By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 26, 2011
Jason Ebinger first soaked the feet of the homeless man in warm water and then trimmed his toenails, removed dead skin, checked for sores, and other signs of ill health.
It’s while serving at the foot clinic at the Open Door Community that he came to his idea of giving a year of service following graduation from the Marist School.
“I feel in love with it and started coming back,” he said. “It is really an amazing experience to be below the person you are serving, to be washing something, to be treating something that most people would be scared to touch.”
Jason will spend the next year living and working with the homeless and other people on the margins of society. He’ll live at the Open Door Community, making the Ponce de Leon community his home, then move on to Catholic Worker communities in Los Angeles and Des Moines, Iowa.
“The Open Door invites people into their house. (The homeless people) sit down and they don’t rush them out. They treat them in a way that you’d really treat your family,” he said.
The year’s goal is to immerse himself in the experience.
“The sole purpose of living there is to serve other people. I just want to throw myself into that and see what kind of experience it will be. You eat what they eat. You wear the clothes that are donated to them. In American society, abundance is promoted. To break that mold is what really appeals to me,” he said.
Jason was introduced to the Open Door Community during the 2010 Youth Theological Institute at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. During a project, the group traveled to Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood to serve. His first job was handing out vitamins to people coming through the door.
The Open Door Community, while led by Protestants, is modeled on the Catholic Worker movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Its stated goal is to “proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison.” The volunteers offer hospitality, serve coffee and breakfast, run medical clinics, and offer showers for the homeless.
Eduard Loring, a co-founder of the nearly 30-year-old community, said he admires Jason for his maturity and a “one-person revolution” spirit.
He sees a need, perceives an injustice and acts, said Loring, adding that Jason will be one of the youngest resident leaders ever.
“He is mature of mind and mature of heart,” he said.
At the community, he’ll be cleaning the public bathrooms, washing urine away, leading Bible study, learning about liberation theology and people such as Day, Martin Luther King Jr., providing showers for men.
“It’s not an easy life, but it’s a day filled with joy,” said Loring.
Jason, who is 18, is the middle of three boys. His mother, Beth, is a counselor with Catholic Charities Atlanta, and his father, Phil, an executive with the Atlanta Spirit, owners of the Atlanta Hawks and the Thrashers. The family attends Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta.
At school, Jason is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He lost 12 pounds for his final season of wrestling, which was cut short when he tore a ligament in his arm and ended the season. (However, he did win the match.)
Jason has worked on college plans for the fall of 2012. He is choosing between two Catholic universities, St. Louis University in Missouri and Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He remains open to what he’ll study, anything from psychology and sociology to art history.
“They are all on the table,” he said.
While he is wrapping up his high school years, Jason said he is anxious to get on with the next chapter.
For students coming up in high school, Jason encouraged students to swim against the current, if need be, and make their own paths. He should know. He had people question his goals, doubting it’s a good plan or questioning whether he’ll ever go to college.
“Follow your own interests despite what the social standings are. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it’s not something typically done or be put off by the fact that maybe some people don’t accept it as the right path,” he advised.