Janice Dampier conveys wisdom so easily that you may not be ready for it and will wish you had a tape recorder. Gratefully, I knew this, because I’ve gotten to talk to Janice before. I downloaded high-tech audio software to interview her once she was named Vendor of the Year. When the interview started, I pressed “record” and told her I was excited.
She chuckled and said, “I’m a cool person. I like to talk. I have nothing to hide about myself.”
The first time Janice came to Real Change and hung out in the Vendor Center, she thought, “Wow, I’m back home again.” She was surprised.
“I started at Real Change last year. I was homeless. My brother turned me onto Real Change. He said, ‘Hey, baby girl’ — that’s what my brothers call me: baby girl. He said, ‘Come on and go to Real Change with me. I gotta get my papers.’ I said, ‘What is Real Change?’”
Janice hesitated to come to Real Change when her brother Calvin brought it up. Calvin has been a Real Change vendor since 2013.
“It took me a lot to come here, to even look and see what it was about. Because my pride says I ain’t about to pay nobody for nothing. And my brother said, ‘You ain’t got to pay, baby girl. That’s the fun part about it.’”
The day Janice did come check it out, she was struck by the positive atmosphere, and remembers Vendor Center staff members saying things like, “Hey, would you like something to eat?” “Would you like a glass of water?” “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“It was just love,” Janice recalls.
So, Janice took the leap and signed up to be a Real Change vendor. When she first tried to sell papers, she was scared. “But [Calvin] stayed with me. And I did really good!
“You have to shake them bugs off of ya,” she said. “So, I did what I could do, and I just started working it my way, not Calvin’s way.”
That was April 2019; it didn’t take Janice long at all to make it work for her and thrive in the job.
“I don’t go ‘Real Change, Real Change! Come get your Real Change!’ I say, ‘Good morning, enjoy your shopping’ or ‘Have a nice night,’ ‘Have a nice day,’ ‘Enjoy the rest of your day.’”
Janice posts up in West Seattle, where she has met lots of people and formed solid relationships with her customers.
“I love people. It’s a good job. You make your money. You do the right thing. Good things come,” she said. “You just gotta believe that good things will come.”
Due to several life forces, Janice hit a hard time in 2015 that culminated in homelessness and affected her profoundly. She lost so much that at one point, all she could conjure was faith. She took that faith and grew it into the extraordinary capacity needed to sell a paper on a sidewalk in 2019 and 2020 — the hardest year to do it yet.
2020 has not set Janice back, despite COVID-19 making it a very hard year. Wildfire smoke made it even worse. “People were starting to come back, but now, the smoke is killing everything,” she said. “So, it’s been really slow. And people don’t want to stop.”
Janice extends her faith to her customers in West Seattle and the Vendor Center staff, including Real Change Case Manager Ainsley Meyer.
“With COVID going, Ainsley was helping me get some housing. And I was getting depressed, ‘cause you know, people will tell you they’re gonna do something, but they don’t stick with it. Ainsley — she stuck with it. She got me into a shelter. And I tell God every day, ‘Thank you, thank you for the good people.’
Janice says Real Change does cause change if people want it. “That’s why they say ‘real change,’” she says. “Because it’s real – it’s really, really real. It changed my life and I appreciate it.”
Janice’s daughter struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and is a single mom. “So, I told her,” Janice said, “‘Come on down to Real Change.’”
Her daughter did, and Janice remembers, “She didn’t know how to talk to no one. She would stand there and she’d be like, ‘Man, it’s hot out here.’ I was like, ‘Just keep going.’
Janice said, “She started singing church songs because when she gets really, really nervous, she sings church songs to keep her calm.
“People started hearing her singing her songs, and her son is sittin’ there being a good little boy for her. I went to the bathroom, and I came back out and she said, ‘I’m on my last one! I’m on my roll! I’m on my roll!’ And it just made me feel so good.”
Janice’s calm demeanor does not keep her from busting out a Donald Duck impression for passersby and kids.
She could even be on the phone with you for an interview you’re taking too seriously and interject an impression mid-sentence to make you laugh. I had asked if she has advice for customers having a bad day.
“If somebody was down and has the blues with the COVID and stuff going down, I’d tell them, ‘Hey, this is stuff we don’t have control of, but our happiness we do have control of.’ Or, I would do something like this —” Janice put on her Donald Duck voice and said, “Don’t worry about it!”
Then she continued, “If you’re unhappy, everybody else is going to be unhappy around you.” Before I replied, she said, “No, I ain’t always been like this. You have to go through some stuff to get to the other side. You know what I mean?”
To counteract the isolation homelessness forces on a person, Janice decided she’d learn to love herself; she says this is something we need to teach ourselves to do and that if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love anybody else. Now she says she can love anybody because she is a child of God.
“I have had customers tell me to go back to Africa, and I tell them, ‘I’m sorry, I ain’t from Africa. I don’t know nothing about Africa,’ and [then] people walk up to me and say, ‘Here, take this — I appreciate you not even snapping at him. You handled that very well.’
“I say, ‘Ma’am, I ain’t got time to waste my energy on people like that.’ I’m a professional.”
Janice rises above a lot. “I’m a nonconfrontational person. I’m a happy person,” she said. “I don’t like negativity. Negativity just brings everybody down.”
Of the hard times, she says she is all the better for the life shifts she was able to make from living through them. “I realized that I have to start thinking positive. Nobody has control of my life but me.”
Bringing it home
Janice says it’s an honor to have been voted one of the two, among nearly 200, Vendors of the Year. “I feel great! I ain’t never won nothin’ in my life,” she said, “so I’m proud. I feel that I’m achieving something.
“The way I found out — my daughter and Calvin came down here. She said, ‘I am so proud of you, Mom! You won! You won down at Real Change! Real Change said that you are the Vendor of the Year!’ I said, ‘Really?! Really??!’ I was so excited.”
Janice’s wisdom can be seen in a video that Volunteer of the Year Juan Montes made of her talking about the award; search YouTube: “Real” plus “Change” plus “Janice.”
Read more in the Sept. 23-29, 2020 issue.