Voice of a Guest: Leo
Leo was 32 when he was laid off from a large multinational insurance company during the recession. Without the safety nets of savings or close family, after months of fruitless job seeking, Leo found himself on the streets.
With nowhere else to turn, Leo came to Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. “Without the soup kitchen my nutrition would suffer and myself and many others would have poor health,” Leo told one of our counselors recently. “So many people rely on this place in the city.”
On May 15, 2012 after Leo ate at the soup kitchen, he took a walk toward the park by the Hudson River past the West Side Highway. It was there that he noticed a teenage boy with an older man.
“There was something odd about it, so I kept my eye on them. The man told me to leave them alone, but I didn’t want to leave the boy—who looked scared. I stayed until the man eventually split. He left this kid on his own,” Leo recounted.
The boy was Joey, an autistic 15-year-old student with very limited language capabilities who somehow managed to leave his school. He had never even crossed a street by himself prior to this day, but somehow wandered quite a distance on his own.
Joey started heading back toward the highway after the other man left. Leo asked the boy where home was, but Joey didn’t respond. Leo told the boy to wait and he would get help to take him home.
That’s when Leo called 911 and he waited for the police, who knew that the boy was missing from his school.
Joey’s mother was so grateful. After being reunited with Joey, his mother asked the name of the person who helped her son and set up a time to meet with him.
“It was so emotional meeting Leo. He was so kind and compassionate to Joey. If it wasn’t for him, I might never have seen my son again.”
Leo dismissed his actions saying that anyone would have done the same. However, Leo’s compassion, kindness and generosity extend far beyond helping a teenage boy in trouble.
When Joey’s mother offered him a reward, Leo refused and insisted the money go to Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. Leo, who is homeless, would rather help other hungry and homeless New Yorkers in need than take the money for his own personal gain.
In this past year Leo has gone from strength to strength. When a computer programmer offered him $100 or a chance to learn how to write code for computers, for Leo the choice was obvious. He met with the programmer every day for three months and worked hard to learn these new skills.
Once Leo mastered the art of computer programming, he created a smartphone app designed to encourage people to carpool and save the environment—something he is passionate about. The app has sold well and Leo is moving on to a more secure way of life. As he makes this transition, Leo still relies on the soup kitchen for a nutritious meal and support from our counselors in navigating this next phase of his journey.