Heavily involved in Real Change’s advocacy department, editorial department and in the digital app launch, vendor Shelly Cohen is, in a word, remarkable. A vendor for only two years, he’s grown to be a fixture — and a face of what Real Change stands for — with his huge grin and unwavering mission to spread cheer.
Shelly, 61, takes painstaking care of the things that matter most. Dedicating time to practice his faith, planning for his first granddaughter, managing his Type 1 diabetes — all adhere to a specific schedule. Not to mention that he also juggles three jobs as a crossing guard, Amway Affiliated independent business owner, and of course, Real Change vendor.
When we start talking, Shelly checks his glucose monitor next to his insulin pump and cheerily remarks, “For the record, my blood glucose is 149!” He has lived as a diabetic since January of 1972.
Shelly’s dad was also a diabetic. He has fond memories of spending time with him as he managed the family real estate business. “I would go with him to a couple of hotels in Ballard and some houseboats on Lake Union. It’s funny — we would get phone calls at all times of the night and they would say ‘The houseboat is sinking!’ The people who were renting, were, let us just say, a bit inebriated and not quite aware of what was going on,” he said with a wink.
His dad unfortunately passed away due to medical complications when Shelly was 14, but not before witnessing Shelly’s bar mitzvah. It’s one of his fondest memories, for “when boys turn 13 they become men according to Jewish law.”
Raised as a conservative Jew, Shelly went to yeshiva as a child. He attended Roosevelt High School and then attended North Seattle College for about two years and later received his real estate license.
While in college, Shelly was a part of student government, the newspaper staff and even formed a bowling league. That’s where he met his ex-wife.
Shelly took advantage of his real estate license after he got married. It ended up taking a lot of time away from family life and his three children. He changed careers to be around more, starting a business with his wife. However, unstable financial issues took a toll on his marriage, and Shelly moved on.
He started doing market research over the phone, which proved to be too stressful and adversely affected his health. He applied for unemployment and, in time, got a job as a school crossing guard. “I’ve been doing this at Bryant Elementary for two to three years,” Shelly said. “I adore it. Cars used to ignore me and make turns in front of me, but now I am no longer target practice!”
And then, Shelly found Real Change. “I absolutely love being a vendor,” he said. “I believe it’s one of my callings. Real Change is amazing. I’m my own boss. I love this type of work … the independence. While I’ve had some people say ‘all you are is a panhandler.’ I know better and say, ‘No sir, I purchase the papers first!’”
Shelly especially wants to give thanks to Eric Rohner, store director at the Northgate QFC: “He gave me permission to sell in the parking lot. I just want to give him a big smiling thank you.”
Incredibly, Shelly started purchasing and selling 300 papers per month, making him a club vendor. The next month, he upped his sales to 600 papers per month and has kept that record streak ever since.
Shelly represents everything Real Change stands for: hard work, determination and a spirit of resilience. His challenge to you: “Share more smiles, and don’t forget to make it a greater moment!”