The Art Institute And Gelato

It was more for today’s day! After all of the morning /afternoon activities in Palatine, I returned to the city and met the youth from the shelter in the Art Institute.

We were there a month ago, and although some of the youth appeared interested, the field trip was pretty chaotic. I was unsure how things would turn up this time, but to my surprise, seven of the youth showed up, including a couple of folks who were there on our previous Art Institute outing. Another surprising thing was that everybody was very engaged, and we stayed in the museum until it was about to close. I had to answer the same questions they usually ask in Medieval art: where are people of color? And as usual, they shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them that people lived in one town or village throughout their entire lives, and they didn’t know: you mean, they didn’t know there were other places? They thought that people everywhere were like them? 

After the Art Institute, I took everybody to the new gelato place. Some people started to walk forward, and our volunteer coordinator told those still there that I was taking them for gelato. 

— What is gelato?

— It’s a kind of ice cream.

— Ice cream?! Hey, stoop! STOOOP! She is taking us for ice cream!!!! 

We got to the gelato place. When the youth realized they could try multiple flavors, one of the girls asked: can I try all of them?!

The staff of the gelato shop was super-patient, and when the youth got all the flavors they wanted, there was peace, quiet and eternal happiness. 

The South Side

“Do you like the Soth Side?” a young woman in the youth shelter asked me. We talked about her home; she said she is from St. Louis and wants to return there. “What about Chicago?” I asked her. 

– Chicago is my second best. The South Side

-Which places do you like on the South Side?

-It’s not places; I like being there. I like how I feel. It gives me good vibes. People are friendly, and I feel good when I walk there and people say Hi. 

-I like how you said it! It’s very important to feel good vibes!

And then she asked: Do you like South Side? 

She asked with hope in her voice, and I avoided the answer. 

I do not know it enough, although Igor took me to tour the South Side landmarks on multiple occasions. It is a foreign land for me; even though people are indeed nice and friendly, I do not belong there. And this young woman is blissfully ignorant of that. 

I don’t know what to make out of that except for acknowledging the fact..

Thoughts About Volunteering

These days, similar to when Donald Trump was elected, many new volunteer applications are coming in. I know it won’t last long, and we will struggle to fill the shifts again in several months.

Most people who want to volunteer their time to protect abortion rights are people who want to give and who do not expect to be showered with praise for doing it.

However, I still come across volunteers who … I struggle to describe what bothers me; I observed similar behavior before and can’t really put a right world on it. For example, after hearing me talking about MAC hosting, one lady started asking me “whether I ever had any negative experience with clients.” I wanted to tell her that, at the moment, there is a six-month waiting list for MAC volunteers, so she should not bother, but I decided against it.  

I met a couple of other new escorts (I do not want to profile them, though I desperately want :)) who also behaved like their presence there is the best gift; and now it’s OK to sit in a folding chair for most of the shift and talk on the phone and do nothing just when our shifts are becoming more and more stressful. I blogged about similar encounters in the youth shelter before, so that’s no news. It stinks that you can’t filter out such people before they start volunteering. Time is spent training and onboarding them, and other people are waiting, and such volunteers are of no use. 

I also remember how once, when I was blogging in my Russian blog about the youth shelter, some people reacted to my stories as “these youth are ungrateful, demanding, make you feel guilty” and other nonsense of the same kind.

To summarize: people are right when they say that volunteering is rewarding. But it is rewarding not because others say “thank you,” but because you are giving whatever you can to other people or a good cause. Volunteering is a privilege. And even though you try your best to give, nobody is obligated to accept. Giving is rewarding, not hearing “thank you” in return (although it’s always nice to hear :)).

The Night Ministry

May and June ended up being quite unproductive in terms of my volunteering at the Open Door Shelter. There were some blackout dates from my side, but also, our volunteer coordinator was out for a while, and he didn’t leave any backup. Not only did I end up having fewer activities planned, but even some planned activities were canceled because of a lack of coordination. Last week, he told me they would have a celebration for the high school graduates and order food, and why I won’t come and hang out with them. It was not the greatest idea, partially because I came earlier, way earlier, and there were no organized activities, and I could not organize food preparation because it was not planned :). Folks kept approaching me and asking why we were not cooking, why they were not told, etc. I had a couple of very good conversations, but overall, I felt very much displaced.

Later, I walked into the volunteers’ coordinator’s office and told him: let’s put several days on the calendar for July. This was done, and he said it was all his fault that May and June were like they were :). I told him he does not have a failover strategy:). There was one young woman with whom we bonded instantaneously the first time we met, and now he was crying that she would be gone by July and how she would never have my soup again:). I told her that I was sure we would see each other again if she would really want.

In some sense, it proved to be true on Monday. The Night Ministry had a benefit event, and I was invited. The event took place in the Museum of Contemporary Art and was pretty grand. Everybody was excited to get together in person again!

After I registered, I proceeded to the staircase to the second floor where the event took place, and one of the ushers (who was the Night Ministry staff and knew me) greeted me: Hi Ms. Henrietta! And immediately, I heard from the other side: OMG, that’s Ms. Henrietta! I turned around, and it took me some time to recognize the young man. Partially because we hadn’t seen each other for several years, but partially because I was absolutely sure I won’t ever see him again.

I met him in ODS several years ago, and his personality impressed me greatly. It was one of these cases when I am not sure who is teaching whom, and I am absolutely sure that I receive more than I give.

He was kicked out of ODS for rules breaking, so we could not even say goodbyes properly. Later, we met at one benefit event when he became a member of a youth group working together with the Nigh Ministry. We started talking, but another guest interrupted our conversation, and we ended up not exchanging the phone numbers. And then the pandemic happened.

This time, the first thing he said when I turned to him was: I need to get your phone number! I was a little bit worried that we will get lost again, but we found each other closer to the end of the event. We shared our news, exchanged phone numbers, and agreed that the stars were aligned in our favor:).

Some pictures from the event:

Live auction
On the way back

Homeless Turning To CTA For Shelter

I hear it a lot: how unsafe the CTA has become during the pandemic, especially the Red line. Not only do I hear about that, but I also see all the homeless people, especially when I happen to take a very early morning train.

I believe this article in Tribune provides very in-depth coverage of the problem describing measures already taken and some immediate plans.

As usual, copying the text here.

Continue reading “Homeless Turning To CTA For Shelter”

Homelessness

Because of my volunteering with homeless individuals, I immediately notice whether the situation there is better or worse than in Chicago each time I visit other cities. And if it is better, I wonder what these cities are doing better and what we could do in Chicago.

I think about this each time I visit Helsinki, but it was even more pronounced this time. I went to clinic escort on Saturday morning, and I had to go to the earliest shift because I was leaving the same day. It was the first time I ever ook the Red Line as early as 5-15 AM, and the first two cars were pretty much “sleeping cars” – I didn’t even try to get in and move to the third car right away. The next day, I read a letter of complaint from some North Side residents about the homeless encampment and how “they have too many defendants, like the Night Ministry…”

I understand people’s frustration, but I also know that, unfortunately, we do not have any solution in Chicago. It’s great, that the homeless problem in Helsinki is almost non-existent, and I wonder whether we will ever be close to that…

ODS Christmas Party

This year, the Night Ministry decided against the large Christmas party as we used to have in the Church – for the residents of all different programs. However, each program had its own party.

I can’t really tell whether I like it more or less this way (to be honest, I think the food was not of the best quality and variety in comparison with the previous years). But it was still fun, and my cookies were very much appreciated, although the residents kept asking when I will come to make Mom’s soup 🙂

At The Night Ministry

I mentioned this young mother from the shelter before. T. was the one who told me one night when I was about to leave: Ms. Henrietta, do you know that you need to be here every night? And I told her that I knew, and if I had seven lives, my one life would be in the shelter every night. 

And then there was another time when she was very harsh with her 3-year-old daughter, and I wanted to interfere but felt strongly that we were not close enough yet for me to interfere. The only suggestion I made was to help a little girl stop crying by putting damp clothes on her face. 

Later that evening, T. came over to me and asked when I would come next time and what we would cook. She wanted to try to make borshch, and I told her that we would need to make two soups because not everybody likes beets, and she said she was up to the challenge.

We walked to the volunteer coordinator and asked him what day I could come, and he said – November 2. I asked her: will you survive until November 2? and she nodded.

Out volunteer coordinator took a short vacation right before November 2, and on November 1, his flight got canceled. He messaged me in the morning that we would need to cancel and asked whether I could come Wednesday or Thursday. I had something on both days, and I told him I would come next week. 

That day was yesterday. I came in, put my backpack down, and asked the staff whether the produce was in the kitchen. He replied: I have bad news for you: one is that we have no cabbage. I started saying that they should have told me and I could pick it up and it should not be last-minute shopping, and well, we will make borshch another time, I just promised T… He continued: and another bad news is that T. is not here anymore.

It was not that I was shocked. I said: that’s really bad news, not like I am surprised, but… what happened? He replied: she was discharged for acting violently. 

I know that our program’s success rate is low if you judge not by the number of youth placed into jobs and got their housing, so for T., it might not work anyway. Still, I feel that I was so close to being able to help her, and I didn’t.

***

I came home very late and went to check for mail. I saw a Thanksgiving card from the Night Ministry in my mailbox – the one they send every year for all staff, donors, and volunteers. I took the card out and opened it quickly to read a message from the Vice President – I knew she would add a couple of her personal words as she always does. To my surprise, I read: Hettie, what a beautiful picture of you! Then, I turned the card the other way and saw that I was indeed featured on this year’s Thanksgiving card!  

An honor and a gift for me