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