Finally! I get to post about a volunteer experience! I was on a roll there for a while and then BAM! Cold streak. I’m back though.
I’ve actually been trying to think of how to approach this post all day. It’s definitely a special post. One that is close to my heart. It connects to my very first volunteer experience.
With that being said, be sure you have about 20-30minutes to spare for reading, unless you are a speed reader, then mad props to you.
Speaking of reading, I received a call today. I received it as I was walking out the door heading to the homeless shelter. I had been in contact with a volunteer group about reading to elementary children. I didn’t realize that what they meant was that I would be interacting on a 1 on 1 basis. Meaning, I will go in every Monday at a designated time, spend an allotted amount of 1 on 1 time with 1-2 children reading, teaching them how to read, helping them understand and grasp the concepts of what they are reading and also help teach some children how to read in English. These children range from Kindergarteners to 4th graders. They are in a poverty stricken area. I thought I was just signing up to read Clifford the Big Red Dog aloud to a group of kids or something. Little did I know that I would be making a way greater impact. There are 400 students, 100 of which need direct interaction/help; and only 25 volunteers. No pressure. It actually makes me want to volunteer more. Wish me luck.
Okay, sorry for the side track. So, I haven’t volunteered at the homeless shelter since a couple of months ago. It was actually my first volunteer experience. Here’s how I’ve decided to go about this. Before you read this post any further, click on the following link that’s at the end of this paragraph in blue…..I recommend opening it in a new tab and reading it….that way you don’t lose your place in this post. Plus, you can keep that link up for reference later on (I will be referencing to people in it). Opening it in a new tab is easy. Just point with your mouse over the link. Then, right click on the link. Choose Open In New Tab. Voila! At the top of your screen you can now click back and forth between the two posts. Okay, for those who already knew this…..I just wasted 45 seconds of your life. Apologies. Here’s the link I’m referring to: http://wp.me/p3Qszo-h
Stop. Did you click that link? Did you read that post? This is not a “oh, I’ll come back and read it later” kinda thing….trust me :)
Okay, I’m assuming everyone has read that post. So, I will continue on. After you volunteer with the Shelter, if you want to volunteer on a consistent basis, you have to have a background check performed. I kept putting this off and procrastinating. Winter weather, work, volunteering at other facilities, other life activities, etc. Basically, I kept making excuses and putting it off (not that I had anything to hide….I am just a BAD procrastinator at times). Finally, I just went and got it done. It took like maybe a whole painless 10 minutes. The minute I walked out of the State Police Hdqrts, I called the Shelter and scheduled my next volunteer date (today).
Later on that day, I also posted on good ole Facebook and social media that I was going to be serving lunch to the homeless/recovering/less fortunate and extended the invitation for any friends or family to join me. Within about an hour, a coworker who was on vacation in Hawaii commented that she was interested in going. She was actually in Hawaii celebrating her 60th birthday. She looks 40, by the way. No joke. When I saw her comment, I was like, she has either inhaled one too many fire breathing fumes or that Hawaiian sun has gotten to her for her to be even thinking about commenting about volunteering with me while she is in Hawaii. I responded of course, just in case she was serious, and told her that I would absolutely love for her to join me. I didn’t really think anymore about it. I mean, the Shelter is in a really bad part of town. Plus, everyone prefers to volunteer and serve food at the Salvation Army for some reason or another. It’s a name thing, I think.
Well, a week goes by, and I see this coworker at work and she brings up the volunteering. In my head I’m like “Whaaaa?!?! She really is serious?!?! This is so awesome!!!” She stated that she had been wanting to volunteer and she had been needing that “push”. “This is PHENOMENAL”! I thought to myself. This is the 2nd person I’ve had volunteer with me. Remember, I have another coworker that now volunteers with me at the Museum Fulllll of Kids. She actually volunteers all the time. Like all the time there. They love her there. Anyways, so I went into detail with my coworker about the Shelter and then she told me about her Hawaiian experiences. I have GOT to visit Hawaii someday!
I’m gunna sidetrack and say that I’m telling yall, this “volunteer bug” is contagious. Watch out. You just have to find out which type of volunteering is your kick. Kids? Homeless? Habitat building? When you find your nitch….you’ll be hooked. It won’t even feel like “volunteering”. It will fill like a missing piece being found making you whole. The way I started was simple…… http://www.volunteermatch.org
Let’s get to the action of today. I decided to go in about 30 minutes early. I was going to meet up with April. I needed to speak with her about their upcoming Missions Banquet in which I will be hosting a table.
This time, I knew which parking lot to park in. I also didn’t think twice about whether or not my car would be broken into. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t even think it crossed my mind this time. Not that I let my guard down, but maybe more of a ‘I’ve been here before’ sense of comfort level? I don’t know….can’t quite pin it.
OH! I remembered my ballcap, by the way….no showercap ;)
So, as I walk up to the Shelter, the first thing I notice is the glass door; the starburst is gone. I no longer hear “Regulate” by Warren G playing anymore. It’s more of a song like “Hope” from the Coach Carter Soundtrack by the artist Twista ft Faith Evans. Google the lyrics if you get time.
Today, there is a different man working the front. He immediately opens the door for me. No yelling through the drive thru window speaker and embarrassing myself. We both introduce ourselves. He is fairly new. He is in the program. He is a recovering alcoholic. I can tell. He is very busy; phone ringing off the hook, visitors, vendors, etc. Stressful situations that make for a busy morning. I mention to him that he is having a busy morning and is handling it very well and professionally. He thanks me and lets me know that he has a background in customer service. I can tell the stress is getting to him. When an alcoholic is feening, they will lick their lip. My ex husband was an alcoholic. He said that an alcoholic would do this because it was their way of getting that last taste of alcohol off of their lip. It would become a mental thing to them, even if they hadn’t had a recent drink. Don’t quote me on this though. Like I said, my ex was an alcoholic…..he could have been making all of that up for I know. Sounded legit at the time. BUT! I have to give Larry the receptionist credit. He was fighting his addiction. He immediately focused his attention and made himself busy. He started cleaning all of the windows from top to bottom. Bravo, Larry.
I asked Larry where April was. I told him that I needed to speak with her about the upcoming Mission Banquet. He informed me that within the last couple of days, that April no longer was affiliated with the Shelter. Awe man. Bummer. I liked her. He said that he couldn’t go into detail. But he made it out that she had fallen off the wagon. I really liked April and was rooting for her.
So, my new contact person is the Pastor’s wife. She was out looking at a piece of land that someone was wanting to donate to the Shelter. Wow! Impressive! Larry enlightened me that although it sounds impressive, unfortunately, more times than not, people are just trying to push their problematic land off as donations/tax write offs. Hence, why the Pastor’s wife chooses to go and visually look at the land before accepting the donation; not because she is being “picky”. Turns out, it was a good thing she went today and visually looked. It was basically a dump that someone was trying to “donate”. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Remember that 1990 television set that had the VHS on replay about repentance? Well, the TV was still there. But someone donated a HDTV antenna. So, the VHS was no longer being played over and over. I believe it was the 700 club or something of that sort.
Also, that “cage” bars that lead into the administrative area. Still there. No longer kept locked though.
Oh! Another huge, noticeable difference. The smell. It no longer smelled like old bleach water throughout the place. I mean, it didn’t smell like Juniper Breeze Scentsy or anything. Maybe it was the Windex Larry was cleaning with. But that was a huge difference. The whole atmosphere was different. In a good way. I wonder if I was just looking at everything in a different “light”?
I look out the sparkling clean windows and see my coworker walking down the sidewalk. She’s passing the Shelter. Remember, this building says “Adult Rehab” on it. I totally forgot to tell her that part. So, I run out after her. She looked like a dang 30 year old in her ballcap. I swear she says she is 60 but I just don’t believe it. Nope. No way.
We head back into the building. I introduce her to Larry. He has her sign in. He leads us downstairs to the kitchen area. As he is escorting us downstairs, he notifies us that some high schoolers from a local Baptist high school have been volunteering all week and are there today in the kitchen with us. Almost the moment he finishes telling us, is when we walk through the kitchen doors. Yeah, like in a movie. Perfect timing. There they are. About ten 16 year olds, 3 adults, my coworker and myself in this mid size kitchen. This should be different. There are so many volunteers, none of the people aka “the programmers” from last time are needed in the kitchen. This is a good thing though. That means they have more time to focus on their recovery.
Guess who was there?!?! The kitchen manager……1972 Burt Reynolds…….TOM!!! And he totally remembered me! Got me a hug and all! You could tell he was on level 8ish for the stress factor being surrounded by all of these kids. I have to say though, those were the most well mannered, mature, self sufficient group of kids I have ever seen in my life. If I was ever to have to volunteer with a group of 16 year olds, that would be the group I would choose. Hands down. Right off the bat, Tom let us know that within the hour, he had to go to court for a speeding ticket he got. His first ever speeding ticket. Eh. 1st speeding ticket. You’ll be fine, Tom.
Tom told us to “get in where you fit in”. So, my coworker and I started in the back washing dishes. The kids were prepping the food up front. There was a lady in the back washing dishes as well. Turns out she was the teacher of all of those students. She was also the mother to one of the students. She sure was a joy to be around. She kinda helped my coworker and I “get in and fit in”. Although I had volunteered there before, it was entirely different this time around.
Well, when lunchtime came, the people that eat first are the actual people in the kitchen: we sat down and ate. I got to know my coworker on a more personal level. That was probably the best 10 minutes I could have ever spent getting to really know my coworker. She is a great person. Although, I have to admit, I feel horrible. I thought she was English. She is Scottish. That is like someone calling me Australian or something. My apologies over and over!
Then it was time for everyone to get back in the kitchen and get ready for the office people, programmers, and people off of the street to come in for lunch. I originally took place next to my coworker on the lunchline to serve. There were some of the kiddos that wanted to be on the lunchline also. Seeing as I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to serve and interact with the people that come in, I went to the back with the teacher and dried the dishes as they were cleaned. I was so happy that my coworker and the others all found a place on the lunchline and were able to experience the contact and able to interact with those that needed the blessing of their help and hard work.
Meanwhile, the teacher and I stood back watching and exchanging stories. She has been volunteering here for the last 9 years. The school comes for one whole week. They come 1 time a year. This is not optional for the students. The volunteering hours are a must. They have the option of how they perform the volunteer hours. They can be abroad, local, etc. But they have to have a certain number of hours a year. I thanked her and told her that this is wonderful to see. It shows that all of humanity is not lost. There is hope for the future. I reminded her that the hope starts because of her. She brings them here. She is a very humble person. Very kind. She tells me a story about a programmer (a programmer is an addict who goes through the program of recovery and gospel and finds a job and stays clean) who was from her hometown. He is doing well and is working back close to her hometown up north.
I tell her about my experience the last time I volunteered. I tell her about each programmer that I was in the kitchen with last time. Just like I told yall about in my post that yall previously read. Well, here’s the updates:
Okay….here’s my favorite update. I literally teared up when I was telling the teacher about this guy and the change I have seen. The 25 year old that was coming off of meth and hallucinogens…..the one whose father was suppose to be getting out of jail the next day and joining him in the program…….well, we will call the 25 year old Chris. Chris was there today. Chris had a brand new haircut. He was smiling. He was walking a straight line, talking in complete sentences, had put on a healthy 10 pounds and was looking like a CEO of a marketing company. He looked GREAT! He looked and acted completely sober. He was happy. I’m tearing up now typing about it. What I didn’t see…….was his dad. It’s okay. I’m not going to make any assumptions on this part. Chris is HAPPY and HEALTHY and SOBER!
Remember Laid Back? He was there today. Dressed in a button up shirt, dress jacket and slacks. He took over as kitchen manager when Tom had to leave to go to court. He was doing great.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see Dave. I don’t know whether or not if he is still in the program. He did not come in to eat with the rest of the programmers.
Remember, it was a gorgeous day today. According to Tom, the prettier the weather, the less people you will see for lunch and dinner; because they will be enjoying the weather.
Mike. I saw Mike. Like usual, he didn’t say much.
Roy! I saw Roy! He waved. He was in a good mood today too. He was cracking jokes with the others and being goofy. Good weather brings out the best in people. So does sobriety. He was not wearing a Nascar sweatshirt today :)
Now, during the serving of lunch, there were 3 programmers in the kitchen area with us. These were programmers I’ve never met before. They were mainly doing the dishwashing and trash, miscellaneous stuff. One of them stopped me and asked to read my shirt. His buddy laughed. He looked at him and said, “Hey now! I’ve been trying to read it, but it’s hard to read when she keeps walking from here to there.” I looked at his buddy and said, “It’s a scripture.” His buddy immediately looked down at the floor like “oh” and he kinda felt bad for laughing. I chuckled and said, “it’s okay, you didn’t know”. So, the other guy reads it outloud. It is the verse from Jeremiah 29:11. When the guy finished reading it, he said “huh!” like he had never read that verse before. I turned around and said, “It’s a good one, huh?” He nodded yes and said, “Jeremiah 29:11” like he was trying to remember it. AWESOME!
My coworker asked Tom how his court hearing went (he got back just in time). He got probation.
So that’s that. Awesome time. Awesome experience. Awesome coworker. Awesome students. Awesome teacher. Awesome meal. Awesome work. Awesome life.