Will what I do make any kind of a difference? Will it be COVID-safe? Can I overcome my own feelings (biases?) about people who are mentally ill, addicted or alcoholic? Is it just too hard emotionally?
Everyone doing volunteer work for a cause as overwhelming as homelessness asks themselves these questions. I certainly have, and so have stuck to the kind of effort in a safe and known context, such as my church, where I could see a measurable result, work with folks I’m comfortable with, do good work and, frankly, not be all that challenged.
But I admire Valerie, respect her work, and she needed help in the office. I had no clue what this meant, but, for some reason, I had said I would help out. I put on my mask, washed my hands, and met her with some other friends to learn how. Soon we heard what it was she needed: Answer the door when the doorbell rang (easy enough); talk to the folks and see what they need; complete a form with their information and give them what they need or refer them to someplace that can meet their need; and make a follow-up appointment with Valerie if follow-up would be beneficial. That all sounded doable. The clothes, hygiene bags, snack bags, bus passes are all organized and available or it’s clear enough how to put them together; and the form is easy to fill out. Why not? We could keep our masks on all the time, so we signed up to start.
There was the quiet man with the dirty, sun-burned face who asked for a clean pair of pants and socks because he was going to interview for a job – are you housed? I have a camp, he said. There was a woman who lives with her daughter, the daughter’s boyfriend and a grandchild. The daughter is struggling in that relationship and the woman got laid off from a hotel job, would like a warm jacket and a bus pass. There was a young man who needed to know where to get a COVID test. The requests weren’t that complicated – we could do this.
Then there was a young couple from out of town with an infant in the UNMH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) who needed a place to stay since the mom had been discharged. The dad would like to find work – he had worked construction and retail – but more urgently, they needed some warmer clothes and a place to stay tonight – could FaithWorks help? Yes, there were clothes, there was food, and there’s a list of options on a referral card. Valerie knew additional resources as well, given their specific circumstances.
I guess that’s when it clicked for me. I had made a difference. I had spent only a few hours answering the FaithWorks doorbell, and I had helped some people. And I was safe. Maybe I didn’t change their lives, but I had, in fact, changed mine. If you can keep your mask on and stay safe, maybe you can change yours as well! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and find a time to volunteer with ABQ FaithWorks.