Monday, September 23, 2013

One Small Act of Kindness, One Giant Leap for Humanity

Kelly enjoying Portillo's chocolate cake!

Being here in Chicago for about two months has been absolutely amazing.  I've learned so much that I can anticipate what the entire year might bring.  Coming from a rather unknown small city in Massachusetts, Chicago has been full of surprises.  Up until this point, my interactions and experiences with the homeless population was limited.  In the short time that I have served, my eyes have been opened to a whole new set of problems and issues.  Welfare checks, food stamps, and substance abuse are issues that this population faces every day.  We serve about 120 guests each night for dinner and already I have noticed frequent visitors.  So far, I think that the hardest part of my service has been learning names.  Because of the multitude of guests, it took me a while to remember even half of their names!

But it is important for us to remember each one of their names because it shows that we do acknowledge them.  Very often, our guests are ignored or turned down on the streets and not many people give them a second look; not many stop and ask them for their story.  The Marquard Center should feel like a home to them--a sanctuary, where they are away from the streets, feel safe, and relaxed.
Sara, Kelly, Saskia & Kristen at a recent fundraiser

We as humans, need to remember that every person has a story and is struggling with their own battle.  Coming from the medical background, I often visualize situations with a different perspective.  I often see the solutions to many of our guests' underlying problems with a quick surgery or simple medication.  But then I realize, that it is not that easy for them.  There are many issues hindering the possibility for our guests to obtain quality medical care.  Many of them do not have proper insurance or even the means to obtaining insurance, which automatically limits the quality and access to medical care.  Substance abuse and alcoholism is another issue that can impair their health and put them at further risk.

Marquard volunteers on their recent "Theme Thursday": Hawaiian Day
That is what makes the work that we do, here at Franciscan Outreach, so important.  Prevention of common health risks is one of the best actions that we can do.  Providing services such as proper nutrition, proper hygiene with showers and laundry and a safe place to sleep doesn't alleviate all of our guest's problems, but it helps.  Sometimes it is really easy to become so involved with daily tasks that we forget that every act of kindness, no matter how small, goes a long way. 

We don't need to feel as though we need to feed all the homeless and save the world but rather stopping someone on the street and asking what their name is or what their story is goes a long way!  You wouldn't believe how much it makes their day.

Everyone is special and has the potential to lift your heart in ways that you never thought possible.  All you need to do is listen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who are We to Judge?

Patrick Penner
Patrick is a second year Franciscan Outreach Volunteer serving at the Franciscan House shelter.

Patrick serving at Franciscan House
Especially when you live in a bigger city you see homeless people all the time.  Some asking for money or selling newspapers.  Some dangerously walking between driving cars or standing at street corners.  Thousands pass them every day.  If you pay attention, you notice that most do so without even noticing.  Busy all day, rushing around, their thoughts focused on the next thing on their to-do list.  Or they are ignoring the person that expresses their need to them, pretending not to see them.

I used to belong to this group of people.  Whenever I would pass a homeless person I tried to look very busy.  Either looking at my phone or quickly walking past with big steps.  When I was spoken to, I would not even look at whoever tried to get my attention, not seeing homeless people equally.  And I did not feel bad about it.  Everyone did it.

During the past year that I have served at the Franciscan House shelter, I have gotten to know the homeless - whom we call guests - more closely.  I've learned about what has happened to them in the past and what is going on in their lives now.  What our guests appreciate the most is someone who listens to what they say.  You can see how their faces light up when you call them by name, taking them out of the anonymity.  I  learned not to judge them based on their homelessness.  Who am I to judge anyone anyways?  We often forget that those who are homeless aren't different from most of us.  They are college graduates, unemployed, people with jobs, proud fathers and mothers.  The only thing that makes them different is that they happen to not have housing.

Patrick helping Emily with intake at the Marquard Center
My experience from interacting with our guests has taught me this:  If you don't want to give someone money, that is totally fine!  But if you are being asked for it, don't just walk away.  Take notice of that person and respond!  There is nothing wrong with a, "no, I'm sorry!" By responding you are showing that you value this person as a human being that has the right to be treated equally.

If you want to go one step further, take a few minutes to get caught in a conversation.  Or talk to someone who looks lonely, even if you have to step out of your comfort zone to do so.  Here, my friend and former volunteer Carissa Stewart is a good example.  She just walks up to people and introduces herself, seeking out those who others don't talk to.  There are so many interesting stories that are just waiting to be heard.  Without any effort, you can brighten someones day and learn to be more understanding of those in need.

Let's remind ourselves to be more aware of those who don't get attention.  To accept others where ever they are in life, no matter rich or poor.  To treat everyone the same way we would like to be treated; we are all equal residents of the same planet.

Because, who are we to judge?