I recently felt convicted about the fact that I am not doing very much to serve my community. The third year of graduate school has been amazing for me. I only took two classes this semester, and I made it a point to use the bulk of that extra time investing in “me”. Well, I realized that was good for my general health but also pretty selfish, and it was time to find a way to serve in the community again. In addition, a friend at school is really trying to get others to be more involved in community service, and I think all of these things combined just pushed me to finally sign up and just do something. I found a non-profit here in town that serves meals to the homeless three times a day as well as provides various levels of services to help them transition out of homelessness.
Confession: If I’m totally honest, this wasn’t easy for me. I was scared. It has been years since I’ve done any sort of work with the homeless population, and I let society construct my view of the homeless. I was quickly reminded that the homeless community is made up of all sorts of people and that many of them do not “look” homeless. If I saw several of the folks I served at the shelter walking down the street, I would not identify them as homeless. These are people just like me. Obviously, they have different struggles, but they’re also people who want to have meaningful interactions with other people and who want to be accepted as a part of society.
Another confession: I had such a great time. There was an intern in the work program at the shelter who was already signed up to do the dishes for my shift, so I was given the job of serving all of the food. It honestly fed my soul to make eye contact, smile, and serve others. I know it was something really small and that my three hours of service isn’t going to do anything to change the system that puts and keeps people on the streets, but I also know that the greater organization does more that actually does help move people off of the streets, and if folks don’t come to serve the food, they have less time to do what they do.
Final confession: I struggled with writing this post. I don’t want this to be a box I check off to feel better about myself and my privilege. In all honestly, I’m still working all of that out. I know I’m supporting an organization I think is doing good work, I know that me giving in this way doesn’t mean bigger systems are going to change, and I don’t think doing this on occasion checks off my homelessness box. I also know that spending time with people in this community makes me more aware of their needs and situations and helps me to be better informed when having conversations with others and voting and hopefully will better help me to leverage my privilege in productive ways at some point and time.
Thoughts? Am I just telling myself I’m making a difference? Does it even matter? Are there more productive ways to help? How do you get involved in your community in meaningful ways?