Thursday, October 17, 2013

Learning the Ropes


Sassi at the apple orchard
About a year ago I was filling out my application to be a Franciscan Outreach Volunteer.  At the time I was in school and living in a small German village with my family.  A lot has changed since this time last year! Now I'm living in the third biggest city in America, in community with 12 other people and working overnight shifts at our shelter.

Since my first day here in Chicago, I knew that the decision I made a year ago was definitely one of the best I've ever made.  I feel like I learn something new every single day.  It's not always obvious or important, but just living in another country with a different language and community teaches me a lot.

Thinking back on my first shift at the shelter, I still didn't feel that comfortable speaking English to the supervisors or the guests.  I couldn't really imagine that I'd know almost all of the ladies names one day or that it would get easier to work overnight.  But at this point in my year, I can already say that this is exactly what happened.  At first the ladies were guests and that's all I knew about them.

In the last three months, these women have become more than just "guests" to me.  They all have one thing in common:  they don't have a place to sleep; they are homeless.  This was the only thing I knew when I came to the shelter.  However, besides this one aspect, all the ladies and all the guests, are totally different.  Our guests have different ethnicity, some are in their twenties and others are over 60.  Some of the ladies sleep at the shelter for several years and others are new and only stay for a couple days.  We have pregnant guests and guests with or without jobs.  And the most important difference:  They all have their own personalities, needs, and stories.
Sassi, Mustafa, Sara, and Zach at the Cub's game

Since I've been at the shelter, I've talked to the guests and they tell me about themselves, about their children, or even grandchildren.  One of the ladies recently came to the desk where I was sitting and asked me if I wanted to see pictures of her family.  She opened a folder and told me all the names of her grandchildren and their ages.  Another guest looked at the date one day and shared that the next day was her son's birthday.  She shared stories of her three sons that she hadn't seen in a long time.  Other women are more quiet and don't talk a lot.  But finding this out is also a part of getting to know them.

2013-14 community serving dinner after Orientation
Some of the ladies don't talk a lot about themselves but are interested in my story.  It always starts when guests ask for my name and I tell them "Saskia". The response is typically, "say that again" or just "what?" so I repeat it or I say "my nickname is Sassi, maybe that is easier to remember" and I often add, "I'm German, that's the reason for the name".  At this point they get really interested in how long I've been here, how I like the U.S. (especially Chicago), and the differences between the two countries.  All in all, it's a great experience to live in another country, in a big community, and to work at the shelter. I feel like I am learning every day from the guests and my community members and I'm looking forward to what else will come this year!

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