Two weeks ago I celebrated my one year anniversary of being an employee of PADS. Anniversary, that's a interesting word to use. Webster defines anniversary as, "the annual recurance of a date marking a notable event." It seems the key word within that definition is "notable". I mean, who celebrates the one year anniversary of stubbing a toe. "Hey honey, today is the day! One year ago I stubbed my toe. Do you remember that?" On the contrary, "notable" implies something of significance, something that sticks out like a diamond on a black surface, something that, regardless of our "forgetfulness", can't help but to be remembered. So sit back (not too far, especially if you are in one of those chairs that is prone to tip over), relax (not too much, especially if you are at work while reading this) and let me take you on my journey. Grab my virtual hand and follow me into the nonprofit flux capacitor as we travel a year within my life at PADS.
Week One: The Five Senses
Sight: First day on the job I couldn't help but to see the lack of "modernity" within the offices at PADS. Old chairs, three piece desks of which none of the pieces matched the other and paintings on the walls akin Downton Abbey. Yet, I saw a sense of joy. I would quickly come to find out that PADS didn't value materialism, they valued true value. That is to say, all of who they were, all of what they had went directly to helping just one more client see their inherent value despite their circumstances.
Sound: Answering the phone and hearing, "I just lost my job, have no place to go, can you help?" Walking down the hall hearing the pitter patter of little feet, not playing in their own room, but in a homeless shelter. Hearing the voice in my own head say, "Stephen, dont' become deaf to the need. Keep listening."
Smell: Soap, laundry detergent, shampoo. Indeed, these were not the smells my nostrils anticipated yet were present. Basic human amenities I take for granted on a daily basis required a sign up sheet becasue the need was so great.
Touch: Day four on the job helping a homeless vet move. I remember reaching out for a hand shake yet he pulling me in for a shake to hug combo (you know what I'm talking about). Feeling the wrinkles on his hand thinking, "these hands have served this country." Feeling the worn, hand-me down clothes thinking, "how did he get from Dress Blue to these?" A million thoughts/feelings with one touch
Taste: Sitting at the front desk and one of our clients asking ME did I want a piece of his candy. The thought: he who doesn't have much is willing to share with me who wastes much. From this gesture and ensueing conversation, it was clear that this client was not taking advantage of the "system", but simply a man who fell on hard times and one who truly understood the value of a...starburst. It never tasted so sweet!
Week Fourteen: Ignorance is not bliss
You know, that moment you find out that zero is NOT the lowest number on the numberline and there are negative numbers and wonder why in the world your teachers haven't told you this sooner. You know, that moment you find out that Trix are not really JUST for kids and they had no reason to treat that rabbit that way. These are moments when you say, "ignorance is not bliss." We are people who desire knowledge. When we find out things that we "should have" known sooner, we feel a bit robbed? This was exactly my thinking when, after growing up in Vernon Hills and Libertyville, I was completly unaware of the homeless population right in my back yard. I mean, for heaven's sake, this is Lake County, right! Surely if there is a county that is immune to homelessness, it is this county, right? After working with PADS for fourteen weeks, wow, I couldn't have been more wrong. "You mean to tell me that over 50% of the homeless population in Lake County are children??" Again, I felt robbed. One more thing to add to the "ignorance is not bliss" list. Except, this particular item on the list is highlighted, bold, italicized and underlined.
Week Twenty-Seven: "It's A Wonderful Life"
I am convinced there is not a person alive that can follow the life of George Bailey without shedding a tear or two. Even though he thought his life was meaningless, Clarence would soon prove otherwise as he shows what life would be like without him.
But that is fiction, right? I beg to differ! My first Christmas season at PADS proved otherwise. I came to meet real life George Baileys, those who give so much to so many without asking for anything in return. I met the George Baileys of our partner churches, I met the George Baileys of our volunteers, I met the George Baileys of our in-kind and monetary donors. And I came to realize that PADS wouldn't be the same without them.
Week Fifty-two: Marathon, not a sprint
365 days, 1934 clients, 275 families, 581 children, 590 women and 155 veterans later and I have made it. But the question is, made it where? My friends who have completed marathons tell me that the last few miles are the hardest. You have come so far, done so much, exerted so much energy, feel like you have given all. Yet, a few miles remain. Notice I said my friends who have "completed" marathons. Though they felt like they were running on empty, you never know what your back-up tank can do until you empty the first. You never know the resources in the reserves unless you hit the reserves.
Week Fifty-two obvervation: helping the homeless is not a sprint, but a marathon. A give it your all, glorious, vulnerable, exciting, exhausting, hitting a wall yet breaking through the wall, almost to the finish line type of marathon.