Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Ladies


My name is Kaytee and I have been working at FOA for a little over six months.  When I became a Franciscan Outreach Volunteer, I had various expectations and I knew this year would be a huge learning experience for me.  I work in the shelter, watching over 40 women...many of which are old enough to be my parents or grandparents.  They are quite a crowd, women that make me laugh until my sides hurt, exhaust me, force me to be a referee when they argue, but people I always look forward to seeing every day that I work.  I am going to share with you some stories that might give you an insight on how my ladies are seen by others and myself, and give you an idea of how their lives are.
Interim Housing Christmas Party

The first few weeks of being here, a supervisor complimented the fact that I had quickly learned all of my ladies names, and he had seen how happy they were to see me.  And he said something that I doubt I'll ever forget:  he explained that our guests are rarely noticed outside of the shelter- that very few people would take the time to learn their names, let alone take the time to have a conversation with them.  Typically, they are looked over in the crowd; others would sidestep them on the sidewalk while avoiding eye contact.  So the fact I could call them by name, be there with a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with...that is something our guests are rarely privileged with.  It challenged me to get to know the ladies better, learn their stories and remember details, such as this woman loves plaid scarves or this lady had 13 grandchildren.
Felix and Kaytee ringing the dinner bell on retreat

Once a woman told me a story of how she had been sitting in the park, and a teenager began to throw stones at her.  When the woman asked why this kid would do that, the reply was that it was because she was homeless and that was 'disgusting'.  The woman shook her head and replied, "You know, when I was 14 I wasn't homless.  I was just like you."  That's the biggest thing to me: anyone can become homeless.  I have ladies who are educated, humorous, feisty, hard-headed, and very loving- just like me.  I see myself in them every day.  The only difference is that I am fortunate enough to have people in my life that would pick me up and lead me in the right direction if needed.

I also have women who have tragic backgrounds.  Some who abuse drugs and alcohol, and some that deal with various mental problems.  I have one woman who does not usually talk, lives in a world of delusion because it's easier than to remember the terrible past she had to experience.  But let me tell you- when she does talk she has an infectious smile, always expresses her thanks and you can tell that she has a heart of gold.

Bed in women's dorm
These ladies love fiercely, and look out for one another.  Once I had a 71 year old lady come in, and she was assigned to have a cot, which is low to the ground and not very comfortable.  I had another woman, who was no spring chicken (so to speak), offer up her comfortable bed for the night so this 71 year old could sleep a good night's rest.  They care for one another, celebrate their achievements together and treat each other as a makeshift family.

Sometimes, I do get frustrated.  I tire of having to break up arguments, of having to be in the voice of reason to someone who won't listen.  But the good outweigh the bad every time.  It's those moments when the 60 year old woman hugs you bye and tells you not to be gone for too long, or the pregnant woman who shares with pride the news that she and her little bundle of joy received housing, or the lady who is attending college comes and shows you the paper she made an A on.  They love to tease at me for always saying "ma'am" or "critter," calling me their southern belle.  These ladies fuel me, they make me laugh, give me amazing and sometimes heartbreaking stories to share, but they never cease to amaze me.  They've taught me more about humility, patience, love and compassion than I ever believed possible.