Yesterday, I was volunteering in the youth shelter and experienced a situation that had never happened in all seven years of my volunteering. The boyfriend of one of the residents of the transitional living program (that’s not the program I volunteer for, but in the same building) can to the entrance threatening residents with a knife.
I should mention that the day before, I emailed our volunteer coordinator with a concern that I had a very low engagement level with the residents recently. During these past seven years, I experienced all sorts of dynamics. There would be days when the engagement would be low, especially when there were many new people, but the current situation went on for a very long time without signs of improvement. Throughout all these years, I came and cooked together with the residents. Even if their participation was limited, we had a chance to chat and develop relationships. Recently, it was not that some days were worse than others, but it was constantly not working: I asked our coordinator whether he had any suggestions for improving the situation. We agreed to have a brainstorming session, but not on that day – the residents would go to the trampoline park after dinner.
I should also mention that an assistant coordinator scheduled a “build your taco” dinner. I have complicated relationships with Mexican cuisine and know nothing about making tacos.
It all started like any other dinner recently: only one person was interested in making tacos with me. One staff member added spices to my skillet, where I cooked the ground beef. A couple of other residents approached the kitchen and assembled their tacos, I was about to call it yet another failure, and then that happened.
There was some motion, and I heard people asking why they couldn’t go to the second floor, and nobody was leaving for the trampoline park as planned. And then I learned about the guy with the knife and that we all have to stay inside and not go anywhere, including me!
The situation remained quite tense for the next hour. Police was called, they came (not very fast), and searched this guy, but didn’t find a weapon (as many commented, most likely, he threw the knife into the bushes by the church, but nobody searched there). Then he walked away, and I had hoped I could leave, but he reappeared (we watched the surveillance camera footage).
In the end, the volunteer coordinator walked me out of the building using one of the emergency exits (it was another challenge for me to find my way :)), and it was scary because he tried one exit and didn’t feel it was far enough/secure enough.
But – we had a terrific bonding time! More residents came to make tacos, and people tried their favorite spices, and I told them I loved theirs’ better, which was true. We talked and talked and shared who we are and where we are from and planned three more activities!
So it looks like it just took a near-hostage situation to resolve our participation and communication issues!