Lots Of Happy News

I just learned that the staff and clients of the Night Ministry are vaccinated as a part of phase 1B, and many of them have received their first dose already. The volunteer coordinator emailed us that we should expect the update soon. I hope that this means that we won’t have to wait till the end of March to resume in-person volunteering. I can’t wait to make “Mama’s soup” in the ODS:).

For the past week, I was jealously looking at my Europen friends’ Instagram posts with the first early spring flowers emerging, with the first patches of green grass and lots of sunshine.

It looks like finally, we see the end of winter here, in Illinois. It was 46F today and lots of sunshine.
On top of this happy news, the Lakefront space will be open soon, almost a year after it was closed. The playgrounds and indoor swimming are also starting to reopen.

Next week, I am planning to go to the rt Institute first time after the last closure in the fall, and also, I am going to do escorting for the first time in a while. That’s mostly because I do not tolerate the cold weather well enough to escort during the freezing temperature, not because of any restrictions.

Overall, it really feels like a new beginning:)

Suspended Volunteering

Today, I received an email from our volunteers’ coordinator at the ODS saying that all volunteering will be suspended till the end of March. Those were excruciating news. Although, when I was at the ODS last time, which was just nine days ago, I thought that the activities might be suspended for some time, but I honestly thought it would be till mid-December at the most.

Now the activities are shut down for almost five months. And now I am thinking about every minute of last Tuesday, how it was usual: you want to go? – I do not want, but I need to. And now I think that I should have stayed longer, although I know that thirty minutes extra won’t make up for the five months ahead. 

I waved and waved, and I was saying: I will be back! I am not sure when, but I will be back. And now, for so many of the youth, it will be –  never

For Our Victory!

Tuesdays ended up being the last day for many things. It was the last day of this unusual stretch of warm weather, and the last day of dining out – the indoor dining is banned in Chicago for now, and I do not thing it will be realistic to sit outdoors in winter.

I met with Vlad to celebrate the elections victory – since Saturday, we were talking about drinking champaign :). And so we did it on Tuesday:

After work, I went to the ODS. That was the time, when we weather started turning to the cold sharply, with tornado warning, and the winds blowing crazy, and the thunderstorm, and the temperature dropping 40F in the course of three hours. We cooked dinner, and had great conversations. Afterwards, I talked to the volunteer coordinator, and we shared our mutual feeling that we might go on lockdown again, with the cases being so hight. So we decided not to make any further plans, until we know.

We are not on the lockdown formally, but the Illinois Department of Public Health asks everybody to stay at home for the next three weeks, which I am going to oblige. I am going to the office today, just to pick up food which I left in the fridge, and then, I guess, next time will be only after the Thanksgiving. It is very sad, but you know what – I can’t say that I am better than others, and the ask is not related to me. It’s for everybody.

A Field Trip To The Art Institute

(It is a very long post, but I want to record my memories of that day)

On Thursday. we had the best-ever field trip to the Art Institute. The best in almost four years that I volunteer at the Open Door Shelter!

When I came to cook dinner the first time after “the start of everything,” we discussed what we can do outside the shelter, and I said that we could do the Art Institute and see the new Monet Exhibit. I also suggested a couple of other things, but this one was embraced immediately.

Remembering all out previous Art Institute outings, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm but held a pinch of skepticism. It happened before that when it is time to go, the youth forget, or just do not want to get out of the house, or whatever. I remember all delays in departure, losing people on the way there and back.

This time around, being late was not an option. I was not even sure how to secure our place in line for a Monet exhibit for the future date. A week after our conversation in the ODS, which was a week before our Art Institute outing, I went there during my lunch break, trying to see more of the exhibit and finding out what my options are for next Thursday.

Continue reading “A Field Trip To The Art Institute”

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