It Takes A Village
When I tell people I work at Helping Hands I almost always get the same sort of response. Expressions of gratitude for being selfless enough to be in social work, blessings for the struggle I must face every day because of the population I work with and there is almost always a personal story of their own, or a loved one’s, past struggles and how “someone like me” helped them through it. My response? “No, no, no. I just pay the bills.”
As the office manager at Helping Hands my job does actually entail much more than just paying the bills but I don’t work directly with clients, not officially anyway. For a long time after I started, I believed that while I am surrounded daily by remarkable individuals that have devoted their lives and professions to helping others, I was just here by chance and wasn’t qualified or capable of actually helping anyone here. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
One-day last year I came into work at 7 A.M., like I always do, and got settled in my office. My door is positioned directly across from our public restroom, which is a very busy spot when I get here every day because the men that stayed in the shelter the evening prior are still here and there is constant traffic in and out, which gives me the opportunity to chat with these guys and I always look forward to it. This particular morning one of my favorite guys stopped at my door and asked if he could talk to me. Of course he could, I was just getting started for the day. The conversation that followed forever changed the way I see my position here.
He started by saying thank you. I had no idea what I had done. When I asked he said, “You look at me in my eyes, smile and ask how I am every time I see you. People don’t always look at me or care how I am. Not really. Thank you for that.” Then he simply walked off to continue his day. He had floored me! I was overwhelmed by the emotional response I had to this simple encounter. More than anything I was saddened. To know that this man was so accustomed to being treated as a second class citizen, or like he was invisible because of his appearance and his current position in life, that he wanted to go out of his way to thank me for simply treating him as an equal was staggering to me.
I battled with that feeling for days. What could I do? How could I do more? I wanted to make a difference and do something that mattered for these people, really mattered, the way I watched my co-workers do every day. That’s when I was reminded of the old adage, “it takes a village”.
I was doing something significant here. Even by just showing up, smiling, genuinely caring about our clients and yes, paying the bills, I was doing my small part. It takes all of us to help those in need. There are so many cogs to the machine that is Helping Hands. Our Executive Director who goes above and beyond, every single day, to lead, guide and direct our staff along with educating the community about the affliction of homelessness. The Director of Payee Services that assists her clients with managing their finances and therefore to prevent the possibility of homelessness. The Director of our Supported Housing Program that empowers our clients to live independently, even after so many of them have lost hope that they ever will. Case workers and shelter workers that express love, patience and understanding to their clients that come to them with an endless list of needs.
We are blessed with numerous volunteers that support us as well. There are daily meal providers, from all walks of life, that contribute food and their time, money and love. There are individuals that show up here and give us their personal time to work the front desk. Barbers who come monthly to give the gift of a haircut and a boost of confidence. Nurses, doctors, mental health professionals; they all show up and give freely of themselves.
No agency, individual or group alone can do it completely. It really does take all of us to make a difference. Even if it’s as simple as smiling and looking a man in his eyes.