If I wrote a book about my year serving as a Young Adult Volunteer, I think I’d title it, “The Things I Never Thought I’d Do: The YAV Edition”. If you had asked me a year ago where I thought I’d be living and what I’d be doing, this wasn’t even close to being on my radar. When I take a step back and truly analyze so many of the things that comprise my life right now, it makes me appreciate how God not only changes our plans, but also our hearts.
Today, I wrote a letter of recommendation for a homeless man. While I’m still not entirely clear on how the letter of recommendation played into things, I know he was requesting it for something to do with Medicaid and Habitat For Humanity. This man has been coming to the agency I’m working with for food, transportation assistance and other services for the past several years. My only encounters with him thus far haven’t actually been when he’s needed help, but rather when he drops by to hang out in our waiting room reading books or chatting with clients waiting to be tested for HIV. I felt honored to write about how pleasant, respectful and sharp he is. Today, I helped him meet more than just an immediate need and today, he became so much more human to me.
I think it’s easy to put people in boxes; there’s “those people” and then there’s “us”. It’s even easier to assume that the two will never be one and same. Every day on my drive to work, I pass an open grassy area, with a few scattered trees and picnic tables loosely labeled as a “park”. Over time, I’ve noticed several cars and vans parked randomly on the grass for short periods of time. Initially, I assumed it was either drug related or teenagers getting their groove on. As I’ve started seeing the same cars show up and disappear in cycles, I’ve realized people are living out of their cars and are looking for a safe place to park where they won’t be hassled for being on a private or commercial property. As heavily policed as this area is, I can’t help but think the cops are just turning their heads and letting these people camp out. I like to think that they aren’t kicking them out because they realize the desperation a person has to be in to even attempt this in the first place. On a weekly basis, one of “those people” living out of their cars stumbles into our office knowing full well that our focus is HIV testing, but hoping we’ll have compassion and help them with their other problems anyway. We hear story after story of people living what most would consider a normal life, with a normal living situation and a normal family until life happens and one of “us” becomes one of “those people.” Every day, “those people” become more human to me.
Living in a community where the needs are so widespread and relief seems overwhelmingly complex, it’s easy to feel defeated. The other day, we had extra food donations and decided to drop them off at the soup kitchen. A man waiting to get in for a meal looked at me beaming, and told me how he remembers meeting me at one of our health fairs several months ago. I remembered him too, and in that moment, I remembered the importance of one. While at times I get frustrated that I can’t fix everyone’s problems or even begin to scratch the surface, I’m continually reminded that’s not what I’m here for. I’m not anyone’s savior and I don’t have all the answers, and I’m realizing that people are okay with that. While I can’t make a difference in everyone, I can make a difference in one. Whether it’s the man at the soup kitchen or our homeless client seeking words of affirmation, I’m learning that often times what matters more to people is simply being valued as a human.