Write Team: StreetWise: An old-fashioned newspaper with a cause

This may seem like a commercial for our own newspaper, but it’s not.

Call me old school, but I like a newspaper. I mean a real, printed-on-rolled-news-stock-with-ink-that-comes-off-on-your-fingers newspaper. Now, I do once in a while read a paper online, particularly if I’m traveling and want to check the news back home, but there is nothing like the feel of sitting down and spreading out a good, old-fashioned newspaper and spending however much time you can devouring the stories.

One of the newspapers I have come to enjoy over the years is a Chicago publication named StreetWise. StreetWise is more of a social enterprise designed to help impoverished people out of poverty than it is a commercial newspaper. It is published weekly as a general interest newspaper with a gritty “from the streets perspective” to give insight to its readers on what’s really going on in Chicago.

OK, that’s from the website. The way StreetWise operates actually is pretty simple. People or “vendors,” as they are referred to, stand on street corners, train platforms or anywhere out of the rain and sell a 12-page newspaper for $1. It’s not very glitzy and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a model posing for anything in one of the ads.

But what it does represent is a vehicle that empowers people to earn money in a way that otherwise would not be available to them and gain a little dignity in the process.

The vendors are, by and large, people who have had a run of bad luck and need a helping hand. Some of the vendors have been homeless. Some of them have lost everything, including their families, to a variety of misfortunes. The why is not nearly as important as the what and in this case, the what is the fact that these people need a little help.

My vendor is Standard Mitchell. I met Standard almost 20 years ago because he is faithful about being on post just outside the Metra La Salle Street Station. Standard is 53 years old and graduated from Marshall High School in Chicago. He studied accounting at Wright Junior College, which is not part of the City Colleges of Chicago. He worked for a shoe store company that went out of business in the early 1980s and then had to settle for an assembly line job, making televisions. In the late 80s, that job was outsourced to another country and Standard found himself without a job and soon after, a family. His wife divorced him and that’s when Standard’s life hit the proverbial fan.

Standard and I became friends almost immediately. I call him Mr. Mitchell and he calls me J. I like that, it kind of makes me feel hip. Of course, saying hip puts me right back in the goofball category, but you get the point.

At first, I would just try to give Standard a couple of bucks without taking the paper, but he always insisted I take the paper. One week, he was particularly excited for me to take the paper because he was a featured writer that week, talking about his life and history with StreetWise.

I have lost track of Standard and it’s a friendship I miss, one that all started with a good, old-fashioned hard copy of a newspaper.

• Jonathan Freeburg is an Ottawa transplant for the past 26 years and a regular contributor to 1430 WCMY Radio. His real job is in insurance as a cover-holder for Lloyd’s of London. He can be reached at dbarichello@shawmedia.com.