When I go out to any given shore town, I never know who I will meet, or what story will be shared. The “not knowing” is actually what drives my quest to find new people to meet. I fundamentally believe every person has a story, and that every story matters because every person matters. My job is to go out and unearth a facet of what makes each person special, like mining for jewels. I have interviewed over 100 people this past year, and each story sacred. But some had more of an impact on the readers than some others.
Though this list is certainly arguable, and there are many I had to choose to leave off, I think you all will agree that these are fascinating stories, ranging from the inspirational, to the heartbreaking, to the sublime. Which of these impacted you the most? Be sure to say in the comment section below!
1. “My Dream is to be Mayor of Asbury Park”
“I had a baby while in high school, and that made me want to grow up. I joined a summer program through Brookdale College, and one of the things they had me do was volunteer to help the community, so I signed up to help out with Serve 24 outreach here today. I am going to go to Brookdale in the fall, and major in Political Science. I want to become a lawyer, but my big dream is to become the mayor of Asbury Park.
“I like how they have started to fix up the town, but if I become mayor, I will fix it up more and make the whole city beautiful, because I have a lot of pride in Asbury Park. We have an amazing beach, the most beautiful one in New Jersey. We also have many different ethnicities that live here, which is great. As mayor, I would tell people, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover. This is a special town.” Sometimes people will judge me, and I will prove them wrong simply by having a conversation with them, and show them how intelligent I am.”
~ Asbury Park
2. “God Has Me Alive For a Reason”
“I didn’t grow up here. I moved here from North Jersey because my my mom passed away in 2013. I miss my mom so dearly. I’ve seen abuse towards my mom growing up, and I been through it too. I later struggled with addiction for a very long time. A few years ago I was with someone getting high, and he O.D’d and dropped dead right in front of me. That really freaked me out and that was it. It just completely clicked for me and I stopped using after that.
“I know God still has me alive for a reason. After I stopped using for good, I got pregnant with my daughter, and she is my whole world. She is going to turn two soon. Now that I’m a mommy I’d go to any lengths for her. I suffer from depression and separation anxiety when she is with her father and I’m not around my beautiful Cheyenne.
“But this February 14th I will be three years clean – I cannot believe it is three years now! And now that I have a home, and am on a good path, I am so excited for mine and Cheyenne’s future.”
3. “I am 60 and Ready to Die”
POTJS: What are you most excited about in life right now?
“I am not excited about anything. I am 60 years old and getting ready to die.”
POTJS: Are you dying?
POTJS: Why do you feel like you are getting ready to die? You are so young still.
“I’m sixty years old. It’s time to go. I’m done.”
POTJS: People can live many years past their 60’s. I am really sorry you feel that way. Why do you feel that way?
“Because I lost my son. That’s why I don’t want to live anymore. End of conversation.”
~ Seaside Heights
4. “My Wife and I Were Homeless”
“My wife and I were homeless for a year not too long ago. I had lost my job, and fell into a really deep depression. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do nothing. We had to give up our child, and we lived by the parking lot at Walmart in Manahawkin. We stayed there for a whole year.
“But we started to go to church, and began praying every day. We finally woke up one day, and it was like God was saying, ‘Go to church,’ and we went. The church was so great. They supported us, got us food, clothes, and helped us get a place to live. I started working seven days a week, my wife worked too, and we got back on our feet. We got our lives back, we got our daughter back, and now we live in Brick. Life is so much better now.”
5. “I Know I am Here to Help People”
“I was born with a rare medical condition called lymphatic malformation. It is not hereditary or contagious. There is no known cause. It occurs during pregnancy. It usually affects the face. I have been dealing with that my whole life. I also was diagnosed with mental illness when I was nine.
“I was never really bullied growing up. I had good friends, and great family, and I was always very social and outgoing and very confident. It wasn’t until I was eight or nine years old that I started getting involved in self-harm and all of that stuff. It was bad depression and anxiety I was dealing with then. I realized at that point, ‘Wow, I really am different, I really am not like anyone else. I am not going to be able to have relationships with certain people,’ and I had a really hard time dealing with that.
“I finally stopped harming myself two years ago. I had spent so much of my life doing that to myself. I had gotten treatment, and I just didn’t want to keep doing that to myself anymore. I really didn’t want to die.
“I also had an eating disorder for a while. When I was in treatment, I was refusing to eat my meal, and I went to my room at the treatment place. This group of girls that were at my table came upstairs and encouraged me to finish my meal, and they sat with me until I finished it. That was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. I was like, ‘Wow. They are struggling themselves, but they are taking time out of their day to show me compassion, that they care. We became such good friends after that. We still talk to this day, and that was two years ago.
“I am a psychology major. I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life, but I know I want to help people, whether it’s as a nurse or a psychologist or something else. I know I am here to help people.”
~ Ocean Grove
6. Domestic Violence Survivor (Part I)
(Story told by me, Portraits of the Jersey Shore founder, Gregory Andrus)… Every once in a while, I get sideswiped by a story that I could never had anticipated. This morning was one of those times… I went to Wawa for some coffee. I had no idea of the profound encounter I would have with this cashier, Nakia. After I asked how she was doing, she told me the truth, ‘I am homeless, I live in a shelter, and God spared my life after I got into a really bad car accident this weekend. I pray all the time, and God’s angels protected me.’ There were a few people in line behind me, but I told her in a quiet voice that I was so thankful she was safe. Then I asked, ‘Nakia, are you doing ok? Why are you homeless?’ She answered honestly, ‘I need help. I live in a shelter with my daughter for women escaping domestic violence.’
But I wasn’t done. I got my food, and waited behind 10 people so I could come back and see Nakia. When Nakia saw me, she asked her boss if she could talk to me privately, which she was granted. We met in the side of the room, where she proceeded to tell me about the temporary home for women seeking shelter from domestic violence. She told me how she lives there with her daughter, and how her daughter is turning 16 in November, and how she has no presents to give her. She told me how the town gave her a room to hold a birthday party for her daughter, which will be the first one she will have had since she was five. I told her that I will let you all know that her 16-year-old daughter needs presents, and see what we can do to help her. The party is on November 17th. (Follow up next post)
7. Dreams Can Come True (Part II)
Two weeks ago I shared with you all a woman I met who, with her two children, are staying at a shelter having fled from a domestic violence marriage. She told me how her daughter was turning 16 soon, and she desperately wanted to give her a party, but she didn’t have a way. When I shared that on this page, the outpouring of love, and willingness to help was incredible.
Tonight, thanks in large part to so many who follow this page, her now 16 year old daughter Sanaa, is having that party.
Thank you so incredibly much from the bottom of my heart. I love you all so much. ~ Gregory
No two stories are the ever exactly the same, and yet we are all connected by our stories. Thank you to every person who has geared their story with me this past year, and thank you to each of you, the reader, for reading them. Every story matters. Much love, Gregory Andrus
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