Chet W. Sisk Marks 10th Year as Living Skills Coach to Homeless
Samaritan House—In the southwest corner of the first floor inside the Catholic Charities’ run shelter in Denver, residents trickle in as the 7:30 p.m. hour approaches. They come to hear Chet W. Sisk's soothing voice and to be part of his exuberant wellspring of positive energy.
Before the master life skills’ guru arrives on Thursday, the residents break down the folding tables and form a large circle in the middle of the room. On the walls, hundreds of small gold rectangular plaques silently shout out the shelter’s benefactors.
Sisk has been teaching life skills’ techniques such as living in the moment, expanded capacity, and re-evaluating relationships to make a difference in the lives of the homeless and to shunt conventional wisdom to the street corner. When he walks through the overflow doors, the crowd takes notice of his infectious smile.
“Who wants to share their story on how they got here?”
Chet W. Sisk – The Early Days
Originally from Waterloo, Iowa, Sisk owned a very successful and renowned advertising agency, CVO Worldwide (1993-2001). After work orders for print ads in major newspapers dwindled after 9/11, he decided to call it quits in advertising and to volunteer as a life coach at Samaritan House. At first, the class was nothing more than a glorified resume-building and job search class, but it quickly evolved into something more, he said.
People are able to see themselves in your story and you are able to see yourself in somebody else’s story, said Sisk, the author of his third book, "Think This/Not That," and voiceover artist for commercial radio, television, and cable.
“It is quite cathartic and is very powerful and I kept emphasizing that more and more,” said Sisk, the father of two boys – Chet Mario, 23, and Chase Langston, 20. “That is the one constant throughout all the classes. I am a big believer in the fact that we are all connected. And when we tell our stories, we see that we are all connected. We are all having similar experiences. One of those tools that you never want to get rid of because they are something special.”
Telling Our Stories – Empowers People
Jean-Phillippe Legér, a debonair, very good-looking 47-year-old Latino from Miami, is the first to volunteer. From 2005 to 2008, Legér specialized in assisting people who were in danger of losing their homes. When his own mortgage reset, he figured that it would be easy to modify the terms of his account. In between jobs and without a steady income, his bank would not adjust his account – not eligible for a refinance. As a result, he fell several months behind in his payment.
“The pressure was too great,” said Legér, 47. “I decided to leave my house and pack everything and have the fresh start. In the interim, I lost my girlfriend of six years. I was ashamed and very upset because there was no way to re-gather and to stay at my house, so I figured the best thing to do was to leave Florida.”
Growing up in Georgetown, Kentucky, 56-year-old Robert Bedinger said that he experienced a lot of trauma because of racism, so he carried the hatred of white people in his heart for 30 years.
“What I learned in prison is that you cannot carry your past into your future,” said Bedinger, once a bricklayer, painter, and day laborer. “I hadn’t dealt with my problems in the right way. Instead of getting mad at the white man, I had to learn how to handle the trauma of getting locked up for a crime that I did not commit at the age of 16.
"I got angry; I got bitter; I got mad,” he said. “And I turned that anger into negativity when I should have turned that anger into positive so that I could help somebody else.”
Sherri Milhouse, a demure, former social worker and affable mother of two boys - Quintin, 27, and Edward, 22 - was diagnosed with congenital heart failure and blood clot disorder (some of the clots have broken up and moved to her lungs). She’s been in-and-out of the hospital eight to nine times since January 2010. She has exhausted her savings of $10,000 before arriving at the shelter.
“There has been some depression with not being to work because I love my job,” she said. “I almost live for my job. And that’s one way that I can see the passion that Chet has for his work here. I share that same passion for the job that I have.
“Being homeless is going to make me a better person and definitely a better social worker because—not only can I sympathize with my clients, but I can empathize with them. And what I think makes Chet’s class so effective is because he openly discloses that he was homeless and that he struggled, so he was in the same position that we are in. He doesn’t sugar coat it.”
The Key to Change = Transformation
One of the major themes of Sisk’s living skills repertoire, especially when dealing with homelessness and other life crises, is to transform yourself and to transform the world around you during times of transition.
Everybody talks about wanting a different kind of life, but they may not fully understand what it means or takes to go from one life to another, he said. “It takes more than allowing things to happen to you, he said. You have to truly become an agent of your own transformation.
“Transformation means that you are intending to change; that you are intending a new life; that you are intending a way your life is going to go. Change happens to us all, but transformation is a choice. My job is to create an easy, accessible way for more people to transform.”
The three objectives of his class are to bring students in participation with their own lives, to create an empowering environment, and to overcome adversity, he said. “I wanted this to be a ‘laboratory of thinking’ or to challenge the conventional wisdom of the day,” said the Southern Illinois graduate who received his bachelor’s degree in communication (1983).
Sisk has also brought his revolutionary ways of thinking to the World Assembly of Youth in Malaysia, the University of Kwazulu-Nata in Surnames, South Africa; University of Al Akwayn in Fez, Morocco; University of Toronto, Ontario; and University of Memphis in Tennessee.
"I am a living example that all of us can transform no matter what we did, wwhere we came from, or who we are," he said. "If we can know that that possibility exists for all of us, then we have a fighting chance to live our greatest life."
Jean-Phillippe Legér – Living in the Moment
It’s easy to think about the past and it’s easy to think about the future, but it’s more advantageous to live in the moment because that’s all you have, Legér said.
“You need to smell the flowers,” he said. “You realize that all that you have is this moment and this present time and try to enjoy it no matter what you are doing even if you are just watching television, having a conversation, sipping a cup of coffee – trying to realize how great it is to live in the present and to remember how those moments make you feel.”
Expanded Capacity / Re-evaluating Relationships – “I definitely took an inventory and realized that you have to change everything,” he said. “There was only one person that I could count on and that was my girlfriend, but I knew that I was going to leave her as well, possibly restart here and maybe bring her along. But realistically, it is better just to give new birth rather than resurrect the dead.
Sherri Milhouse – Lessons Learned
“I like when he talks about that you have to break the cycles,” she said. “You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, especially regarding unhealthy friendships and relationships, which you sometimes have to let them go.
“That is a process that I am learning now. When I got sick, that’s when I really found out who my true friendships were. When times are good, everybody wants to be around. But when you get sick, I feel that some people don’t know what to say or how to say it or what to do.”
Robert Bedinger – What concepts or ideas have resonated with you?
• How do you deal with life and what is the purpose of life?
• You can’t engage in the blame game.
• There are certain things in our lives that we have no control over.
“In this life, we are all looking for something,” Bedinger said. “And most of us are looking to be happy, but I am looking to help other people. Whatever has happened to us in the past, we have to deal with it in the present. When I wake up in the morning, my prayer is that I am going to walk in love just like Jesus did. I try to think and not react during bad situations.”
Chet W. Sisk: Genesis of New Book
One of the biggest challenges that students were facing at the homeless shelter was that they were believing ideas and concepts that weren’t necessarily true, he said, but those things are agreed upon in our general society, but they are not necessarily healthy or good or true.
"So I decided to write a book about some of those false concepts that we have embraced and to provide updated versions of those ideas primarily for the sake of helping the students to be empowered.”
Chet W. Sisk is the author of three books including “Seven Steps to Success I Learned from Homeless People (2005),” “Because You Can (2007),” and “Think This/Not That (2010)” published by Jasina Media available at Whole Foods and Amazon.com for $24.99.
For more information, go to www.chetsisk.com.