"Everyone has a story." This poster has been plastered on my wall since the beginning of my year of service--a constant reminder of every interaction I have with anyone. whether I'm connecting with guests, fellow volunteers, or members of the larger community, this is something that is always int he back of my mind. Everyone has a story.
I've changed a lot throughout this year. Actually, I don't think I've necessarily changed, but I've definitely been allowed to blossom and become my real and authentic self. This experience was my first time living far from home. Hailing from Massachusetts and going to college a little over an hour away doesn't really count. I visited home and my family twice throughout the year--once near Halloween, and once for Easter. Spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with the guests I served and members of my volunteer community are celebrations and moments I will always remember. I am forever grateful for the communities I've become a part of.
When I think about community, a few things come to mind. Firstly, I've been living intentionally with twelve other volunteers. This community has been a pillar of support for me that has proven to be unbreakable; and we've experienced a year of service that not many others will ever come to understand. Secondly, I think of the ladies in the dorm. Spending night after night at the shelter and making connections with the women facing homelessness is an experience that I will cherish forever. I have become a part of a beautiful community of women who have faced many challenges throughout their lives, and because of that, have incredible strength and courage. The support and love and belonging I feel with the wonderful humans I have met this year feels so indescribable. I have been welcomed into a second home.
Serving forty-five women experiencing the precariousness of homelessness was not easy. But I would not trade this experience for anything. If I'm being honest, the ladies I made deep connections with are the reasons I kept going back night after night. Suddenly, my job wasn't about "helping" people. I wanted to go to the shelter to see Trudy's smiling face, or get a big hug from Yolanda, or see just how grateful the ladies were when I had towels for them to shower and ice cold water in the cooler. My job became being part of a web of support for the ladies, validating their feelings, encouraging them to go to treatment or sign their lease. It became sharing moments of sadness, hearing abut incredible trauma, and still seeing them as women worthy and deserving of love and life. It became about making art together, sharing cookies, and dancing to the radio.
The truth is that I have gained so much from the women I have met. They have taught me to be strong, to keep going, and never give up. they have taught me to laugh at the little things, to thank the Universe for the life I've got, and stand up for what I believe in. I am so lucky to come from a place of privilege, that my parents have supported me every step of the way, and that I am not a paycheck away from homelessness, or that I am not stuck in a low-wage job unable to pay rent. I am so incredibly grateful and appreciative of that reality.
When you get to the bottom of it, we're all just humans. Whether we're homeless, addicted to drugs, mentally ill, all three or none at all--we're all humans. We all have a story, a reason why we are the way we are. Our families created us, our educations and socioeconomic statuses created us, the systems in place in this country have shaped us; and as long as we recognize that, and see people coming from different places, I think there are always great connections to be made. And that is what I've learned during my year with Franciscan Outreach Volunteers. Everyone has a story.