“A hand up and not a hand out”: We catch up with some StreetWise vendors

By Alexandria Spillman, StreetWise


An average day for me is getting myself in prayer for everybody, for everything that will happen beforehand. It’s my religious belief that with the help of the Lord, things will be brighter. Usually when I get to one of my two locations, I try to make an effort to greet people and get to know them. I really focus on giving people positive compliments. At one point when I started working for StreetWise, I wasn’t sure why I was doing this. I didn’t really have a lot of faith. Being out there and selling the product to people—the way I saw it was that lots of people wouldn’t be interested. As I just kept coming out there, I started to realise that I’m not giving myself enough chance or opportunity. I’m selling myself short.

Ever since I was a kid, there have been a couple things that I do every day to help me find success. First, I wake up and I read the Bible. I spend time with the Lord. The second thing I do is watch motivational videos. These are positive and wise people who made it to the top, who are successful, who really understood different key points of living and are trying to make the best of everything. One of the people that I listen to is Mr. Earl Nightingale, who was called the Dean of Personal Development. He started a radio show and a TV show after WWII. He talked about fortune 500 companies and various industries all over the world. [He also talked about] different colleges and universities, [and to] young and older students who are really trying to make it out of college to their business. My point is, as I listen to people, they emphasize one thing: the key to success and the key to failure in mankind is that we become what we think about. What that means is that what we see and project in our head will be reality to us. So I listen to these people who have risen to the top because they listen to others, they humble themselves, and they’re willing to accept correction and even rejection. I listen to them, and now I sell my magazines with a new attitude.


I get up every morning at about 5 o’clock and leave my house at about 7 to work at the Starbucks downtown on State. I work on State and Madison for the most part. I come out there between 12 and 6 and leave around 6 o’clock, and I always look forward to coming the next day. I like to go and work with my customers because there are a lot of people that are used to seeing me on a daily basis. Whether people buy papers or not, they are still my customers and I still respect them. Most customers know me by my statement, “I’d rather work for it than beg for it.” It works for me.

All my early mornings and late nights have taught me how to deal with people. I wasn’t a people person before, but now I express myself better by working with the public. I had a problem expressing myself with people because I didn’t think anyone liked me. Maybe they thought, “Oh, you’re homeless” or “You’re not doing anything.” StreetWise gave me an opportunity, so now I have a reason to interact with a person. It makes me feel special, being a part of something.

Now, I talk to my customers about everything from a toothache to marriage problems. It’s great because I really enjoy talking to people. For the most part they just talk about their day. I love all my customers. I’m grateful for them, I’m grateful for StreetWise and I’m grateful for God and myself.


When I start my afternoon shifts, I often say a small affirmation to myself to get my day going. It varies, but it’s always positive. My most frequent one is “Closed mouths never get fed; closed hands never get filled.” I know I need to get my customers’ attention to make sales and get tips, and I do this by using pitches. My pitches vary from day to day.

Monday: “Monday is the fun day! The put-‘em-on-the-run day!”

Tuesday: “Tuesday is no-bad-news day! Break-all-the-rules-days, offer-you-can’t-refuse day!”

Wednesday: “Wednesday is Men’s Day! Fellas, go home and tell the wife! Testosterone so thick, you can cut it with a knife!”

Thursday: “Thursday is Girls’ day! All you pretty, bright, young pearls day! It’s ladies’ night, and the feeling’s right. Ladies, make sure you go home and do something nice for yourself. You deserve it, don’t you?!”

Friday (and I pull out all the stops on Fridays): I ring my handy-dandy cowbell and sing, “NO MONDAY FACES ON A FRIII-DAY” I especially love it when customers tell me they heard me 2-3 blocks away.


I balance StreetWise with three other jobs. I sell StreetWise on the weekends (because weekends are hopping in Andersonville). A lot of people come and enjoy the nightlife in Andersonville; I’ve tried afternoons and I’ve tried dinner hour, and dinner hour is always way more hopping. I wait for the rush hour crowd to pass and people to get to where they’re trying to go. When they start slowing down a bit and looking for somewhere to eat, that’s when I find that people buy magazines. Last Friday alone, I sold $90 of magazines.

In addition to StreetWise, I also have a part-time office job where I do filing for a realtor, I’m a caregiver for my mom, and I do art. It’s my goal to support myself doing art four or five years down the line. Art is my passion. I do pen and ink line drawings, but I would like to get into paintings and portraiture someday, too.

On a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, I’ll go to sell StreetWise around mid-afternoon. My mom needs help in the mornings, so I’ll fix her lunch, and then head out to Andersonville. If the weather’s bad, or if it’s really dead, I’ll sit in Starbucks and draw. That’s my drawing time. I look out the window, watch the weather, look for people around—I’m always balancing it off. It’s hard to find time to draw, so any minute I can use to draw is heaven.


One day Sabrina, who was healing from neck surgery, saw me from about a block away. Her dog, Sadie, started pulling. Sabrina’s hat flew off and she had to let go before she reinjured her neck. I dropped to my knees and spread my arms out wide hoping to be able to grab Sadie’s leash before she got too far past me, so she wouldn’t get hit by a car. But to my surprise, she ran straight into my arms and started licking me in the face. She knew I had some treats in my StreetWise pouch for her.

That was the best sale I had that day. Sabrina is one of the most kind and generous customers I have. She always brings doggie treats to me to give to my other four-legged customers, and she has even given me a $20 tip to make sure that I always have doggie treats in my StreetWise pouch. You have to appreciate having a red lab named Sadie for a regular customer. It is God’s creation—man and animal—that helps keep the magazine alive, so I thank you and I appreciate you.


My day starts with me thinking, “How will I engage the people and sell enough magazines to get breakfast?” I move around a lot, and many of the people I see when I’m moving around don’t really want to be talked to. When that happens, that kind of puts me down, but at the same time, I’ve got my StreetWise. I read what’s inside and talk about it to customers. I go through the magazine and make a summation of what’s inside so people have a chance to read about whatever they are interested in.

For the festival guide, I say, “Get StreetWise—it’s filled with community events! For others, I say, “It’s full of social issues and it’s got some games!” Sometimes, I go with the scripts on the cover, like “Get a StreetWise—it has empowered people to work for over 25 years.” I really just tell people about StreetWise because when I tell them about it, they start to wonder more.

All of that helps me sell StreetWise and gets me enough money for breakfast.


Right now, it’s busy. My day consists of waking up early in the morning and getting busy with my studies. At about 8 o’clock I go to Family Dollar and take care of a few things there. I might get dog treats and some bird food to feed the birds. When you see animals being treated right and when you see people getting along, then that’s good. Other than that, I concentrate on selling my magazines, getting my personal quota sold in the daytime at each location, hopefully 20 at each location, making up a quota of 100 or 200 a week depending on what I’m doing. I’m just out there and keeping it alive with StreetWise.

I can’t say I don’t have an interesting day out there, because somebody is always going to come and give an opinion about what is going on. I look out and do what I can, tell them the truth, what I know. The things I do know about, I speak about and I let people know what’s going on—not just the issue itself, but everyday problems that are going on. Just being nice and polite and easygoing with people, you’ll come to find out they tell you a lot of their problems. And you never know what people are going through out there. Sometimes, it’s part of my job to be helpful. Doing what you can when you can. Even if you have days where you rub people the wrong way and things you say to people might not help them out, you just listen and see where they are. Like I said, my day starts early and ends late, but I do what I have to do to keep the program going.


My day starts when I wake up and watch the early morning news. Then, after a while I get up and see that my mother eats and takes her vitamins. Sometimes, when I’m in a rush, I may leave at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning to go sell my StreetWise papers. I live in West Pullman, and I sell in Glencoe and Winnetka, so I need to leave early to catch the morning traffic.

On a normal day, I take care of my mother in the morning. Maybe, later on, I’ll go run some errands, do some shopping and then I get a ride from my brother, who works downtown. Then, I come by the office where I can get something to eat and get on my way to my location. My time varies, though. I don’t have a set time when I have to come and go. My day is pretty routine and pretty basic. My job is not hard to do and I like doing it. I try to get out and work whenever I can, especially when the weather is nice. Selling the paper, I get to meet people and talk to people.

Even though I live on the South Side, I choose to sell in the suburbs because the city is more hectic. And I like going where other vendors don’t go. We won’t be clashing our locations. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to get to my spot, and sometimes I’ll be on the Internet on my phone or I may catch a nap here and there to occupy my time on my commute.


Every day above ground is a good day when I find myself alive and breathing on my own. But being a StreetWise vendor, I get a little bit extra. The extra goodness comes when I head out of my apartment and go to work for myself. I am proud to be self-employed, working for myself making an honest, sober living. I’m grateful to be a productive member of society. It feels good to be self-supporting through my own efforts. I also get social gratification in networking and meeting people I would not normally meet if I were not selling StreetWise magazines.

The customer base, staff network, and camaraderie of my fellow vendors enhance my life daily. It really feels good going to my location on Chicago Avenue and Franklin Street every morning Monday through Friday, and interacting with people who appreciate being appreciated. I think Barbra Streisand nailed it when she sang, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I’ve found that people really do help people who try to help themselves. Thank you, StreetWise, for showing me a better way, giving me a hand up and not a hand out.