Suspended Volunteering

Today, I received an email from our volunteers’ coordinator at the ODS saying that all volunteering will be suspended till the end of March. Those were excruciating news. Although, when I was at the ODS last time, which was just nine days ago, I thought that the activities might be suspended for some time, but I honestly thought it would be till mid-December at the most.

Now the activities are shut down for almost five months. And now I am thinking about every minute of last Tuesday, how it was usual: you want to go? – I do not want, but I need to. And now I think that I should have stayed longer, although I know that thirty minutes extra won’t make up for the five months ahead. 

I waved and waved, and I was saying: I will be back! I am not sure when, but I will be back. And now, for so many of the youth, it will be –  never

Deer Grove Natural Area Volunteers

On Saturday, I was invited to a special gathering of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve Volunteers. We celebrated the twenty-five years of Deer Grove Volunteers. It would be a huge celebration at the times of peace, but because of the pandemic, it was a really small group.

I felt honored to be invited because most of the people present at this meeting were there from the start, or almost from the start, and I have been with DGNAV for only six and a half years.
There were lots of stories told, and a representative from the Cook County Forest Preserves told us how we are the best group of volunteers and how they are not telling us what to do because we are self-guided and only need to coordinate with FPCC.

And it was a beautiful day, just like this whole week, and it was 75F, and I do not even know what it was in the sun 🙂

No Matter What Will Happen, Do Not Give Up!

Today, I went to the clinic escort; for several weeks, the shifts were filling fast, and I didn’t even have a chance to sign up. And later, I was traveling. Having that I do not tolerate the cold well, that shift could be my last opportunity for the year.

The shift was quiet; there were just a couple of antis out, and we wrapped up by 11-30. Before we left, our team leader gathered us together in a circle and said: Please remember that whatever happens, it is not the end of the world. Do not get discouraged, no matter what the outcome will be. We will find a way to help people, underground or up in the sky; I do not know. But we will find a way to do the right thing.

I think it was so well said that I want to pass these words along: we hope for the best, but whatever will happen, don’t get discouraged.

Harvesting The Prairie

I do not know who saw my Instagram post about the wildflowers (a copy of this one), or maybe my fellow forest preserve volunteers spread the word and reached out, but today, I spotted a Forest Preserve Police car :).

We spent Saturday morning collecting the seeds, .which are in abundance, and enjoying the end-of-summer prairie. There are still lots of flowers, blooming!

Grass seed collecting
Canadian rye
Continue reading “Harvesting The Prairie”

A Field Trip To The Art Institute

(It is a very long post, but I want to record my memories of that day)

On Thursday. we had the best-ever field trip to the Art Institute. The best in almost four years that I volunteer at the Open Door Shelter!

When I came to cook dinner the first time after “the start of everything,” we discussed what we can do outside the shelter, and I said that we could do the Art Institute and see the new Monet Exhibit. I also suggested a couple of other things, but this one was embraced immediately.

Remembering all out previous Art Institute outings, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm but held a pinch of skepticism. It happened before that when it is time to go, the youth forget, or just do not want to get out of the house, or whatever. I remember all delays in departure, losing people on the way there and back.

This time around, being late was not an option. I was not even sure how to secure our place in line for a Monet exhibit for the future date. A week after our conversation in the ODS, which was a week before our Art Institute outing, I went there during my lunch break, trying to see more of the exhibit and finding out what my options are for next Thursday.

Continue reading “A Field Trip To The Art Institute”

I Don’t Know What To Do With These People

On Saturday, I took Mom for a walk in the Deer Grove forest preserve. We were walking the beautiful path with flowers blooming on both sides from us, and as usual, I was telling her the names of the plants, and we both admired the gorgeous view..

And then I saw these two people. First, I saw a lady coming from the opposite direction with a huge bouquet of blue asters in her hands. I mean, it was not like you were passing by and could not resist an urge to pick one of these beauties. No, those were “commercial quantities.” I said: excuse me; you are not supposed to pick the wildflowers here. But she passed me as if I said nothing.

In a moment, a guy came the same way with an even bigger asters bunch. I stopped and said: Sir, do you are not supposed to pick the wildflowers here? And he is: OK. I am: Sir, I am a Forest Preserve volunteer, and we work hard here to restore the prairie, don’t do it anymore. And he is: OK, thank you! And he walks away. “Thank you”? Seriously?!

After I talked to my fellow volunteers, I found out that this is not an isolated incident, and that mine was a relatively “mild” one. Now I know that I can call the Forest Preserve Police, but… I just can’t get over it! You can’t even imagine how many flowers were destroyed!

Seven years ago, nothing but the white clover was around, and it took years of fighting invasive species, collecting seeds and sowing to make the prairie look like it looks today. It hurts to see such an attitude.

For those of you who already saw my Instagram post – yes, I my goal is to put it on all of my social media and on the NextDoor.

Back To The Open Door Shelter

On the same Thursday, another important thing happened – I went back to ODS (Open Door Shelter) for the first time since February. To me, it is the most important volunteering activity I am doing, the one where nobody can replace me. I mean, the plants in the prairie won’t care who will be fighting invasives, and the clients of the Family Planning Clinic need to be able to get to their appointments safely, no matter who is standing there in a pink vest, helping them to get through the hoard of antis. 

It is different with The Night Ministry. It took me a long time to find a way to make a difference in the lives of the youth in challenging circumstances. But now I know that I can. It’s OK to miss a week of working in the forest preserve. It’s different when you mi a week in the youth shelter. 

This time, it was more than six months, the months when life was more challenging than ever. When our volunteer coordinator reached out to me, he acknowledged that “morale is low,” and I knew very well what it meant. I asked whether there is any youth in the shelter at the moment, who knows me, and he said – all are new. I was prepared for the worst, and as a part of this preparation, I decided to cook baked salmon with mashed potatoes:).

At 5 PM, I left the office and walked to the Blue Line station – I didn’t take CTA since February. I got out on Division and looked around like I did four years ago, getting confused for a moment in which direction I should go. 

I passed the Polish Cathedral and rang a familiar doorbell. And answered the buzzer: That’s Henrietta! – Who? – Henrietta! 

And then it all felt unbelievingly normal: a counselor coming to greet me at the door, explaining to somebody: That’s Ms. Henrietta, she came to cook with us. In the kitchen, I saw a pizza which looked straight from the oven, and I thought: oh, well, familiar story, and who is going to make dinner with me! But even before I started unpacking, I saw the movement and heard: Ms. Henrietta! You probably don’t remember me, I am… – Maribella! – Yes! 

Not only she, everybody else was so surprisingly alert and ready for a conversation, and so-so-so alive. Girls are always more suspicious than boys, but this time, girls would come up to me and talk. 

I announced that dinner is ready. Often, I need to call several times, but this time, Maybel was already wiping the table, and everybody lined up with the plates. I served the food, and nobody went to the corner with their plate; everybody headed to the table and made a social distance. And they were waiting for me to sit. I was so not expecting it on the first day that I didn’t even realize it right away. It took me nine months the first time around. That is when I came as a volunteer for the first time and had these naive ideas that my love and understanding is enough. Now that I think about it, maybe they are enough. Maybe back then, I simply didn’t have enough love and understanding.

So we sat and talked. We talked about going to the Art Institute as a group, and about the possible Architectural tour, and everybody thanked me for a meal – multiple times. 

Our volunteer coordinator, who joined us for dinner, told me that he knew that I would be the first to come back and that he didn’t doubt.

I don’t know what else to say. These two and a half hours were built of dozens of precious moments. Like when one of the girls turned to me after she tasted salmon and said: it’s so good! And I said: thank you! I am so glad you like it! And then another girl said about me: looks how happy she is! 

I made a promise to myself that I am only doing one volunteering a week until we are done with the book, but I will be coming to ODS every other week. Because we need each other

Today’s Highlights

This post didn’t get published lat nigh for some reason, so now those are yesterday’s highlights, and more details to come),

There were three people at the same time in the office first time since the office is open.

My manager scheduled our next 1-on-1 for the next week in the meeting room, not on Hangouts.

I went to the Art Institute and saw the new Monet Exhibit.

I went to the Youth Shelter first time since February. And we had dinner and the actual convesation.

It started raining in the afternoon, and my feet are wet, and this also didn’t happen for many months. Because I was not walking in a distance from home for many days, weeks and months.

That’s Why We Are Here!

Today’s clinic escort shift was very quiet, almost no antis, when suddenly, we saw a group of athletic-looking men, walking on our side of the street with visible intention to stop by us. We were puzzled for a moment – is it a new group of antis, yet unknown to us? When they reached the first person in the escort line, they stopped and started to reach to their pockets, and we heard: I knew there was something else I forgot! In a couple of seconds, we realized that they saw us in masks and put their masks on. They kept marching to the clinic entrance, and only when they stopped there and started talking again, I realized that there was one smaller figure in jeans and a t-shirt among these athletic males.

“Well, ask them!” said the tallest guy, responding to the question I didn’t hear. The small figure turned to us: “I have no idea where I should go now!” “Do you have an appointment?” our team lead asked, – “then just go in!” (The challenging part is that these days no accompanying person can go into the clinic). The two embraced and said to each other, “just call me when…”

The small figure disappeared in the clinic, and the trio still stood awkwardly, and then one of them said to us: sorry… we just thought we all come, because, you know… in case somebody…

We all laughed, and our shift leader said: no problem, that’s why we are here! And you know – on a quiet day like this one, you wonder – why I am here? What’s the purpose of me standing here in a pink vest? That’s why: because not everybody can bring three bodyguards to accompany them…

A Magic Mug

I signed up to receive a magic mug when I donated to Midwest Access Coalition back in March. At that time, volunteers could not host clients coming to Illinois for abortion (due to COVID restrictions), and I donated money to help place clients in the hotels.
That was back in March, and I completely forgot about the mug. When it arrived yesterday, it took me a while to recall what it was all about, yet along how it works. And it works magically – just pour some hot tea or coffee in it!

Continue reading “A Magic Mug”