The True Environment
I was a VISTA volunteer (what is now Americorps) for two years after I graduated from college. My assignment was to create a grantwriting process for a homelessness and anti-poverty organization. During those two years, I also served meals in the soup kitchen, gave out food baskets in the food pantry, and assisted in the two homeless shelters run by the organization.
I saw desperation and hopelessness and dead ends. I saw people get shot on the sidewalk and 2 year old kids running around barefoot at 1 in the morning.
But I also saw abundance in action. Children getting fed, the homeless getting healthcare, and people living a difference in service to others. The best example of abundance in action is the story of Geraldo, second youngest n a family of 4 who had traveled from shelter to shelter before staying at the Broderick House, where I worked. From the beginning, this family was special to me. Despite the streets, despite the depression of their mom, these kids were happy. When they left the shelter to move into their permanent apartment, it was a bittersweet day filled with the excitement of moving on, but also the fear of letting go.
Last year I ran into Geraldo at the local mall at Christmas. The mall was crammed with frenzied, last minute shoppers searching for the perfect gift. Somehow I heard this voice calling my name. I stopped and looked back through the crowd.
There was Geraldo. We hugged each other and looking at him, it was hard to believe this was the same kid 10 years ago who had lived at Broderick House, fighting so hard to keep off the streets. He told me he was finishing up Pharmacy school and how much me and the staff at Broderick House had done for him. He beamed with excitement and pride.
I've thought a lot about Geraldo since that day. I've thought about how easy it would've been for him to fall into the scarcity trap of his environment. And I've thought how amazing it was that a few caring people made the difference for him. That experience was an expression of each of us living into our greatness by helping others.
It's funny how you look back on events and think "How the hell did I ever do that?" How did I live above a homeless shelter on $40 a week for two years face to face with the heartbreak and beauty of poverty? I did it because, just out of college, I was very idealistic. I thought I would change the world. What I learned is that I couldn't change the world, so much as I could change myself. And the only way I could change myself was to look at who I thought I was -- what I believed, what I assumed and what I "saw" about the world around me and my role in it.
I got that scarcity is man made. And I saw how I could choose to add to it, or not.
As I look back at it now, I'm the one that learned the biggest lesson of all.