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

The Salmon Soup Triumph.

When I was at ODS last time, we talked briefly about “doing something new, ” and I had two ideas about what it could be. One of these ideas was Finnish salmon soup, and that’s what we decided to try today.

Now, as much as I love salmon soup, I never tried to reproduce it at home, although I had a recipe from my friend Natasha. The task seemed a little bit challenging, especially because I had to multiply the recipe by four (for 16 people instead of 4).

It was a smashing success! Several folks helped me, and when I looked at the pot, I knew that everything came together perfectly.

Everybody praised the soup endlessly, and everybody was coming for seconds and thirds. The youth asked to make the same soup again next time, promising they will never get tired of it 🙂

How Was The Week

There has been a lot of work at my actual work in recent days – one of these weeks when you can’t lift your but off the chair. In addition, I started to resume some activities which got off my radar during the previous week. I remembered that I didn’t finish several professional-non-work-related things and put them back into my plans. I went to see the “Hadestown” in the CIBC Theater – great production, but I could not get fully engaged being in the state of mind I was. I am much better today, though. 

On Thursday, I went to the Shelter: the volunteers are finally back in March, so it was my second time after another pandemic break, and I sincerely hope it was the last one! We did a “make your own pizza” activity. The crusts were pre-baked, so the youth just had to assemble the toppings. Only about half of the residents participated, but this is a pretty good turnout! One more time, I am developing new relationships, and I hope that not everybody will disappear when I am back in April. 

And it was a great week at work! I can’t stop smiling, recalling some conversations with my co-workers; these conversations helped me get back to reality and the problems I was trying to solve three weeks ago. This week, the client I had was a true dream client, a pleasure to work with, so I am finishing the week more energized than tired. 

I hope to keep the same level of energy all weekend long :). It will not be easy having the upcoming cold spell, but I will do my best. 

Tulips from my neighbor

A Slightly Dramatic Cookies Decoration

On Monday, we were decorating Christmas cookies in the ODS. It was a very dramatic story. First, since I was coming from home rather than the office, I was somewhat late (I can never calculate the time correctly). What was worse – when I transferred to the Blue line, I saw that I had to wait for 14 minutes until the next train. Unfortunately, the train got delayed even more and then more, and I ended up coming 50 minutes later than I planned.
The next thing I learned was that the oven was broken. It turned out that it was not broken entirely, it’s just that the door was not staying closed, so I had to watch it all the time. I had some baked cookies with me, which I baked at home, so we could start decorating them right away.
The cookies in the oven didn’t turn out very well either. That oven does not bake evenly even on its best days, so even when you use a small baking sheet, the further side is burned, and the from is undercooked, but with the broken door, it was even worse. I destroyed almost the entire first batch!
Then, one of the girls who really wanted to decorate was not there (I knew she had a class, so the fact that I came later left no chances. Many people were not interested and/or wanted to eat undecorated cookies right away 🙂

We ended up making some really nice ones, but I was so frustrated that I didn’t even take pictures! Oh well, next time!

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