Open Door Shelter

I was in the youth shelter on Tuesday. This time, the volunteer coordinator asked me whether I would do the “make your own pizza” activity with the youth.

I didn’t make my own pizza for twenty years, but I realized right away what a fun activity it could be. I quickly googled all the proportions which I already forgot and supplemented them with my pizza-making memories.

Everything went fabulous, and apparently, seven pizzas were not enough :).
It was very touching that the youth thanked me, though it was nothing about me this time around. And closer to the end of the activity one young woman told me: you should come here every day! I told her that I was very touched, and if I had seven lives, one of these lives would be devoted to coming to the shelter every night…

The Night Ministry: What Can We Do Better?

Last Tuesday, I participated in a focus group for the volunteers for the Night Ministry. Two days later, I was at the ODS making dinner for a suddenly shrunk population. I was chatting with the volunteer coordination and other staff members in the process, and it seemed like a continuation of Tuesday’s focus group.
One of the questions we were asked was the following: suppose the Night Ministry would have unlimited resources, how should they be allocated? What would you do first?

My response was that the staffing is the most critical part. It’s not much that volunteers can do without the support of the staff. I know what a difference it makes in the residents’ level of participation depending on who is covering the shift. The staff turnaround is high. In some cases, it might be good when the people who do not have genuine compassion and willingness to work with the youth leave. However, I think more efforts should be made to attract and retain the best people who can make a meaningful difference in the lives of the youth. It would be great if the program would be expanded and serve more young adults, but even with hypothetical unlimited money for salaries and training, the right people are not easy to find. During our conversation in the shelter, we recalled some periods when we had people on staff that should not be there in the first place. And we recalled some young individuals with a lot of potentials, which required a lot of attention from the staff.

We started to talk about the youth we met in the shelter, and it was a long list! We wondered whether everything turned out fine for them and whether they were able to stay on their jobs and not end up on the streets again.

That’s another thing I talked about during the focus group. I know that the youth who graduate from the program want to forget about that period of their lives. I remember one girl telling me: I am very thankful for the program, but I cant’ wait to get out of here!

That means that most of the time, former residents do not want to come back and let us know how they are doing. I think it would be great to have some social services that would allow us to follow up with the program graduates and help them with their everyday challenges. Even for a successful young adult, settling in their first apartment and figuring out the budget is not an easy task. The support should be flexible and should not stop abruptly after a person receives their apartment keys.

During the focus group, one of the volunteers mentioned that the training was great, but then when he went on the field for the first time, it was hard because he could not establish any contact for a while. I told him that nothing was wrong with him, that it’s all expected, and if anything, I believe the training should be adjusted to explain to the new volunteers that the transition is difficult. Later in the shelter, we talked about some volunteers who come with the firm belief that they are doing other people a huge favor and want to “share their wisdom” with even asking whether anybody is interested :).

So, why did ten people had to leave the program just the day before I came? Because they were involved in major misconduct (I do not want to share any details, even anonymously). And here is another question: yes, the rules are the rules, and it is essential that young adults who want to participate in the program follow the rules. And if they don’t, it means that they are not ready. But how can we help these young people to get ready to make changes in their lives? And is it even possible?

I do not know that, but I will be in the shelter again next week, and I hope that it will make at least a little bit of a difference in somebody’s life.

Back To ODS

On Tuesday, I was finally back to the Open Door Shelter – the first time since October. I could come in May, but we could not find the time between myself and their volunteer coordinator. We’ve rescheduled a couple of times, and finally, it happened!

I can’t even describe my feelings! It was not just “good,” it was perfect! We clicked with the residents right away, and they were not shy talking to me.

We made “Mom’s soup,” and almost magically, all things were in their right places, all the ingredients were purchased, and even the lid from the big pot was not missing! And we talked and talked, and made plans on what we will cook next time, and when we can go to the Art Institute together… I am starting to feel like a whole person 🙂

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

Online Activities

There have been a lot of online activities recently, so many that sometimes I have to choose which one to attend – almost like in the previous life. 

Yoga. After I started to take yoga classes with my old teacher, I found out that LifeStart – the fitness franchise we have in our office building – is streaming a lot of free classes including yoga with my second-favorite instructor, and they are all free. I signed up for the first one on Wednesday, and it was great. Now I signed for one more on Friday:). I will still keep the semi-private class with my old teacher on Mondays, and this way, my life will be yoga-complete!

ArtsWFMT Classical radio station always had a lot to offer, but now they started something new – Maestro’s Choice. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, WFMT and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have partnered to launch a new six-program broadcast series. Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has curated the programs. It runs every Tuesday from 8 PM to 10 PM. Last Tuesday, the first piece performed was Shostakovich Second Cello Concerto, Ricardo Muti conducting, Yo-Yo-Ma – cello solo. It was amazing, and the sound is so good – you feel like you are at the Orchestra Hall! I was doing some work and listening to music – something I used to do in the past, but haven’t done for a very long time!

Also, the Siskel Center started to stream some of their programs. I bought tickets for two movies so far. They are good for several days, so I might end up watching them, no matter how busy I am at work. 

Volunteering. Our volunteer coordinator in the Open Door Shelter reached out to the volunteers asking whether we will be interested in doing some online activities with the kids. I answered – YES! We are still in the process of planning, but meanwhile, I listened to the press conference with the Night Ministry representatives about the work they are doing right now, how the services were modified, what the challenges are, and how we can help. 

Professional Development. Surprisingly, professional online activities were less interesting than others, but I finally figured out zoom, purchased a professional subscription, and scheduled the April meetup of Chicago PUG online. Good for me 🙂

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:).

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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…