[Published in the Ventura County Star May 22nd, 2018]
Growing up in a small farming town in New Jersey, Brian Galetto rarely saw homeless people.
That changed when he moved to downtown Ventura five years ago to take a teaching job at Ojai's Villanova Preparatory School. Walking around town, Galetto was surprised by the number of people he saw living on the streets.
"I was just taken aback by what I was seeing," he recalled. "I thought, man, I know it's warm but that can't be the sole reason why there are this many homeless individuals."
Galetto wanted to understand the problem of homelessness and what can be done to help. He began jotting down thoughts and questions about what he saw. He read news articles on the topic. He talked to homeless people he met, trying to discern who they were, how they ended up on the streets and what kept them there. He took photos and wrote more than 100 poems.
After two years of doing this, Galetto realized he had enough material to create a book. Earlier this year, he self-published "Not So Simple: Observations on Poverty and People," a collection of poems and photographs that explore poverty in the United States and the stories of people living on the streets. Proceeds from the book, which is on sale at several local bookstores, will be donated to the Ventura nonprofit organization Project Understanding, which works with the homeless.
"It's a conversation starter," Galetto said. "I truly think we can change our communities if we change how we view those that are homeless."
Galetto sees his book as an extension of the work he does in class. As a communication and speech teacher, he has encouraged his students to use communication skills to reflect on the plight of the homeless, to listen to the stories of others and to become actively involved in helping their community. He's helped them create fundraising campaigns to generate money for organizations that help people in poverty and to collect toiletries and other supplies for distribution to the homeless.
"I just want them to be active agents of change. I want them to go out and take their communication skills and make a difference," he said. "The skills I wanted to hammer home were listening to each other and trying to understand someone's story — using your language to be compassionate, using your language and your actions to make a difference."
In creating his book, Galetto said he was putting what he teaches his students to the test. So far, it's paying off. He has sold more than 500 copies and raised more than $2,000 for Project Understanding.
Hannah Cunningham, a senior at Villanova who had Galetto as her teacher in her freshman year, said being in his class inspired her to get involved in an after-school community service project that collects and distributes clothing such as underwear, socks and coats for the homeless. She said she also began talking to homeless people she saw instead of ignoring them. Reading his book inspired her even more, she said.
"I think it's wonderful," she said. "He has so much to give, and his book really does tell a story."
Senior Patrick Thurston said Galetto's classes and book also made him pay more attention to issues of poverty and homelessness. He agreed with the teacher's approach to tying communication skills with compassion and service.
"I feel like a lot of aspects of school focus on the professional world," he said. "I think giving back, being charitable, shows you the other side of the world. It's important to be able to communicate there too."
"Not So Simple: Observations on Poverty and People" is available for purchase in Ojai at Bart's Books and BookEnds bookstores, and in Ventura at Palermo coffee shop and Bank of Books. It can also be purchased online at amazon.com.