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Free phone calls brighten desperate lives
By Gary Massaro
Rocky Mountain News
Wednesday, December 20, 2006


A borrowed cell phone and a free long-distance call gave hope to folks who don't have much else.  It was the monthly service provided by Qwest and 10 employees who volunteer their time at Denver Rescue Mission.

Lisa Bennett, 41, wiped tears from her eyes while talking to her family Tuesday.

After, the conversations were fresh in her mind.  She remembered what her brother told her:  "Thank God, it's my little sis.  We've been praying for you."

Her mom in Colorado Springs asked if she was ready to come home.

She said yes.

She said she'd be home for Christmas, but not right now.

"I can't leave the city yet," she said.  "I don't have any ID.  I need to talk to my probation officer."

She said she hasn't seen her parents in two years.

"I moved to Denver 2 1/2 years ago," she said.  "I didn't know nothing about the street until I got here."

She said she learned soon enough.

"The street will kill you," she said.

The Qwest volunteers didn't offer judgment.  In fact, they asked only one question of Bennett and the 40 or so others who came into the room:  "Would you like to make a phone call?"

"It used to be just Thanksgiving," said Lisette Williams, Denver Rescue Mission's manager of community events.  "They have turned it into a monthly event."

It used to be just five cell phones available a year ago, said Mark Mulligan, who coordinates the program for Qwest.

"People had to wait in line.  It gave some an excuse not to make a call," Mulligan said.  "So now we have 10 phones.  And there's no waiting."

It wasn't all smiles.  You could see shoulders sag when the callers connected with an answering machine, or got no answer at all.  It was worse when there was a recording.

But the Qwest people offered to look up numbers on a computer.

One guy made a call that was a bust.  He walked out of the room in a hurry.  Volunteer Pam Hovik chased after him.  "You have a return call," she said.

The man smiled when he started talking.

People can call anywhere in the continental U.S.

Daniel Thurston mentioned that his ex-wife lives in Canada.  Sorry.

Hovik offered him her personal phone.  Unfortunately, Hovik's phone has an international call block.

Thurston said thanks anyway.

He did get to talk to a sister in Maryland.  "She said 'Merry Christmas,' " he said.  "She said she's been praying for me.  And she said she's going to send me some money.  It's a hard time of year to be on the streets and away from your family."

Bennett said she was fresh out of jail on a probation violation, and was hoping to get a hotel voucher for the night.

"We all need help," she said.

Perhaps fueled by the hope that the phone calls represented, Bennett offered hope of her own.

"I'm going to start living again - not just surviving," she said.  "It's not jail talk.  It's God's talk."

When Gary Massaro listens, people talk. massarog@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5271

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/news_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_86_5225426,00.html