Monday, March 28, 2016

Jack and John: Laughter is the Best Medicine

Jack Lunn and John Grapes
by Jeff Moles

By day, Jack Lunn works in sales, as he has for 37 years. By night, he is a stand-up comedian. As he puts it, “I’ve worked about every comedy gig you could do in my 15 years of doing stand-up. From Zanies, to a psychiatric convention, to doing Elvis impersonation at a corporate conference in Chicago, to driving five hours to perform twenty minutes for free, to working the seediest little bars and hang-outs you can do. It’s all part of the world of stand-up comedy, and I’ve done it.”

However, Jack’s favorite place to share his comedic gifts is Room In The Inn. Since 2010, laughter has been reverberating through the halls of Room In The Inn when “Funnyman Jack” is teaching his comedy class. “My goal is to get laughs early and often, not just from me, but from everybody. I get them to write jokes, tell jokes, brainstorm. I challenge them. They get a chance to perform in the end.”

It is rare to not find John Grapes sitting in Jack’s classroom on a Friday. John has been struggling with homelessness for three years, and takes part in many of the educational opportunities offered at Room In The Inn. Comedy class is his favorite.

John spent years in the music industry. He played drums with such superstars as Eddie Rabbit, Kitty Wells, James Brown, and George Jones. He says, “Music is all I wanted to do since fourth grade, and I made it work.”

Suffering from severe stage fright made performing difficult for John. He turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the anxiety that would overtake him. John got clean thirty years ago, but a physical ailment kept him from continuing with his passion for performing. Looking back, he wishes he would have listened to his father’s advice to finish school, and to have a “plan B” to fall back on.

About John, Jack says, “John self-admittedly has stage fright, one of the big causes he says for picking up some bad habits that were a negative influence in his life. I believe stand-up comedy has hit this problem head on and given John more self-confidence, particularly in front of an audience. Laughter brightens his life.”

Jack says that he knows he can depend on John, something that is reinforced in the community nature of his comedy classes. Community is an active force in his classroom. “My class does a lot of brainstorming and that means all of us pulling together on the same rope. We’re always searching for that killer joke. And by working together, a lot of times we get there. I love it when students laugh and support one another’s material and jokes and performance.”

John says that the encouragement he gets from Jack and his classmates is invaluable. It helps him look his fear of being on stage head on. Every few months, Jack and his students present a comedy showcase in Room In The Inn’s Clancey’s CafĂ©. Jack is constantly looking for new student comedians to perform, and also relies on his regular class members like John.

In John’s words, “I like to share my comedy because it lets people get away from themselves for a few minutes. They don’t dwell on how miserable they are, and they don’t have to use drugs and alcohol to escape. Jokes get people away from the cold, cruel world.”

John says that after he finishes his time on stage it’s like a tremendous weight is lifted off his shoulders. His teacher Jack says, “I don’t know where John is headed, but I hope he gets there. He makes me laugh, early and often. We’re close to the same age and we have a lot of similar likes and interests. So we connect as a couple of friends cuttin’ up and moving through this thing called life. I wish John happiness, clarity, direction, and determination to find his way…wherever his heart desires.”

Friday, March 25, 2016

Melvin and Carl: Watching One Another Win

by Jeff Moles

Melvin Scates and Carl Lillard have been traveling the same path; where they’ve been and where they are going. However, the biggest difference for the two is all in the timing of their journey.

Melvin and Carl met thirty years ago at the Nashville Rescue Mission, where they were both staying. The two became fast friends, working together, and getting high together. Because of his violent behavior, Melvin often found himself kicked out of shelters and other places. When Melvin couldn’t get help, Carl would make sure to bring him food and be sure he was taken care of.

About 15 years ago, Melvin turned his life around. He found God, got involved in church, got married, bought a house, and eventually became a member of the staff at Room In The Inn, where he serves as a care coordinator at the Guest House, a place of recovery for those with addiction issues. Carl says he remembers hearing about Melvin’s turn around, and, laughing, simply says “I didn’t believe it.”

While Melvin’s life looked completely different, Carl’s life continued in struggle with chronic homelessness, addiction, and life on the streets. In June 2015, however, Carl entered the Guest House, where his friend Melvin works. Carl completed a 30-day recovery program, and has spent time working on his sobriety. His goal is to get his life back, get clean, and develop a better relationship with his family. Another Room In The Inn staff member talked to Carl one day when he was drunk and encouraged him to look for a better life. Melvin says, “I’m so glad somebody took the initiative to talk to him. He had to be the one to do it, though.”

“It’s his season. It’s his time now,” said Melvin, “I’ve seen him come from one end to the other. He’s always been a part of me. Helping him is helping me. I’m watching him win.”

One of the lessons Melvin tries to impart on people who come to the Guest House for recovery is to take advantage of the help others offer. “When somebody puts their hand out to help, grab it,” he says.

Now Carl has joined Melvin in offering help to others. Carl has taken the lead in offering hospitality to guests who are often intoxicated and difficult to care for. The two men share a bond from living on the streets with one another that makes their working relationship special. They have a direct understanding of the suffering and pain of addiction, but also the great freedom of sobriety. They each credit the other with teaching the lesson of patience. Carl says, “You have to see the good things that are coming. You’ve got to be patient. Slow down and wait.”

Melvin and Carl’s eyes light up when they think about the work that is still in front of them. They look forward to inspiring others they know to start the journey of recovery. Melvin says, “I just thank God for looking over both of us. There will be more.”