Policy Academy loses longtime instructor in motorcycle accident

BRITTANI PFAU
Co-Executive Editor

Memorial services for Leslie (Les) N. Ferguson, II, East Texas Police Academy instructor, were held July 2 in Dodson Auditorium.

Ferguson was killed in a motorcycle accident June 27 at Interstate 20 and Texas 31.

Prior to the service, about 100 Blue Knight Riders from across Texas and Louisiana escorted Ferguson’s family from Fellowship Baptist Church in Longview to the auditorium. Ferguson had served as vice president for the motorcycle group.

Multiple police and fire departments from around the area and the Longview Fire Pipe and Drum Corps attended the service.

In 1990, Ferguson was hired at KC’s East Texas Police Academy where he served as an instructor for a little more than three decades. His 33-year-career included service with several area police departments in multiple positions including White Oak, Lakeport, Longview, the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force and others.

Ferguson is survived by his wife of 31 years, Pam Ferguson; a daughter and son-in-law, Jacquelyn and Jededia Dennis of Hallsville; two sons, A1C Chase Ferguson and Les Alex Ferguson of Longview; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by his mother and step-father, Barbara and Pete Wilson, of Longview; and five siblings, including Michael Ferguson, KC Police Academy instructor.

Thirteen named for Fire Academy graduation

Thirteen students will graduate from Class 84 of the KC Fire Academy at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, in the Woodruff Adult Education Center Auditorium.
The KC Fire Academy is accredited by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection and the State Firemen and Fire Marshal’s Association and approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The academy offers certification schools for NFPA 1001 Basic Structural Firefighter I and II Certification, the Texas Volunteer certification, Fire Inspector and Fire and Arson Investigation courses.

It is also a designated institution by the Canadian Province of British Columbia.

Graduation candidates are listed by hometown as follows:

  • Big Sandy: Gregory C. Dodson
  • Carrollton: Joshua C. Monroe
  • Canton: David A. Yager
  • Edgewood: Joel H. Gammons
  • Gilmer: Douglas D. Stewart
  • Harleton: David K. Corrin
  • Lockhart: Benford Walters
  • Longview: Colby A. Williams
  • Mineola: Paul D. Pearman
  • Saint John, New Brunswick,Canada: Joshua M.G. Thorne
  • Tyler: Michael R. Tillery
  • White Oak: Anthony E. Depaepe
  • Wills Point: Zachary G. Griffin

Members wanted for KC Ranger Band

Kelly Gillit
Staff writer

It’s not too late to join the band.

Director Glenn Wells is still looking for new members with an interest or experience in music to sign up for the KC Ranger Band, and is especially looking for students who can play percussion or tuba.

Contact Glenn Wells at 903-983-8272 or email him at gwells@kilgore.edu.

KC Chorale searching for talent

ASHTON JOHNSON
Co-Executive Editor

As this semester takes off, the KC Chorale is still recruiting students.

The Chorale is for students who love to sing and can hold a choral part. A brief audition is required to become a part of the Chorale.

“Chorale students sing more frequently with orchestra than any other large university in the state,” said Dr. Jim Taylor, director of choral activities. “It’s a good place for building friendships, growing in musical skills and it’s a great balance to your other academics.”

The Chorale will participate in three concerts this semester. The first will be held on Saturday, Sept. 29, performing Schubert’s Mass in G with the Longview Symphony Orchestra.

The Chorale (MUEN 2142) is the value of one credit hour and meets 10-10:50 a.m. Monday-Wednesday-Friday and 9:30-10:50 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday.

For more information or to audition, contact Taylor at 903-983-8122 or email him at jtaylor@kilgore.edu.

Enrollment dips 5%

BRITTANI PFAU
Co-Executive Editor

Enrollment has decreased approximately 5 percent this semester. At the end of late registration Aug. 22, 6,026 students were enrolled, compared to 6,345 students enrolled at the same time last year.

“Enrollment as a whole across the state has been trending downwards. The possible reasons we’ve talked about is that as the economy continues to get better and the nation is recovering from the recession more people are going out to try to find jobs rather than going to school,” said Staci Martin, registrar and director of admissions. “We’ve also seen the local population of high school students decrease. Fewer kids are graduating to come to college. These are just some of our thoughts, things we’ve talked about informally.”

Enrollment figures will fluctuate. Students can register and make changes to their schedules Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 27-28, by visiting the Counseling Center on the second floor of the Devall Student Center. Students do not need to make an appointment.

Through Sept. 15, students will receive a 70 percent refund for dropped classes. From Sept. 15- 24, students will receive a 25 percent refund. No refunds will be given after Sept. 24.

QUEST and Full Throttle courses are also offered at KC-Longview.

QUEST courses give students an opportunity to earn 12 hours of college credit in 16 weeks. Fall courses begin Aug. 27.

Full Throttle classes begin on Sept. 24 for 12 weeks. Students may enroll in these courses until Sept. 21 without a late fee.

Service Fair provides volunteer opportunities

JONATHEN RUESCH
Web Editor

Discover ways to become involved in the community with the Service Fair 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, in the Devall Student Center Ballroom. The fair is free and open to all KC students, faculty and staff.

“A part of Kilgore College’s curriculum (and other schools’ curriculums as well) is something called Service Learning, which is a credit-bearing education experience. Service Learning is getting practical experience by volunteering for organizations,” said Candace Heezen, support specialist. “The Service Fair matches up students with organizations that can provide volunteer positions that fit with the students’ programs.”

Some of the participating organizations include Alzheimer’s Association, Boys and Girls Club, Community Connections, the Hospice of East Texas, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Rusk-Panola Children’s Advocacy Center and Special Health Resources.

For more information, contact Heezen at 903-983-8678 or at servicelearning@kilgore.edu.

Welcome Week kicks off fall semester

ASHTON JOHNSON 
Co-Executive Editor

The college will be hosting KC Kickoff next week.

To welcome students, free drinks and Charlie’s Sno-balls will be served Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 4 and 5, in front of the Watson Library.

Classes on the Kilgore campus will be canceled from 11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, for a pep rally in Masters Gym.

A free lunch sponsored by Student Life will be served after the pep rally between Masters Gym and the Devall Student Center. The lunch will include hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies and snow-cones.

Kickoff will also include an organizations fair which will offer students a chance to learn more about the different organizations on campus.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know as many students as I can and hopefully providing a good experience for them,” said Ross Costanzo, new assistant director of student life. “I want to improve the excitement on campus and encourage students to be involved in student activities and intramurals.”

To conclude Welcome Week, the Rangers will play Tyler Junior College 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler.

“Being from New York it’s great to see new faces and I look forward to a new and fun school year,” Costanzo said.

Ranger Alert notifies students of emergencies

KELLY GILLIT
Staff Writer

With all the hustle and bustle of late registration, bookstore lines and overall back-to-school preparation KC students go through before even stepping foot in their classrooms, it is important not to overlook one last step in having a safe semester: Ranger Alert.

Whether a class is canceled or severe weather rolls in, Ranger Alert is a campus-wide emergency alert sent out via text message to keep students aware and safe in case emergencies arise.

To register a cellphone, go to Campus Connect at kilgore.edu, click on the Ranger Alert button and enter the cellphone number.

Ranger Alert will confirm the registration with a text message to the student and to the wireless cellphone carrier.

Sigma Kappa Delta receives prestigious “Ivy Chapter” distinction

BRITTANI PFAU
Co-Executive editor

KC’S Sigma Kappa Delta chapter has been named an “Ivy Chapter” for excellence. SKD is the national English honor society for two-year colleges.

SKD was originally formed through Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society for four-year colleges. Its purpose is to recognize and honor outstanding students of English language and literature.

The name Sigma Kappa Delta derives from the Greek letters representing the first letter in each of the works in the society’s motto, “sincerity, knowledge and design.”

The KC chapter sponsors are Jason Graves, English instructor and assistant department chair for language development, and Dr. Richard Harrison, dean of liberal and fine arts.

“We were really happy to get this news,” Graves said. “Only 14 chapters nationwide managed to gain ‘Ivy Chapter’ status.”

At KC, outstanding English students are invited to join Sigma Kappa Delta once each year. Last spring, the KC chapter inducted 34 new members.

SKD member Carol Degrasse was also recognized by the national organization as an outstanding student in English.

Students from only 20 colleges received this level of recognition.

Through its chapters at two-year colleges nationwide, SKD provides students with many opportunities to advance the study of language and literature, to develop skills in both creative and analytical writing and to receive scholarships to help with the cost of continuing their education.

KCPD Chief remembers deadly standoff in Waco

KASI DICKERSON
Executive Editor

Nestled in a Central Texas field where chirping crickets replace the roar of highway traffic, a small white church stands overlooking a U-shaped white gravel driveway. It is about six minutes off of Loop 340 in Waco and its hidden location is serene with lush green grasses, blooming dandelions and draping trees. Standing in front of the church today a visitor wouldn’t realize the history of the area and the war zone it once was.

Nineteen years ago a religious group called the Branch Davidians led by Vernon Howell, who later changed his name to David Koresh, occupied this area of Mount Carmel. The group believed Howell was Christ and that the end of the world was coming in a cataclysmic confrontation between the Branch Davidians and the government.

At about 9:30 a.m. Feb. 28, 1993, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) began to execute an arrest warrant for David Koresh and a search warrant for the Branch Davidian compound.

Kilgore College Police Department Chief Martin Pessink was working in special operations (SWAT) for the Waco Police Department at the time of the raid. He explains his side of the story based on his first-hand observations and information he received.

“What led up to the warrant was that UPS had received packages to deliver out to their compound and one of the boxes fell and broke open and it spilled out a bunch of fragmentation hand grenades,” Pessink said. “This was not in the city of Waco; it was out in McLennan County so they notified the sheriff’s department. That’s what prompted the investigation by ATF and the sheriff’s department.”

When ATF tried to serve the warrant on Feb. 28, 1993, the agents came under immediate gunfire, according to the “Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas.”

“That morning my wife woke me up and said ‘You better come see what’s on the television,” Pessink said. “It was on Channel 10 and what we saw was live footage from the Branch Davidian compound of a shootout between the Branch Davidians and officers with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms uniform that were trying to serve the warrant.”

Pessink immediately strapped on his gear– a handgun, extra magazines, a utility knife, tear gas– slipped on his bullet-proof vest, military-style black battle dress uniform and Kevlar helmet. He then waited for his pager to buzz calling him to duty.

Within an hour of seeing the TV report, he was called into his office. Waco PD had no knowledge of the situation before officers were briefed on the scene.

“We pulled up on a driveway of an adjacent ranch probably about 500 yards away from the Branch Davidian compound and there was a large water tower in the center of the compound, and the ATF agent there that was briefing us pointed to the tower and said there was a guy up there with a Barrett .50 caliber rifle. These things have an accuracy of up to a mile for hitting a man’s set target so we all ducked behind our truck,” Pessink said.

There are differing viewpoints on who fired the first shots; however, Pessink explains the tactics the ATF used in the raid.

“When ATF was getting ready to plan this raid they were at Texas State Technical College. Somehow someone involved out there, not associated with ATF, knew one of the reporters from Channel 10 and called him and said, ‘They’re staging for a warrant and I think they are going to the Branch Davidian compound.’ He (the reporter) was there and ineffectually alerted the Branch Davidians by his presence that someone was coming so they prepared ahead of time,” Pessink said. “The tactics that ATF used in serving the warrant have been questioned for 20 years, but one of the things you do in a tactical operation is try and establish an element of surprise. If you can go through with surprise, rapid response and fast control of a situation in most cases you can do it without firing a shot which has happened time and time and time again and that’s what they (the ATF) were relying on.”

ATF officers had planned on hiding in a covered cattle trailer to serve warrants to Koresh and the compound.

“Since this was a ranching area, a large truck pulling a cattle trailer was not going to appear unusual unless somebody had dropped a dime (made a phone call) and told them that they were coming, which is what happened,” Pessink said. “So when the truck pulled through the gate the guy with the Barrett .50 put in a round at the engine, killed the engine, blocked the truck, stalled it and opened fire on the trailer. He blew one guy’s head off, shot another through the vest. They were just killing these agents.”

The agents who exited the trailer and started making their approach to the house encountered machine-gun fire coming through the walls, through the windows from the house itself, Pessink notes.

“These folks were armed with grenades, machine guns, high-powered rifles and the argument from the Second Amendment bunch is the right to keep and bear arms and stuff like that, but there are limitations to what type of arms,” Pessink said. “Of course, machine guns, grenades and high explosives are not included in that unless you pay the taxes.”

Four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians died in the initial raid.

Even though Mount Carmel was essentially outside of Waco, the Waco PD still had officers out there trying to help get the situation under control on Feb. 28.

“The intelligence we were receiving said Vernon Howell was threatening to shoot their way out of the compound and go into town and take over one of our hospitals,” Pessink said. “We put out SWAT team officers on the exit of the roads that were leaving out of the compound.”

After they returned to town the next day, however, the city administration said its city officers would not go back to the scene. They did, however, secure the hospital one more day.

Pessink says that a year before the raid, his SWAT unit trained in an abandoned house on an intersection between the highway that led to the compound and the loop on the East side of Waco. This house stood beside a mechanic’s garage.

“We didn’t know that the mechanics running the garage were Vernon Howell’s lieutenants and at that date they went out there and told them ATF was out there so they barricaded themselves then,” Pessink said.

According to the “Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas,” Howell confirmed on March 2, 1993, that there were 43 men, 47 women and 20 children inside the compound. Before given this head count, ATF officers and other law enforcement agents on the scene knew there were innocent victims inside the compound. Negotiations immediately followed the initial raid.

“Our negotiators were working with the county’s negotiators trying to get those kids out,” Pessink said. “We stayed there for 24 hours. That’s how I spent my 33rd birthday, laying in a ditch out at Mount Carmel.”

The ATF raid ended when FBI took over negotiations, but a 51-day standoff followed.

Negotiators tried to compromise with Howell many times to get him to surrender peacefully. The FBI and Hostage Rescue Team teams used many tactics to force those inside the compound to come out – like playing loud noise to induce sleep deprivation. They also allowed Howell to record an hour-long audiotape where he preached about his special knowledge of the Seven Seals and the end of the world according to the Book of Revelations and his promise to surrender peacefully after the tape was broadcast.

The tape was broadcast nationwide over the Christian Broadcast Network and in Texas over KRLD. Howell did not surrender as promised because he said God had spoken to him and told him to wait to surrender.

Over the course of the standoff, 38 Davidians either escaped or were released by Howell. Some releases were part of FBI’s negotiations.

On April 19, FBI executed plans to end the standoff by inserting tear gas into the compound. The FBI attached aerosol canisters of tear gas to the booms of the tank recovery vehicles. Before injecting the gas, FBI called inside the compound and warned that gas was about to be introduced and it was not an assault so no one should fire any weapons. Two minutes after the gas plan was initiated the Davidians began shooting the vehicles. FBI then inserted gas into the entire compound.

The compound caught fire shortly after. There are differing views on who started the fire. The “Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas,” says “the Davidians started fires at three separate locations within the compound.”

Pessink agrees.

“Vernon Howell was going to make his prophecy come true. Regardless of the situation he had a prophecy of death by fire and he was going to make this happen,” Pessink said. “The conspiracy theorists tell us that FBI burned this place down, but they burned themselves up. There were recordings at one time from inside the building saying that ‘the fire is lit, the fire is lit, the fire is lit’ and that’s never been really made public for whatever reason, but that was provided in the Intel briefings for law enforcement that was involved in this after the fact.”

Nine Davidians survived the fire; Koresh was among the dead.

“Folks find it hard to believe that 78 people allowed themselves to be burned up in a building, but in Jonestown, Guyana, 900 either drank the Kool-Aid (poison), took an injection if they didn’t want the Kool-Aid or somebody shot and killed them,” Pessink said.

On April 19, 1993, the compound burned. On this day, Pessink was 35 miles away securing a local hospital, but he could see the mushroom clouds go up from the explosives inside the compound. He explains that the Davidians had more than just grenades stockpiled because there is a difference in a fire plume and an explosive plume. He also says that most of the children who they found in the aftermath had bullet holes in their heads where somebody had shot them before the place burned.

“It was a bad and long-winded deal,” Pessink said. “Before that happened no one know where Waco, Texas, was. After it happened everyone knew where Waco was.”

April 19, 2012, marked the 19th anniversary of the “Waco event.” For many, this day is a day of mixed emotions and remembrance.

“I still get a little antsy when the anniversary comes around, especially on April 19. That seems like a rally day for things to happen,” Pessink said. “Even though Waco is a large city, it has a population of over 100,000, we always had that small town, rural, it can’t happen here, type of belief. I think the change with everybody is that anything is possible. Things like this are not isolated to other areas. Things like this can happen in your town too. Don’t get caught unaware. This probably changed everybody involved to some degree. The tragic loss of life that was involved in that situation, in both law enforcement and civilian– everything that took place out there– just makes you stop and reflect.”

Abuse shatters family structure

KASI DICKERSON
Staff Writer

It comes in many forms. It lurks in the shadows behind closed doors. It is unpredictable and destructive. Child abuse is a parasite eating away at the heart of the family structure.

Every 10 seconds a report of child abuse is made and more than five children die every day as a result of child abuse, according to National Child Abuse Statistics on ChildHelp.org. About 80 percent of the children who die from abuse are said to be under the age of 4.

Child abuse can be mental, physical or sexual. Child abuse shatters the “Leave it to Beaver” or “Brady Bunch” family illusion, causing families to become dysfunctional and claiming innocent victims.

Amanda is a victim of child abuse known as Shaken Baby Syndrome.

At 2 months old, Amanda was hospitalized for a month after her mom or dad violently shook her causing internal bleeding in the back of her head. Within hours of being in the hospital, her twin brother came in after being shaken.

“The doctors kept saying I was probably not going to come out of it. I was not going to be able to walk, talk or do any of the things I do today,” Amanda said. “A lot do not survive so I’m very lucky.”

Immediately after their release, Amanda and her brother were put into foster care. Unlike Amanda, her brother became blind, couldn’t talk, was tube fed and was in a wheelchair until he died at 16. Amanda, did, however suffer a brain injury and visual impairment.

Throughout her childhood, Amanda lived on-and-off with her grandmother, mom and at the school for the blind in South Dakota.

For three years, she lived with her mom who was abusive both physically and mentally.

“There were times when my mother would hit me. One time she pulled my hair so hard that it actually removed the skin from the bone. It took about a year to heal,” Amanda said. “The mental part of it was basically she would tell me over and over that ‘you’re not going to be able to do anything. You’re stupid.’ It was very hard to deal with.”

At 13, she lived with her parents for a short time due to problems at her school; however, Amanda’s mom continued to abuse her.

“She isolated me. I was very close to my grandma and she (her mother) would tell me that ‘Your grandma dropped you off because she can’t deal with you anymore,’” Amanda said. “It was very difficult because I was by myself pretty much all the time.”

While staying with her mom in the middle of a South Dakota winter with 50-below temperatures, Amanda was grounded to her room with only blankets to stay warm.

“She didn’t feed me for a week. I only had candy to eat– nothing but chocolate. How I like it today I’ll never know,” Amanda said. “I drank water from a spray bottle. It was safer to stay in my room and eat candy because my mom and dad got into fights and would have to go to jail sometimes.”

Before she went to court and chose to live with her grandmother when she was 16, the only way Amanda could escape her mother’s abuse was to sleep.

“I guess instinct took over. You had to survive. You couldn’t let them win in a sense,” Amanda said. “My grandma supported me. She didn’t treat me like someone with a disability. She would say, ‘You’re gonna do it.’ You need someone to believe in you and you need to believe in yourself. I would refuse to believe that they were going to win.”

Despite all odds, Amanda escaped her mother’s entrapment when she moved to Texas. Now, she is studying to become a counselor for abused people or families dealing with children with physical or mental disabilities and she sincerely thanks her mom for giving her the experience to fuel her passion for counseling.

“I can say I’ve been through it. There is always a way out. It may not always be easy to see it, but I would certainly look very hard for that even if it takes standing up to the darkness,” Amanda said. “Everybody in my life told me ‘you’re not college material’ and ‘you can’t do it.’ I kept telling them I have to at least try and I’ve done very well.”

Similar to Amanda, Emma uses her family experiences as motivation to becoming a psychologist.

“I want to understand the human mind and what causes people to do the things that they do,” Emma said.

Emma is one of the millions of people who suffered from child abuse.

Her perpetrator? Her father.

“He was very verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. If you can be abusive in any way that’s how he was,” Emma said. “When I was 3 years old, I was supposed to be standing still so he could brush my hair and I was 3 – 3-year-olds don’t stand still. He got so mad that he picked up a piece of 2-by-4 sheet metal and spanked my butt with that.”

Bruises, scratches and scrapes can all be evidence of physical abuse which is why this type of abuse is the most recognizable; however, underneath the physical scars, mental and emotional abuse hides devouring the mental stability of its victim.

“I’m the older sister and he put me on a pedestal. I was perfect; I had to be perfect, there was no exception otherwise. I had to be smart. I had to be polite. I had to be just the perfect example,” Emma said. “The constant need to be perfect still affects me today.”

Emma’s father molested her once when she was 8 years old while in a supposed drunken state.

“It didn’t come out till I was 10,” Emma said. “When my mom confronted him about it he said ‘he wouldn’t do that, didn’t remember it,’ so it kind of just got pushed under the rug. It’s something we don’t talk about.”

The National Child Abuse Statistics say that more than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrators in some way. They also show that abused teens are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

Abuse affects children physically, psychologically, societally and behaviorally.

“I became sexually active very early and it was because I wanted to feel the attention. I wanted the love I didn’t get at home,” Emma said.

Studies conducted in 1996 show about 52 percent of victims of maltreatment were female and 48 percent were male. Girls are sexually abused three times more often than boys, whereas boys are more likely to die or be seriously injured from their abuse, as documented by the Third National Incidence Study.

Many sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator like Scott who was molested by one of his male cousins.

“When I was like 5 years old I was molested and a strong sexual urge after that just came into me,” Scott said. “I watched pornography constantly– if not daily, every other day. I became hooked on pornography and that’s how I would medicate the pain, that and rap music.”

The first few years of a person’s life are important in shaping their character. Everything a child sees, hears or does impacts them in a different way and eventually acts as the building blocks to their moral foundation. As Scott grew up in an unstable, abusive environment he turned to aggression and drugs.

“I didn’t know if I was loved,” Scott said.

Child abuse is a vicious cycle. The National Child Abuse Statistics show that 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children. Scott’s father is an example of this self-destructive cycle.

“A lot of it is because he was abused as a child. His dad was an alcoholic and he almost died several times from alcoholism,” Scott said. “I guess it just stemmed from the hurts and pains he had never dealt with.”

The struggles Amanda, Emma and Scott experienced make them who they are today.

“Emotionally, there is a strength there and I’m ascribing all credit and worth to Jesus Christ,” Scott said. “In Isaiah 53, it says that Jesus took the strikes for our healing meaning He was beaten to heal us, heal our wounds. I believe it goes beyond our physical afflictions. I believe it is emotional, spiritual, inner healings. We live in a world of hurt people. I believe the only way to truly be healed and experience wholeness in your heart and the fullness of joy and true pleasure, intimacy, connection and love is through Jesus.”

The “perfect” family may not exist. Every family has its faults and secrets. But it is these relationships, situations and memories that mold characters. As college kids, we are told college is the time to “find ourselves,” and for many college is the first time away from home. Influences within the family decrease, but do not disappear.

Next time you’re in a classroom remember that child abuse has no boundaries. It is blind to race. It can’t be paid off with a fat check. It can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time.

English instructor lives among homeless to learn the lifestyle, how he can help

KASI DICKERSON
Executive Editor

Sitting on a weathered bench with street grime covering his unshaven face and torn clothes, he looks out into the sea of faces walking by. As he watches, he realizes that not one person has made eye contact with him or even acknowledged him in any way. So, he tries to start a conversation with a simple “good morning sir” and “good morning ma’am.” No response. Then the realization sunk in. \

“I realized I had passed from the mainstream society to the homeless society. People would walk by and not look at me, clearly ignoring the fact that I was there. I knew that was a typical reaction, but I had never felt that,” said English instructor Gus LaFosse. “I was invisible. I had crossed over into that invisible realm of throwaway people. I could hardly believe it.”

Last summer, LaFosse spent the hottest week in recorded history living as a homeless person under the Murphy Street bridge in Shreveport, La. Temperatures ranged from 110 degrees to 113 degrees.

“It was a miserable week. It was so hot,” LaFosse said. “I would go to the library a lot, but I didn’t tell the other guys because I thought it was cheating. One day one of the guys asked me, ‘Hey, where did you go yesterday?’ and I said, ‘The library’ and I told him how I thought it was cheating and he said, ‘You’re homeless; there are no rules.’’’

In the summer of 2009, LaFosse went on a mission trip to the Common Ground Community in Shreveport with the Wesley Foundation for McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. The Common Ground Community is a group of people working together to provide for the residents of the surrounding neighborhood. LaFosse’s experience here is part of the reason why he decided to live as a homeless person for a week.

“It completely changed my life,” LaFosse said. “During the week, we mainly worked with kids and then we did church under the bridge and that’s what really inspired me.”

With only a two-man tent, a can of bug spray, one gallon of water, a couple of books for reading and writing and a worthless camera, LaFosse journeyed to Shreveport to live with some “outdoor” friends.

“It was not very different because I spent hours visiting and it was exciting because it was something new and different,” LaFosse said of his first day under the bridge. “The more time spent, the more challenging and the more realization set in. Because I was homeless I had no resources like in a house; I didn’t shower, didn’t shave and after a few days I looked and smelt like a homeless person.”

For the first four days, LaFosse didn’t eat; however, one day a church group brought food so he was able to eat.

“One day I went to a Circle K (in Shreveport) who are very kind to homeless people, and my friends told me to go and get free ice. When I got there the ice machine was broken so I walked across town to another Circle K and they didn’t know me and a lady there said, ‘Here, why don’t you get an ice Coke and some hot dogs?’ I was very impressed by that,” LaFosse said. “Some people shocked me with how kind they were and some shocked me with how rude they were.”

Every night he slept in the same place for safety reasons.

“It’s like a really bad camping trip! There is no way to prepare; you just have to look at it as an adventure,” he said. “There are some tough times and I have to focus on the 80 percent good and not the bad 20 percent. My goal is to reach people, make friends with them and do what I can to help them.”

Before teaching English at KC, LaFosse went to McNeese State University where he was an adjunct instructor and student. After graduating, he taught at Lamar State University for one year before moving to Longview.

“I’ve found I’ve been able to use what I’ve learned out on the street in class and what I’ve learned in class out on the street,” he said. “It turned out that my time at Common Ground prepared me for what to teach in Kilgore. I had never been in an English class where you had to give a speech and so I required my students to volunteer and give a speech about what they learned.”

After seeing downtown Longview for the first time, he realized how much the streets resembled the Shreveport area and he knew he wanted to help the community.

“I’m in the process of opening a community house in Longview and that’s why I came to Kilgore College,” he said. “My first concern is a building. I have been making friends, but what is lacking is a building.”

A community house is a constructive and positive place for making friends and resources.

This December, LaFosse is going to live among the homeless community for a month living in various locations in Shreveport.

“I want to experience as much as I can to learn that lifestyle and how I can help them,” LaFosse said. “I will spend Christmas and New Year’s with my outdoor friends. I am using this opportunity to raise money for the community house. I will call the fundraiser ‘Survive-a-thon.’ I will encourage people to sponsor me.”

To follow LaFosse’s “Survive-a-thon,” visit his blog at www.thegiftoflvoe.blogspot.com.

His reason for living as a homeless person is not because of some political or religious agenda. He is simply doing this because he shares a deep love with these people and he wants to connect with them and understand them.

“I’m doing this because I feel called to be a homeless advocate. I cannot truly understand, love and serve these remarkable human beings without meeting them on their level,” LaFosse said.

While at times his work may be challenging, LaFosse has learned much from these experiences and he encourages others to break out of their habitual thinking that pushes them away from people who are different than they are.

“Don’t believe the stereotype about homeless people. They are not dangerous or uneducated and their homelessness is not caused by money or by being lazy. They are just the opposite,” LaFosse said. “The stereotype just gives people an excuse to ignore them. They are good people with problems.”