Since moving to Seattle, I've encountered more homeless individuals in the past year than I did in my entire life. For the first few months, I struggled with A) interacting with them, and B) not having my spirits crushed every time I walked by one. Growing up, I was fortunate and privileged enough not to experience much poverty in my neighborhood or my household. It makes me feel vulnerable and naïve to admit my lack of experience with social justice in general, but better late than never, right? As a "poor grad student," I very rarely handed out money to panhandlers, despite my crushing guilt. Each day I'd vow to do something to change this habit, but I never quite knew what to do with my limited resources and knowledge.
Yesterday morning I noticed that a loaf of bread I hadn't touched yet was about to expire. I don't know where the idea came from, but the thought popped into my head that I could give it to homeless individuals on my way to internship downtown that day. I decided to make some peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and include inspirational quotes in the bags.
That was the easy part. The hard part was approaching strangers. I was clueless as to what I should say and how they might react. Another question that crossed my mind was: how was I going to pick and choose the four strangers to offer sandwiches to out of the hundreds that I might see that day?
I walked down to the Seattle waterfront, took a deep breath, and approached a homeless man holding a cardboard sign that said "Anything helps."
"Hi, can you help me?"
"I don't have any change, but I had some extra food in my place. Can I offer you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
"Yes, please, thank you so much. God bless. You are kind."And that was that! The rest of the sandwiches went fast. I actually had 2 individuals turn down my offer, but I guess it's comforting to know that they weren't as desperate as I thought they were. For each sandwich, as I walked away from the person I would turn around and watch as they read the quote. All 4 of them smiled, and some even looked up at me to nod or wave.
After the experience, I felt so incredible. I walked home that day with a genuine bounce in my gait. I know I can't solve homelessness, but if I can make just a tiny dent, and encourage others to help here and there, we can make a difference in the lives of so many people, right in our own communities. Plus, I didn't waste that entire loaf of bread!
I think my decision to hand out sandwiches stemmed unconsciously from the positive experience I've been having at Summer Search Seattle as their intern. Summer Search (SS) is a college access non-profit organization, whose mission is to "find resilient low-income high school students and inspire them to become responsible and altruistic leaders by providing year-round mentoring, life-changing summer experiences, college advising, and a lasting support network." My position there partially entails advising/mentoring high school seniors on their transition to college. One of my first days on the job, I got to meet a lot of the seniors involved with SS at an event where they shared their stories, fears, and future plans. Most of these individuals have endured intense and personal hardships, some I can't imagine experience myself as a 17/18 year old. It was so inspirational to hear about their growth and dedication to improving themselves, and from the first week at this internship I knew my heart would be set on this career.
My supervisor has been an incredible resource, mentor, and friend to me as well; that's another big reason I love this internship. The rest of the staff in the Seattle branch are also incredibly welcoming and kind. I feel as though I fit in well with this crowd, if only because we have in common an innate desire to help people and build community.
I'm finding my niche (FINALLY!). I'm finding my way. I'm finding myself.
I want to help people, but I want to help people in the most meaningful way that I can. Unfortunately, student affairs in general hasn't been fulfilling for me, but I think I've found what I need/want in the college access area. Here I can really make a difference in people's lives, and develop those personal relationships I've always wanted.
Since I'm on the topic of homelessness, I also wanted to reflect about an article I read in Real Change newspaper, whose mission is "to provide opportunity and a voice for low-income and homeless people while taking action for economic justice." The article, titled Ending Homelessness, One Tweet at a Time, was about media guru Mark Horvath. Mark experienced homelessness for quite some time when he lost his job and his home; he now encourages homeless people to use social media to share their stories via invisiblepeople.tv. The article included an interview with him, and there was a quote that struck my heartstrings so hard that I had to put the paper down and grin. This man helped me explain my own sentiment perfectly:
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what's been alive in me lately.
A few weeks ago, hubby asked me "What's alive in you?"
I was taken aback by the question. Usually when I come home, he asks "how are you?" "how was your day?" This one made me turn inwards, reflect, and think. What is alive in me? What means the most to me right now in this moment?
He has asked me the question several times since, and I fall more and more in love with it every time. It makes me think about what's really going on in my head mentally and physically in a certain moment. It forces me be more conscious of my thoughts and intensions. I plan on asking myself this question daily from here on out.
So, readers: What is alive in you?