First of all, I was unusually tired as I arrived for my shift. The past week had been chaotic, and I was definitely on the verge of not going to the shelter at all. But then something my Dad said to me a long time ago came to mind. "No matter how bad you think your life is, you can bet that someone else's life is worse. Help them out and both of you will feel better." I knew that there were people in that shelter whose week had been far worse than mine, in ways that I didn't even want to imagine.
I arrived to the shelter and started to check in the women and children. I was chatting it up with the women, breathalyzing as I went. By the way, there is no non-awkward way to give someone a breathalyzer. So, acting as if it is a normal, everyday occurrence that happens in all conversations, I just continue listening and talking as if nothing is out of place.
I know the regulars well. Kenitra and her two kids (who are chasing each other around the room). Check. Jannette. Check. Barbara. Check. Janette. Check.
Mike... He was the first person George introduced me to. He has been a regular volunteer for almost a year. He knows what's going on...all the time. If there is a problem, question, or concern: Get Mike. He knows. I was intimidated by his 6'4" broad frame, bald head, and serious face, but I beamed up at him anyway and offered a friendly, "Hey!" He offered a half grin and a somber, "Hi." I think he finds me annoying.
Who knew I would fall so fast? I certainly did not.
Instead of my usual grimace and impatience in the midst of honking horns and stand still 5 o'clock traffic, I sang joyfully like a boy in glee club and smiled at other fellow travelers parked on 575. I was going to the shelter for the first time.
As I drove into the shelter's parking lot, men and women were all standing outside of a small, faded brick building with a paper sign stuck above the door that had "shelter" printed on it. Not sure where to go, I pulled into a spot directly in front of the building. The people standing outside noticed. They stared suspiciously at me. My confidence and excitement wavered--no, not wavered--completely packed up and vamoosed. My now damp palms gripped the steering wheel harder and my throat tightened. The men looked away, not caring who I was, but a few of the women continued to stare. Oh, no. Why am I here? After the three second panic, I put on a brave face and got out of the comfort of my car. Nervously walking up to the building, I looked around to see a friendly, welcoming face. There wasn't one.
I stood awkwardly in the parking lot, not knowing what to do. Then I saw a man and a woman get out of their car with lots of stuff. They walked confidently up to the building and talked to the man with a clipboard (I had not seen him before when I was Awkward McAwkwardness). I followed. The man, Bob, and the woman, Marianne, his wife were all smiles and super nice. George was the man with the clipboard. Introductions were made. Hands were shook. I was in. My confidence began to creep its way back and I smiled more confidently, and the boy in glee club began to hum loudly in my head.
I followed my new acquaintances into the building. The door squeaked open and my nostrils were assailed by a musty odor. I ignored it and smiled at the staff standing behind the counter. Bob clasped me on the back and announced, "Rosie, we've got another one." Then Roselyn, a woman with spiky hair and large, dangling earrings, handed me a clip board and said, "Oh wow! Another volunteer? It's our lucky night! Sign in and put 'Host' in the position column." Obediently, I did as I was told, having no clue what I had just enlisted myself for. Roselyn immediately started explaining the role of the host and the process of how each person must sign into their assigned bed, sign up for specific chores, and say if they will be eating breakfast in the morning. I listened attentively, thinking this wasn't the "tour" I had been anticipating. This was training! But I was attentive, as I wanted to be prepared for my job. I looked to Bob, crinkling my nose, with a bewildered look, saying, "I've never been to this campus before. Am I supposed to be doing this?" After a short conversation, I was following Bob and Marianne to the Jackie's, the volunteer coordinator's, office and knocked. Jackie opened the door with a big smile. I was finally where I was supposed to be.
I was again shaking hands with Jackie and the two other women who were there. We were ushered into a bigger room where a whole family (mom, dad, and three kids), a younger man, and another woman joined us. Jackie took us around campus showing us the kitchen, the clothes room, the classrooms, the clinic, and then the actual shelter. She talked us through the whole program. This was not a normal shelter. It was actual help.--a program to break the cycle of poverty and homeless--not a crutch and not an enabler. There were rules to be followed, but all were voluntary. If you wanted help and you wanted to get out, this could definitely be your chance.
After an hour and half of walking and talking, we were finished. I gave Jackie my information, what days I could work and what I wanted to do, and that was that. My first day at the shelter was over, and I was already in love.