Sunday, April 1, 2012


"Giving simply means, I'm healed enough to help"

Yesterday I got home from one of my most moving expeditions to date. 

Awhile back my friend Lisa and I signed onto being Alternative Break advisers on campus. Alt. Break is a program for students to go and serve in diverse communities during their summer, winter, and spring breaks. The students get no credit for their hard work, and have to fundraise for the cost of the trip.

Spring Break 2012: 8 girls, 2 advisers, Missoula, MT.  We were set, until the snow came. The passes from Oregon to Montana were looking brutal, and due to the fact that Lisa and I were in charge of safely transporting the girls from A-to-B (in a 12 passenger van) and back, we decided as a team to cancel Montana (less than a week from when we were supposed to depart) and instead, quickly find service opportunities within the homeless community in nearby (and snow-free), Seattle, WA.

During our week of service we had the opportunity to work with 4 great community organizations, some we worked with for only a day, and others that we spent multiple days with, such as Operation Sack Lunch where we split our time between their Compass Center shelter and their outdoor meal site. (I have listed the links and mission statements of all four organizations below, if you would like to read up the organizations.), but what I really wanted to write about tonight was:

What I learned during my service within the Seattle homeless community:

-You can work hard your whole life and suddenly have everything taken away from you. Homelessness can happen to anyone, not just those who are battling drug/alcohol abuse. Because of this, spend your life living. Your 20's will rocket past you, your 30's will come too soon, your 40's start the cycle of aging, etc.. Do what makes you happy, and be grateful (while still remaining humble) for all you have.

-Most shelter clients feel the need to fake elation when volunteers come to do service in order to avoid pity. When it comes to picking a partner to share your lunch with, bypass the charismatic jester of the shelter and go find the real people, and respect them enough to show then your real self as well.

-As a volunteer, the greatest gift you can give is a smile. Sure the warm food and warm words are great and all, but all day these community members are looked down upon, so take the time to see them as your community members and be genuine.

-Listen to their advice. Just because they don't have a place to live, does not mean they have not lived.

-The number one thing that nearly all of my lunch partners told me was to "get educated."

-Often most homeless men and women have jobs, and some even have multiple, it.just.isn't.enough.

-Some of the girls on the trip would get worked up because some of the shelter clients would tell them "lies" about their days before homelessness--Let them lie. This is the story that they want you to hear. Don't question this, allow yourself to ride along on the story. Never take this story away from them.

-We are all on this journey together.

I will never forget the lunch conversations and meals that I shared, with Leon, Martin, and Carl, and they'll never know the impact of their words and honesty.
I will never forget the tone of the hundreds of "thanks" that I heard all week. I have worked in the non-profit world for nearly 5 years, and never have I heard such genuine "thank you's".
I will never forget the pride in their faces as they spoke about home

The essence of being a volunteer is to make a positive impact, but the power of service is in the positive impact that is given to us by those we've served.

Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS)
Mission: "To provide support services to Seattle area homeless youth and young adults. Our committed efforts are targeted at providing stepping stones to transition youths from the streets to self-sufficiency and productive roles in community." 
To learn more about PSKS, click here. 

Operation Sack Lunch
Mission: "To provide dignity, care and compassion through action with the example that each person can make a difference. To educate and advocate acceptance and understanding of each others differences. To ultimately bring about the realization that we are all a part of this world and with extended effort put an end to homelessness, hunger and hatred"
To learn more about Operation Sack Lunch, click here.

Operation Night Watch
Mission: " Operation Night Watch is an interdenominational ministry serving the poor and homeless by providing food and shelter to 150-170 men and women every night. We also operate 24 units of low-income housing for seniors, and have been reaching out to those on the streets since the 1960's."
To learn more about Op. Night Watch, click here.

First Church Men's Shelter: Blaine Center
Mission: "Blending compassion and caring with effective programs and unique services, the people and programs at each of Compass Housing Alliance's locations promote dignity, self esteem, and respect for self and others. One-on-one case management identifies the issues that led to street life and helps each person set his own goals. The Men's Inn Program at the Blaine Center provides overnight shelter for sixty men, including case management, shelter, meals, and storage."
To learn more about the Blaine Center, click here.

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