It started with a simple idea.
That idea is something we can all do. It’s something we asked KING 5 viewers to consider doing last spring when we first told you about the Just Say Hello challenge to connect with the homeless.
Jen Underwood and her 8-year-old daughter Rory accepted that challenge four months ago and did much more. They changed their lives to make it happen.
“And in those four months we’ve gone to 30 states, and driven 14,000 miles,” said Underwood.
They’re home now.
Home, for now, is Underwood’s mom’s house in Monroe. Home for the last four months was the van they drove, a van that has the words “Just Say Hello” painted on. The single mom’s goal was to say hello to 10,000 people across the country to tell them about the Just Say Hello campaign started by Rex Holbein.
“Pretty amazing to go across the country and getting people to say 'hello' to people that are homeless,” said Holbein, who runs a non-profit in Seattle called Facing Homelessness, where Underwood volunteered.
Underwood is a former social worker who took her daughter out of school to take the four-month cross-country trek. Underwood is homeschooling Rory for the current school year.
“Am I sick of driving? You know, that was the other stat,” Underwood said with a smile. “It’s that we have listened to about 210 hours of Harry Potter. We’re an hour away of finishing the last book, the seventh book.”
Underwood could write a book about their experiences, about the people they met, and about the lives they touched.
“This is one of my favorite pictures,” she said pointing to the picture of Bridget, a homeless woman they met in Indianapolis.
Underwood wrote about Bridget on her Just Say Hello Tour Facebook page.
“I knelt down beside her and told her I didn’t have much to offer her that day. But I wanted to offer her a hug,” Underwood said. “As we embraced, Bridget completely broke down, sobbing into my shoulder. It broke my heart. But it also felt like such a gift to give this woman a literal shoulder to cry on.”
The hellos led to conversations. The conversations led to precious moments, like the one with Mateo, a homeless musician who lives in Boulder, Colo.
“And he sat there and played several songs for us and we were singing along,” Underwood said. “We sang in a park, and people were just passing by, and it was so beautiful. I wrote that I found such intense happiness, such gratitude, not just for what we were doing, but for this man, for this song, for this moment.”
Moments. There were so many moments and stories on this life changing trip for Underwood and Rory. They’re home now. And yet, Underwood says it really doesn’t feel like home anymore.
It feels like a lifetime ago when they decided they were going to do this. Now, after four months, 30 states, and all those hellos, they can say, they did it.