Metro

Nonprofit seeks to connect homeless people with lost family, friends

Theresa Casieri was one of nearly 400 homeless people who have recorded messages for a lost friend or relative since Miracle Messages was founded nearly three years ago. Casieri recorded a message for her uncle Alfonso Guerrero at the Pine Street Inn in the South End, which began offering the service last month.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Theresa Casieri was one of nearly 400 homeless people who have recorded messages for a lost friend or relative since Miracle Messages was founded nearly three years ago. Casieri recorded a message for her uncle Alfonso Guerrero at the Pine Street Inn in the South End, which began offering the service last month.

Theresa Casieri would love to speak to her uncle again.

It has been about nine years since she has seen Alfonso Guerrero, her father’s brother, and much has changed.

During that time, Casieri, 54, said she suffered a traumatic brain injury, moved across the country, and became homeless. But about a month ago, a nonprofit from San Francisco gave her a chance to try to reconnect with her uncle.

Advertisement

All she had to do was record a message at the Pine Street Inn in the South End. Miracle Messages, the nonprofit, promised to search for him using volunteers who scour the Internet for loved ones and sometimes share the messages on social media to generate leads.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“They said, ‘Is there anybody that you would want to contact . . . or find?’ I thought about it and said, ‘If anybody, it would be my dad’s bro-ther,’ ” Casieri said. “I would like to see him and see how he’s doing. See how the family’s doing. I’m really short on family now.”

Casieri is among about 380 homeless people who have recorded messages for a lost friend or relative since Miracle Messages was established nearly three years ago.

The organization, which recently received $50,000 from the startup accelerator MassChallenge, uses volunteers to help homeless people record video or audio messages and locate their loved ones. The messages have resulted in about 85 reunions so far, said Kevin Adler, 32, the nonprofit’s founder and chief executive.

Last month, the group introduced its service at the Pine Street Inn, where about a half dozen people have recorded messages, he said.

Advertisement

Adler said he founded Miracle Messages in honor of his late uncle, Mark Adler, who had schizophrenia and spent three decades living on and off the streets of Santa Cruz, Calif.

Reuniting the homeless with loved ones has the potential to lead to stable housing and ease some of the shame associated with living on the streets, said Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street.

“We’re trying everything we can to get people reconnected and out of shelter and this is one more tool,” she said.

Pine Street Inn has two kiosks where guests can record messages, one in the women’s shelter and the other in the men’s shelter. Using an iPad mounted onto a stand, people conduct a video call with a Miracle Messages volunteer.

The volunteer collects information about the people who want to record a message and the loved one they seek. They ask for details such as age, last known address, and the names of other relatives and friends of the person being sought.

Advertisement

They also get the person’s consent to record the message and share it online as needed. When it’s time to record the message, people are encouraged to speak to the iPad as if they are talking to the person they want to find. They say things like, “I love you,” “I miss you,” and “I’m sorry,” Adler said.

Casieri recorded an audio message for her uncle, though video messages are also an option.

The message is then assigned to a volunteer who searches for the relative or friend. The message is also shared to a Facebook group for volunteer “detectives,” who help locate people for Miracle Messages using Google, Facebook, Whitepages, and LexisNexis, Adler said.

If they find the loved one being sought, volunteers ask whether he or she wants to get reacquainted and provides contact information.

Nancy Erhard, 65, a volunteer from Stoneham, said she helped a homeless man in San Francisco reunite with his sister in Illinois. Erhard couldn’t find a working telephone number for the woman so she wrote a note explaining that the woman’s brother, Timothy Coleman, was looking for her.

The note reached the woman and Coleman reunited with his sister in October.

“I was so happy. I was jumping up and down,” Erhard said.

Guests can record messages at Pine Street on weekdays between 1 and 3 p.m.

One man recorded a message to try to reach a lost friend in Florida. They reconnected and the man plans to visit the woman for Christmas, said Barbara Trevisan, a shelter spokeswoman.

Casieri said she’s still waiting to hear from her uncle. She said he is her last connection to her father, who was deported to Mexico when she was a teenager. Casieri said her uncle notified her family when her father died and hosted them at his taqueria in San Bruno, Calif.

“I’m still thinking of him,” she said. “I’m not asking for anything but just hello.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.