The People

After my first actual experience working at the shelter, I came home crying. They were both tears of joy and of sadness. I do not know how to articulate the emotions I felt after that night. The experience was so highly spiritual and emotional, I fear words may taint it. But I shall try to recount what happened:

My second night at the shelter I was an official "intake host." My job was to make sure every single person signed up for their bed, a chore, and whether or not they needed a brown bag breakfast and lunch for the following day. It's like a meet and greet with a breathalyzer. And I loved this position; it was perfect for me. I am a naturally gregarious, and sometimes, obnoxiously friendly person. I can't help it. I am
that girl who smiles at every person I pass on the sidewalk or in the mall. Kelley, my supervisor, told me this was an opportunity to "offer hospitality to those who may have long been without it. " This was more important to me than helping these people with their physical needs. I wanted to see them as people, with emotional and spiritual needs, just as everybody else.. Mother Teresa once said, "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat." I smiled at everyone who walked through the door. Asked each person how their day had been. Many were very happy to answer, some were not. That's how it goes. But I met some very interesting people that first "official" day. Allow me to introduce some of them:

George...the first smiling face I saw on my first day. George is on full-time staff, and he is wonderful at what he does. He is one of the most patient men I have ever met. He can cool a potentially hostile situation with carefully chosen words and maybe a joke thrown in at the end to lighten the mood. I love to talk to George about the ministry, how he got there, and why he loves it so. He obliges.

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.

Rosalyn ("Ros")... She made a quiet first impression. We chatted about her son and her day job. I was thinking that her son was probably 8 or 9 years old, assuming she was in her early to late thirties. But alas... her son is 22! And I had not a clue! Flabbergasted, I blurted, "How old are you then?" There goes the filter between my brain and my mouth again. Jeez. Embarrassed, I apologize, but she answers gracefully, "52" and smiles. "You have got to be kidding me!" I exclaim, laughing. "I thought you were 32!" She just laughed, but looked pleased. I was thankful (because that foot in my mouth was beginning to hurt), and told her I would only be so lucky to half as good as she does when I'm her age.

Richard... He is one of the most kind, gentle men you'll ever meet. With a soft voice that kind of resembles Winnie the Pooh, Richard was very friendly and helped me get my footing at the shelter. We had some time to talk when the residents were in their Wednesday night classes, so I asked Richard about his life. The answer I got was the coolest answer I've heard in a long while. Richard lived outside of the US for over half of his life (he is probably in his late 50s), working as a missionary. When he was in Italy, he met his wife there and married her. Together, they traveled to over 6 different countries, living in each for various lengths of time. In the course of their missionary journeys, he and his wife had 8 children. Yes, 8! He said his youngest is 10 years old and his oldest is 32 years old (who just recently got married). From that point on, I knew Richard and I would be great friends. He is chock full of wisdom but is so unassuming and humble.

Rhonda... the main coordinator of the women and children's section downstairs. She is also full-time staff. A very petite woman, no taller than 5 feet, Rhonda may seem fragile, but this woman is an ox. Feisty when she needs to be, but very friendly, I knew we would also get along well. She immediately took me under her wing, and I followed her around like a little puppy, taking mental notes like crazy. I learned quickly, if George doesn't know something, Rhonda does. She is also one with answers.


As I followed Rhonda around, I introduced myself to all of the women residents and asked their names. I tried to remember each one, but I ended up only remembering a few. The ones I remembered, I wrote down later that night to pray for specifically.

Tiffany was one young woman that stuck out in my mind. I actually didn't know she was a girl when I first encountered her at dinner! She had come in late (dinner starts promptly at 7 p.m., and sometimes a little before--and the food goes fast!), but George always wants to give everyone who is willing to come a chance to have a warm dinner, at least. At some point, he asks her if she needs a place to stay for the night, and if she would like to join our "stepping stones" program. Tiffany agrees to both propositions. As she is finishing her meal, Rhonda and I spring into action. We grab her new sheets, a bathroom kit (complete with all basic toiletries), and a blanket for her bed--all of which were donated by the community.

Tiffany is around my age... probably in her early 20s. And, now in a shelter. I wondered how she got there, but I didn't ask, for some reason. Maybe that would have turned her away; I'm not sure. Tiffany has a very rough exterior... like I said before I thought she was a man before I met her. But as I talk to her, she is very sweet. Who knows what circumstances brought her here, but I'm very glad to have met her. She writes in her journal every night. I love that because I do too. We bonded over our shared love of writing. I realized then that if our situations were reversed, or I had gone through the things she has gone through, I could just as easily be the one sleeping in a homeless shelter. After about half of an hour of talking, I felt like we had bonded. Hers was a name I would remember.

I absolutely adored everything about that ministry and everything about my first official night as an "intake host." I would definitely be back the next week and the weeks after that. And one thing I knew for sure: I have found where I am happy. I could quit all of my carefully laid out plans of college, grad school, and travel, do this for the rest of my life and be perfectly content. I have fallen in love. But just like any relationship, I know there will be times of frustration, of apathy, and of discouragement. I can only hope I will remember the way I felt after that first night at the shelter. The deep love and joy that it brought me, not because of all the "help" and "acts of kindness" I was so gracious to give, but because of the way the people touched my heart, the way they gave me advice and have a wisdom that I do not possess.

Who knew I would fall so fast? I certainly did not.