Our Executive Director, Jim Kelly, received this letter after a group of students attended a SHELTER screening at Covenant House. The author of the letter, Sophie Trist, went on to become a summer intern at Covenant House. You can read her bio at the end of the letter.
I’ve seen a lot of really well-done, powerful documentaries about hard topics. Many of them have affected me, but I don’t think any of them have impacted me the way SHELTER did. The film was a completely immersive experience. There was no polished narration overlaying the kids’ experiences. There was no barrier between the viewer and those featured in the film. The kids’ stories spoke for themselves. I love the fact that SHELTER does not shy away from things that might offend certain viewers, such as profanity and gender identity. These things are reality, and since they are issues faced by abused and impoverished kids, we can’t afford to turn away from them.
As each kid’s story emerged, I felt like I was getting to know them. This was especially true for Elizabeth. I could’ve passed her a million times on the streets of the French Quarter. I’m ashamed to admit that when I encounter someone on the street talking or singing to themselves, my first instinct is to hurriedly walk away. Coming from a financially comfortable family in the suburbs, I’m isolated from abuse, mental illness, drugs, and poverty— the issues thousands of kids across America and in my own city have dealt with since they were born. I knew academically that there were young people suffering in New Orleans, kids my age or younger cast out from their families or forced into human trafficking. But it’s one thing to know it and quite another to feel it. For me, SHELTER made my academic knowledge a reality. It broke open the bubble in which I’ve lived my life.
One of the most poignant scenes for me (it almost brought me to tears) was when the education specialist at Covenant House, showed one of the residents a bunch of flash cards with simple words like “wide” and “quietly” written on them. The girl, who’d gone as far as tenth grade in the New Orleans public school system, was illiterate. The whole time she was trying and failing to read, she was weeping. How a kid can go all the way to tenth grade without being able to read boggles my mind. I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream, “How could this happen?” How could this happen in a city just forty-five minutes away from where I received a quality education with compassionate, supportive teachers and all the textbooks and materials I could ask for? As a voracious reader who devours several books a month, my heart broke for her.
Seeing SHELTER reinforced in a big way my conviction that we have to do better! Our education system has to do better. Our mental health care system has to do better. Our justice system has to do better. Jesus once said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.” The kids featured in this documentary—and the thousands of others like them across this great country of ours—are our brothers and sisters. Each one of them is unique and valuable. Each of them deserves a firm but loving hand. Each of them has a story that deserves to be told.
SHELTER is a film that every person, young or old, should watch at least once. Hopefully, it will burst their bubbles, as it did mine. Hopefully, it will foster a sense of social responsibility and love for the poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, the abused. Hopefully, it will make people, like me, think twice when passing a homeless man, woman, or child on the street.
Please watch SHELTER, and share with family and friends.
Sophie Trist has been totally blind since birth, but she’s never let that stop her from doing what needs getting done using alternative techniques like braille and a talking computer.
Sophie is a junior in the Honors program at Loyola University New Orleans, where she’s majoring in English with a concentration in writing. Her dream is to obtain an MFA in creative writing and become an English professor, as well as write novels of her own. Her other hobbies include listening to country music, hanging out with family and friends, playing with her three dogs, and reading every book she can get her hands on.
Sophie was deeply impacted by the documentary “Shelter,” and knew she wanted to work at Covenant House the moment she watched it. Working with the research and grant writing team has engaged two of Sophie’s greatest passions: learning new ways and styles of writing, and working for social justice in her community.