Monday, December 29, 2014

Connecting with Beautiful Ladies


The women come into the dorm all at once at 6:30 pm.  I'm standing at the front of the room, there to greet them, sign out towels, and get anything else they might need.  Many of them are bundled up, noses red and faces barely peeking out of hats and hoods and scarves.  It's evident that they're all happy to be inside after a cold day out, and many of them drop off their things and go straight to the kitchen for a hot meal.

This is the usual start to every night I work.  From there, it varies:  welcoming new intakes, mediating conflict, solving problems, being a resource.  Regardless of the night, though, it's always sure that I'm in for some sort of adventure.  The best part of being in the dorm is making connections with so many different kinds of women.  I have learned where they grew up, what brought them to the shelter, what their families are like, and so many more of their little quirks.  These women have become my friends.
Ladies sharing what they're Thankful for
Since starting in July, I knew I wanted to do more for the women I serve.  I wanted to do more than provide a bed, more than just give them a safe place to sleep at night.  I knew (and still know) that I alone do not have the capacity to change the way the system works and get everyone into housing quickly, nor do I have the power to eliminate addiction and mental illness, so starting small and on a relational level was something I knew I could facilitate.

I thought about all of the art therapy classes that were prominent where I went to college, and how art can really do things for people.  Whether it's taking our minds off of something or giving us a forum to express how we're feeling, I know that art can be therapeutic and helpful.  I also drew upon experiences I had in leading student groups to build connections and create safe environments for sharing.  After a few months of brainstorming and dragging my feet, I was finally able to put a group together.

We met for the first time last Friday to make snowflakes and other holiday crafts for the dorm.  I baked a few batches of Christmas cookies and some other goodies for the women were provided by the shelter. After everything was set up, I turned the Christmas music on and the women started coming into the back room where I was holding the group.  It filled me with so much joy to see grown women sitting around a table, crafting snowflakes out of coffee filters and decorating them with glitter glue.  I was thrilled to see how happy they all were - joking around and laughing, singing along to the music; even the ones who just came in to eat a cookie and watch were having a great time.  It was wonderful to see the guests who usually kept to themselves out and about, crafting and having fun.  The creations were beautiful, and we hung them around the dorm afterwards.
Women's group
When I came back the next night for my overnight shift, one of the women approached me asking if we could do arts and crafts again that night.  She said, "You know, Theresa, this is a really crappy situation we're all in...but doing crafts last night was so much fun. It's nice to forget about where I'm at for a little bit."  Hearing this in combination with seeing just how happy everyone was just a night before gave me a feeling of fullness that I haven't felt in a long time.  Seeing the joy in the guest's faces filled me with an incredible happiness--knowing that I had a hand in facilitating this delight was an awesome feeling.  But it's not really about how I feel, is it?  That's just an added bonus, the icing on the cake brought about by the beautiful women I have the privilege to be with.

The feedback was positive.  I hope to continue this group twice a month on a few of my nights off.  We'll craft for holidays, but I also have some ideas around gratitude, reflection, family, and connection.  I am absolutely thrilled to see the progress this group makes over the course of my volunteer year.

If you're interested in providing financial support to cover supply costs for our women's groups, please email Theresa at Thanks!

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 Homeless Persons' Memorial

Last night we joined hundreds of others in Chicago to remember those who have lost their lives on the street this year.  We even had to submit a few of our own guests names.  Please join us in making sure they are remembered:

Mary H.
Elias C.
Thomas K.
William B.
Margie C.
Carolyn W.
David K.
Daniel B.
Beverly W.
Frederick R.
Kevin S.
Frank C.
Clifford C.
Melvin P.
Suzette R.
Nelson V.
Janice W.
Paul L.
Kathleen E.
Williams H.
Harvey J.
Charles M.
Robert W.
Max P.
Sherice H.
Orlando F.
Joseph K.
Jamie H.
Lynda E.
Robert S.
Andrea Y.
Bernabe G.

"May their memory stir us in greater compassion for those who still wander homeless in our city's streets.  May their memory ignite within us greater desire to confront the injustices that lead to homelessness.  May their memory remind us that though at times our love for one another may falter, your own love for all your people will never fail."


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

If You Could See Into My Heart


It’s no secret that I am a passionate person. When I am invested in something or someone, I am all in. This year has taken my already strong passions and emotions and shocked them to a whole new level. I went from being someone that rarely cried to feeling like the tears are constantly flowing, whether they are out of joy, sorrowfulness, or exhaustion as I approach the all too familiar state of delirium. My heart aches. This thought came to me as I was walking outside in negative degree weather and I threw aside all sensibilities and took off my warm, bulky gloves so that I could write my words down while still in the moment.
I keep coming back to the lyrics of my favorite song. My friend, Pat McKillen, has a beautiful way with words. While my emotions currently feel all over the place, I find clarity when I listen to his music. This specific moment of his song, Starting Today, stands out to me:

“Love the ones, love the ones, the ones that make your heart beat. Love the ones, love the ones, the ones that make your lungs breathe. Love the ones, love the ones, the ones that make your heart bleed.”

I listen to guests as they talk about how no one loves them or how they have been forgotten by our society. Those are the times when I wish that people could see into my heart. I wish they knew how much I care, how much my heart aches, how much they matter. The guests that come into the Marquard Center are kind, brilliant, hilarious, and have beautiful souls. They fill my heart up and make it hurt in ways I never imagined possible. They make my lungs breathe. I will attempt to show you a small glimpse of what my heart can’t through pictures.

I could never forget how natural it feels to sit next to Chris* and discuss everything from books to our ideas of the meaning of life in the dining room.

I could never forget how excited Veronica* got and the look on her face when I ran to my room to change so that we could be twins.
I could never forget how loved I felt when Trey* gave me a cup decorated with a childhood favorite and told me that he wouldn’t let anyone ever take my smile away.

I moved to Chicago because I felt drawn to Franciscan Outreach’s mission and wanted more exposure to the homeless population. It is important to me to gain a better understanding of all of the individuals that make up our society so that I have a better idea of how I can help. I came here with the hope that I would be able to have a positive impact on the lives of others and in return have been given a family that could never be forgotten.
*Name changed