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”

Deer Grove at It’s Best

This weekend, I spent a lot of time in Deer Grove Forest Preserve.On Saturday morning, I went out for a workday with Friends of Deer Grove. We were cutting the heads of reed canary grass, which is an invasive plant.

On Sunday, I took mom for a walk, and since it was not as hot as for the previous two weeks, she was able to walk for the longer time. I was looking for the black raspberry, hoping that I could pick some, but it is still just starting to ripe, so I need to wait for at least another week. When me and mom stepped a little bit away from the path to see the water lilies closer, we saw a deer! I come across them almost every time I bike in the morning, but it is unusual to see one at the bright daylight. And Mom saw a deer in the wild for the first time!

Continue reading “Deer Grove at It’s Best”

Another Long Day…

Once again, way too many things happened today. Some were good, some – very satisfying, some funny, and some sad.

And because I do not feel like writing about the sad things at the moment, I will put here several pictures from the forest preserve. First, the ones I took on Friday early morning, when I was biking.

Continue reading “Another Long Day…”

Escorting During Pandemic

Today, I went to the clinic escort for the second time after our activities were resumed.

Look at our cool new masks!

Now, we do not throw our vests back to the common pile; we take our vests home and bring them back for the next shift. I like it, because now I always have my XS size, and do not need to search for it in the bag! We can’t share food anymore, and we can’t take food from our supporters, but that’s OK.

Since we are in the Pride Week (although events are canceled), there were people in the Pride gear biking on the streets, and they were cheering us. Also, there was one funny episode. A couple passed by, looking attentively at us, antis, the doors of the clinic, and the folding sign, which is explaining the bubble zone. And then the man said: I get it now! You are the good guys! We cheered: you got it right! 

Most of the antis do not wear masks. Our shift leader asked the lady in the middle: I heard you said that your mother has cancer, and you are visiting her. Yet, you do not wear a mask… For which she replied: Oh, she does not wear a mask either! 

What can I say?!

Volunteering Together

For the first time since March,  Friends of Deer Grove had a workday, not a “solo volunteering activity.” I was delighted to receive a message earlier this week that the workdays will be resumed!

We pulled garlic mustard in one of the areas which were not scouted for the invasives that season. The weather was just right, and it was easy to pull out the garlic mustard gigantic plants. When you look at the pictures from the middle of the woods, it seems like everything is green and greener. In real life, there are hundreds of shades of green, and the surrounding looks gorgeous. 

It seems like “green on green,” but the pods of the garlic mustard plants are easy to spot
Volunteers in the woods 🙂
Continue reading “Volunteering Together”