the journey seemed to be complicated, it brought forth life-altering experiences that no one expected. While in Miami, the three met Raivis, a 22-year-old from Latvia. Raivis was living on the streets of Miami without any family or friends. That didn’t last long, as someone who was initially a stranger became a best friend. The three were so taken with Raivis’ story, they couldn’t help but spend time with him and help him any way they could.

“By the time we left Miami, Raivis was with us and he still lives with me to this day here in California. He’s become on of my best friends, along with all of our other circle of friends and is bartending, working in a restaurant kitchen, as well as doing home remodeling. It’s amazing to me to see him go from someone living on the streets making only $7 an hour passing out flyers for clubs and pool parties in Miami to a self-sustaining individual,” Sisco said.

Raivis wasn’t the only discovery Sisco made on his journey. Sisco met 35-year-old Nathan, who happens to be his long-lost half-brother. Prior to meeting, Sisco never had the opportunity to get into contact with his half-brother. However, Nathan tracked Sisco down through the groups “Needed Change” Facebook fan page. The connection detoured the group, then with Raivis in tow, to New Orleans. There they educated themselves further on the homeless stigma and met Nathan.

“Needless to say, meeting my brother was incredible,” Sisco said. We look the same, talk the same, share a plethora of piercings and tattoos, stand the same, have the same posture…all of these things we shared and for 25 years I never knew it,” Sisco said. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you Facebook is a waste of time,” he added.

For now, everything has slowed down with the project, with friend and editor Ed Ringer living across the country in San Francisco and working a full-time job.

“His work schedule is very demanding and we know that getting our project together is going to take some time, but since this was partly his idea and that he is doing it for free as well as on his own time, we are more than OK with that,” Sisco said.

For now, life has returned back to normal, but the trip will remain a memorable one.

“Embarking on this journey really helped our family bond in that it tied up some loose ends that needed to be, Sisco said.”

Partner Saftner is just as grateful for the journey.

“The culture shock was how caring most people were,” Safter said.

“Most of them [the homeless] were good people who wanted more and just ran into a patch of bad luck, Saftner said,” It wasn’t all drugs and losers, as people say,” according to Sattner. “There were people like that, but not the majority by any means,” Saftner said.

“Overall, it was a humbling experience that makes me appreciate the things I have, like family, a home, and food,” according to Saftner. Not having the basic things we take for granted changes your life, changes your whole outlook forever, and I always will be able to appreciate that,” Saftner said.

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