“I believe that once upon a time Jason and I crossed paths. No coincidence that we meet again in a new city, in a new life.” - Lauren P. 

Meet Jason. A 30-something year old modern day Renaissance Man who has just about every skill and talent you can imagine. He plays the trumpet, the piano, he writes music, he writes theatrical pieces, he fixes things, AND he loves to cook (his favorite meal is chicken parm). Jason's story is unique. He experienced homelessness after his mother fell ill. Spending every waking moment of his life by his mother's bedside, Jason ultimately lost his job and later lost his apartment. His mother passed, never knowing that after her son's frequent visits, he would leave her side to sleep on the street.

I decided not to focus on the series of events that led up to Jason's homelessness, rather embrace and highlight Jason's growth. I met Jason when volunteering with an organization in New York City called The Legacy Center. There was something special about Jason, I just couldn't put my finger on it. 

I continued to volunteer with The Legacy Center and every Monday I would find myself serving Jason a plate of hot food and a smile at Maria Hernandez Park in Brooklyn. He would never speak to me. In fact, I was lucky to even get a smile or a thank you in return for my kind gesture. Nevertheless, I persisted. It wasn't until Thanksgiving rolled around and The Legacy Center threw a huge feast for our friends in Maria Hernandez Park. Jason was there, and he was excited for the festivities. At last – had Jason warmed up to me?  I asked him what he was most eager to try today. He responded, "the stuffing". Jason responded. After 2 months of radio silence and often ignored gestures of friendship...Jason responded. 

Unfortunately, we didn't have stuffing on the menu (I know, I know) – but there was a breakthrough, and that caused for a celebration. We chatted about his Thanksgiving traditions and the dishes he liked to prepare. He began to cry. Confused, I asked him what was wrong. He admitted that he felt...lonely. I immediately embraced him and told him that I'm here for him, and broke into Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." Jason's tears turned into a smile.

Jason later began volunteering at The Legacy Center where he'd use his skills (both social and labor-based) to serve the community. During this time I got to know Jason on a deeper level. He told me he grew up in Miami, Florida and spent his younger years serving as a stage hand at all the popular Miami playhouses. I was certain we crossed paths in the past. I was a drama major in Miami for 6 years during Jason's theatrical stint, often visiting each and every playhouse Jason said he worked with. 

I love Jason. His growth is both admirable and inspiring. We have frequent hair dates (Jason wants to go blonde -- and I fully support this) and dinner dates. We've gone to the theater for live comedy and Jason has even supported me in my homeless outreach endeavors. He's fascinated by my career and often inquires about the concept of "branding". A few weeks ago he sent me a late night text and asked "If I were a brand -- who would I be and why?" I replied, "Coca-Cola because you're timeless and classic." He's the perfect gentleman, never allowing me to pour my own glass of water, lift a heavy package, open a door or walk alone to my subway station. Jason also won't hesitate to bark at me when I take my phone out at dinner or in the theater. He's old school cool to the core!

I'm so excited that Jason is the first Faces of Mankind portrait. Brian collaborated with Matt who painted the background musical notes from a piano tune he created. I'm confident that the sale of Jason's portrait will inspire him in ways we can't even imagine. 

- Lauren Peterson