When I put out my blog post on the Project Homeless Connect, it was mainly concerned with covering the event itself – giving an idea of the sort of service projects and activities that average Americorps members find themselves “volunteered” for during their year of service.
But any event like this has two sides to it, the public and the private. My previous post covered the public part of the experience. This one will talk about the private side of it all, what it was actually like to participate.
Just up front, let me say this – as with all such events I’ve been included in, from Blitz Builds to mid-term conferences, I had a freakin’ ball. I don’t know why people shy away from volunteering, thinking it’s just a day of unpaid drudgery, because I always end up having the time of my life at these things and am always a little let down to see them end.
Of course, I have a very “public friendly” side to my personality that comes out in these sorts of situations, which doesn’t hurt. And it’s a bit weird, because the other side of me is pretty heavily “pull up the drawbridge and lower the portcullis” when it comes to socializing. It’s all or nothing with me, I guess.
At this event, I was able to turn on this public persona, and in that setting I love to meet new people – talk to them, hear their stories, share mine and just really get into the whole “everyone is a potential new friend” groove. One thing that always amazes my family is how the normally hermitacious me can start conversations (and not just small talk, but intense, personal discussions that have real depth and meaning) with perfect strangers, just about anywhere – grocery store lines, libraries, doctor’s lobbies – pretty much anywhere people have time on their hands.
So, anyway, I did that. And I met some new friends, both from the pool of volunteers and the homeless folks we were serving. One volunteer I met during the orientation and I sort of mutually decided to work together for the extent of the event, sharing a table, watching each other’s stuff during bio-breaks and food runs, slapping high fives after helping someone and getting to know each other. Turns out we’re in the same field – copywriting, my “day job” – and have a lot of other things in common, and enough differences, to make for a day’s worth of fun, interesting “getting to know you” conversation.
I got to hear the stories of the folks we were serving, including some very unhappy endings that just make you want to shake your head and get your hands on the idiots who did the bad deeds, as well as some happier tales that made you want to just skip around in happiness. Usually, it was a little of both.
I saw folks getting fed, cared for, clothed, pampered and loaded up with the resources they’ll need to get off the streets and into a home. I saw independent types who were able to get just what they wanted and needed and no more, without judgment or condescension. I saw the mentally ill treated with respect, the addicted treated with concern and the needed treated with dignity.
At the end of one orientation and form-filling process, the gentleman my new friend and I were helping thanked us for the blessing of our help. In turn, I thanked him for the blessing of being allowed to be of service to another. Our eyes met and in that instant we both saw through the labels of “helped” and “helper” to the human being, and to the divine, within.
And that, my friends, is the true definition of connection.