I stood there greeted with blank stares and confused faces. Taking a deep breath, I repeated, “I stayed at a homeless shelter last night.” Still, nothing, and I quickly realized that:
1. There is absolutely no delicate way to say, “I stayed at a homeless shelter last night.”
2. I had some explaining to do, because the Glam Squad was just not getting it.
The Glam Squad is what I lovingly call my close-knit group of 20-something-year-old friends. They’re great girls; however, you’re more likely to find them casually brunching in high heels than sporting matching volunteer tees at philanthropic events. Rather than trying to explain my reasons for staying at the shelter, I decided to simply tell them what happened while I was there…
With about a million butterflies in my stomach, I pressed the little button and waited for the House Manager to buzz me in. I squeezed my pillow a little tighter walking up the steps, unsure of what I would find at the top. As a CFH employee I’ve been in the Hawthorne Place shelter many times, but never alone, and certainly not when the families are there. Normally I come bearing business cards and sporting my CFH Staff name badge, but this time I arrived with my toothbrush and paste as a volunteer. The door swung open and the House Manager greeted me and showed me to the volunteer room. I made the bed and sat for a moment. While I was relieved to see a familiar face, it was the unknown faces that were the cause of my nerves. So many questions flooded my mind: Would the families speak to me? What will we talk about? What will I do for the rest of the night? I realized that hiding in the volunteer room wasn’t getting me any closer to finding answers, so I slowly made my way to the living room. I sat on the couch across from one of the residents and we watched America’s Funniest Home Videos and giggled along with every clip. We were causing such a ruckus that soon another lady came to watch the marathon with us. We casually chatted during the commercial breaks and slowly began to break the ice. Before I knew it, it was nearly midnight and we decided to call it a night. The next morning, Hawthorne Place was buzzing with families starting their day, and I slipped out the door to head into work.
When I finished telling the Glam Squad about my night at Hawthorne Place, I explained my reasons for staying there. Volunteering at Hawthorne Place was important to me because I got to see what the families we serve experience, if only for a few hours. Spending time with the men, women, and children living there reinforced my belief that people are people. Rather than focusing on our differences, I saw our similarities: Our shared love of obnoxiously patterned pajamas, agreeing that The Rock is the most attractive actor in The Fast and the Furious, and bursting into laughter over silly home videos. Adding labels to people, like ‘homeless’, only serves to create barriers among us. I saw that while we may be experiencing different challenges and struggles in life, the reality is that we have more in common than we think. We all have moments of strength and weakness, goals to be achieved, and dreams for the future, and I think that says much more about a person than any address label ever could.