The Disappearance of Volunteering

This week was a week of thing falling apart. Ok, maybe not falling apart, but shutting down, with speed I could not imagine. It’s true that two weeks ago we lived in a different country and a different world.

We were ordered to work from home last Thursday night. The four of us still showed up in the office on Friday, for a variety of reasons, including one co-worker who was off on Thursday and didn’t check corporate emails:).

I wrote about the rapid museums and cultural venues closers, which followed. I was able to catch “the last of” most of them. And no matter how much my mind can understand the necessity of closers, my soul weeps.

As I’ve already mentioned, I went to escort last Saturday. It didn’t go great, and I promised to return when it is warmer. A woman with two boys stopped her car by the clinic and came out with a huge box of Girl Scout cookies – that’s for you guys! Each of us picked one:).

Continue reading “The Disappearance of Volunteering”

The State of the United States

I don’t understand how officials of all ranks issue their orders without even thinking about the consequences—both for the economy in general and for each person.

I can’t imagine the impact on the entertainment/catering/restaurant business. All so sudden and so abrupt. I talked to Vlad yesterday; he said he would be fine, but he worries about other employees in the bar, people who are paid hourly wages, and who now will get no paid time off, and no tips. That is such a significant portion of the country’s population! They have no safety net, no savings. When I was talking to Vlad, just twenty hours ago, he was saying that the closing will only apply to bars and restaurants, that the fast-food cafes will stay open – not anymore!

I do not understand how people are expected to manage: schools are closed, daycare facilities closed, and you should not ask grandparents to babysit, and you are still supposed to work. And some are not even allowed to work from home.

Last week I was saying that the world is canceled. But I was optimistic – this week, it is even more so now. I could not even imagine how many things could be canceled. Most of my volunteering is canceled, including the youth shelter; they do not reply to my emails, although they sent a generic email about preventive measures. I do not want to think that I was the only person who answered that I could come. The Forest preserve volunteering was canceled last weekend, which made me mad – ten people outside – really? The weather was bad anyway, but I was still upset with the fact itself. The only volunteering which is keeping the schedule is Clinic escorts. I went to escort on Saturday. It was a bad idea because it was cold, and I do not tolerate the cold when I need to stand in one place. But I felt I needed to do at least something good.

Continue reading “The State of the United States”

Saying Goodbyes at the ODS

Yesterday, a big group of youth from the Open Door Shelter was “graduating.” It is always a happy moment when somebody can start a new chapter in their life.


Sometimes an individual leave the program by just not coming back one evening. And it’s not much you can do. This individual was just not ready for a change yet. It’s different when somebody is leaving because they are being transitioned to the long-term program or if somebody got a housing option. It is very happy. They can have their place; they can start the new page in their lives. But it’s also sad because almost always you won’t see this person agai

Two years ago, one young woman told me: I am very thankful for the program, but I am so happy that I am getting out of here! And I understand that. Almost always the young people won’t reach back, because they want to go ahead with their lives.

I had several in-depth conversations yesterday, which I am not going to share because they were very personal. I am touched and honored that these young people trust me enough to share their thoughts and desires. I hope that they all will do great.

That was a wonderful group of residents, and I will miss then the same as many others. Next week, there will be all new people, how do not know who is Ms. Henrietta, and who never tried Mom’s Soup, baked salmon, and chicken strips. Who hasn’t been to the Art Institute or the skating rink with me. And once again, there will be months of work to build trust. Good thing – I know that things can work out, and I am not afraid of starting all over

Life is Still Crazy

This week was even worse than previous. Although I work through most of the weekend, I didn’t have enough time to prepare for all of the training I wanted to run this week in the office. Thereby I constrained myself to not doing anything, except necessities, and spend each and a single minute I had “extra” on the training development. 

I didn’t help much (maybe partially because, in reality, I was doing something extra, like going to the performance of Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra on Tuesday). So now, at 11:15 PM, I have a little bit more than half of tomorrow’s training ready. I’ve already booked 2.5 hours tomorrow morning to complete it, but I am ashamed of myself. 

Still, today after work as was at the Open Door Shelter. Last week, a group of youth from the Open Door Shelter had a field trip to the Christkindle Market, and I asked to message me when they will be close – my work is just a block away. We had a really great time at the market. One of the girls mentioned how much she loves German potato pancakes, and I told her we can make them next time. 

Today was the next time:), and we peeled and grated 10 lb of potatoes, and made beautiful potato pancakes. And I had truly amazing conversations with some of the youth. And when I was walking out of the shelter, thinking about these conversations and smiling, I felt that this is something I can never let to disappear from my life… 

A Letter from the Night Ministry CEO

As most of my friends know, I am a long-time friend and supporter of the Night Ministry – an organization that provides food, shelter, medical services, and emotional support for the homeless population of Chicagoland.

Below is the email I received as a Night Ministry supporter several days ago. I have nothing to add to it, except of now, since the president is going to deny a health coverage for millions of people … time for another post, but first – email.

Continue reading “A Letter from the Night Ministry CEO”

About Homeless, Internet, Cellphones, and What is a Necessity

When Igor told me about this event, I was surprised I didn’t know anything about this program, and if you think about it, it’s a great idea. And by “idea,” I do not mean the MediaLabs, I mean the discounted internet access. Igor’s article says:

The Internet Essentials program offers qualified customers to get 15 megabits per second of Internet use (an average Internet speed for most American households), for a little over $10 a month. The program also lets customers buy discounted desktop and laptops for around $150. Customers can also receive free classes on Internet literacy, basic skills, and useful tips for getting into college or applying for a GED.

Originally, Internet Essentials was only open to families of students who receive free or reduced lunches. It was subsequently expanded to families that either live in public housing developments or receive Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, as well as college students eligible for Pell grants and low-income veterans.  

Now, Comcast opened eligibility to any resident who receive Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Medicaid; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Low Income Home Energy Assistance; Supplemental Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; and WIC. 

I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that internet access is no longer a luxury, or entertainment, or something you can save on. The internet has become a vital necessity, comparable with food and housing. And it’s great that organizations are starting to recognize that fact.

I often hear comments about homeless people with cellphones. For some reason, when people spot a cellphone in the hands of a homeless person on the street, they immediately think that this person is not really poor, but just pretending. But it is very far from being true.

In fact, many organizations work on collecting used cellphones to donate them to disadvantaged people, including the homeless. Those people, even more than others, need to be informed. Where hey can get assistance. What’s the weather is going to be. I lost count how many times I was trying to explain to somebody how they can find a Night Ministry bus. The stops vary by day, and not everybody is familiar with all the city neighborhoods. 

We often take these things for granted and saying, “it’s easy to look up!” while it is not really that easy. At least not for everybody.

And while I am on the subject of homelessness, I also wanted to paste here an article, which appeared in Chicago Tribune about three weeks ago. I copied its text because the ability to access the Chicago Tribune content is limited, especially outside the US. And the reason I wanted to paste this text here is, that this is one of the subjects of which the general population is so often unaware. 

Same as those folks who commute to work by train every day do not know, that there is a Family Planning clinic just two blocks from the train station, and antis are going wild there. Same as many people do not understand why a student can’t buy a registration for a professional conference to be reimbursed later. Same way as twenty years ago, people would say they never met a homosexual person in their lives. 

The same way people often do not understand how close to them is the homelessness. Here comes the article. 

Continue reading “About Homeless, Internet, Cellphones, and What is a Necessity”

Making a Difference

It happened so that in August, I was able to come to ODS to cook dinner for three weeks in a row. And it opened me a completely new experience. When I first started coming to ODS, I was told that I could be flexible and come there when I have time. That was one of the reasons I chose this program -I thought I would be able to fit my activities in whenever. I can write volumes about how I started to come to the ODS (Open Door Shelter) and how I was slowly winning the trust of the residents, about all the ups and downs.

As for the flexibility, I was never required from me to come with a specific frequency or on certain days of the week. But then I started to hear the “old” residents telling the new ones “she is coming every week.” And when we were trying to film “a cooking show” a boy posing as a show host would say to the camera: Our friend Ms. Henrietta is coming every week. I also hated it when I was not able to tell the youth when I am coming next time. I knew that some of them would be gone by my next time, and a half of the others will forget what I said, but I hated this moment when they would go: oh, whenever you have time! We appreciate you coming …

Continue reading “Making a Difference”

Is Using Public Spaces A Privilege?

Yesterday, I read a comment on Instagram about the homeless people gathering in the Main Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The past several weeks had been extremely hot. During the most scorching days, I would walk out of the office with a big water bottle and a stack of paper cups, so that if I saw somebody on the street, I would be able to give them a drink of water before urging to go inside.

Thankfully, I barely saw anybody – people were smart to find refuge in multiple public spaces, and I am so glad they did. Fortunately, public libraries in the big cities have always been dubbed as day shelters, both in extreme cold and extreme heat. And after seeing a movie Cooked , I could not be more thankful for that.

I am struggling to write anything else on the subject. I can’t wrap my head around this cruel comment about homeless people “contaminating” the beautiful building. Why do some people think that if they are “more presentable”, or pay more taxes, they are “more valuable” for society and thus are entitled to access public spaces more than others? When I commented that I am glad that people are in the library, not outside, I’ve got a reply that there are shelters. This statement sounded for me no better than segregation, when some people “deserve” to be at certain places, while others don’t.

Later the same day I was at the Open Door Shelter of the Night Ministry, where I volunteer regularly cooking with the youth. And after the meal was washed away (everybody loved my baked salmon), we had a great conversation. There were some young people whom I met previously, and also one more young man with whom I never talked before. I was so impressed by his intelligence and the dignity he carried himself. It just happened that we got into discussing racial profiling and stereotypes. I do not start this type of conversation by myself when I am in the ODS, but funny enough he said something to which I’ve reacted – this is a generalization! He laughed, and we continued talking.

As an immigrant, I did have my share of prejudgements towards me, and I learned half – not to pay attention, half – to accept it as a fact of life. And I have tremendous respect for people who do not become upset or bitter when they are faced with prejudgement and maintain the sense of their worth and self-respect.

I was walking back to the CTA station with the sense that this day was worth living:)

The Importance Of Human Connections

On Tuesday, I was attending the Night Ministry Lighting Up The Night event. That was the first time I was invited; it is a big fundraiser, with a fancy dinner and both silent and live auctions, in which I did not participate. It was interesting to see people I got to know through different volunteering events at a very different kind of event, in fancy clothes :).

Geoffrey Baer from WTTW was an emcee for this event, and in the very beginning, he talked about human connections. That’s what the Night Ministry is about: not just providing food and medical care, but also providing companionship and an opportunity to connect with others.

At the start of the event, we were asked to take a piece of paper which was put on the right side of each plate and to write down a name of a person, with whom we talk most often, with whom we can discuss things, which are essential for us. And then to fold this piece of paper and put it away. Later through the course of the event, there were more stories of people who managed to get their lives back on track, and all of them were talking not just about The Night Ministry, but about particular people, who helped them along the way.

Other speakers were citing the numbers from different surveys and researches, which indicate that being lonely might be very dangerous to your health, cause heart diseases, high blood pressure, and other conditions.

And a little bit later Geoffrey Baer retook the podium and said: “And now look at this name you’ve written on a piece of paper earlier, and think how would you feel without this person in your life. And think about the fact that many homeless people would have no name to write on this piece of paper.”

I was thinking about this. And I was also thinking, that this is precisely the thing I am doing with my blogging, and also that with most of my volunteering activities I am doing just this – giving people support at the time they need it most. Talking to the youth in the shelter. Escorting patients to an abortion clinic. Blogging about difficult parenting situations. Even with my political activism, I value canvassing the most, because I know that nothing can influence people more than a real-live conversation. Eye-to-eye. Heart-to-heart.

When they asked all volunteers to stand up, I was so proud to be standing there are receiving the audience ovation. And when they were mentioning “volunteers, who come and cook with the youth,” my neighbor was pushing my elbow: this is about you! And I’ve smiled back: yes!

I was in Madison WI this weekend, celebrating my granddaughter’s second birthday, and when we were slowly walking around the Capitol Square, my granddaughter almost ran into a group of homeless people seating on the edge of a flowerbed. They have admired little Nadia and asked whether Anna is her mother, and then all of us got engaged in a conversation. A little bit later, when we were on our way back after dropping off my mother in the hotel, we ran into one of these guys again.

Anna said: look, Nadia, it’s the same person we talked to before. And he said: yes, my name is Robert! And Anna chatted with him for a little bit more, while he was following us, and amidst all “nice talking to you,” he started crying and changed his trajectory. For him, this human connection, the fact that we were talking to him like to an equal person meant a world more than a box of leftover mac & cheese Anna has handed him at the beginning of the conversation.

And I have nothing else to add.