Thursday, August 11, 2011

Community Impact

Working the morning Interim Housing shift often includes interacting with breakfast volunteers.  On several occasions this summer, high school youth groups participating in short term mission trips cooked and served breakfast.  The students are often timid and unsure of what to expect at a homeless shelter, but eventually realize that homeless adults aren’t so scary, and most are even willing to have a conversation similar to any other adults with whom they interact.

I was once one of those students, later an adult chaperon, away for a week with my church youth group, trying to see what impact I could make.  These experiences are often eye opening and challenging.  They also create lifetime memories and change one’s heart.
When someone asks what my “life changing event” was, or why I want to work at a homeless shelter, I think of one such trip to New York while I was in college.  One of the ministries during the week was to cook food at the facility where we stayed, and bring it to Tompkins Park (of RENT fame) along with clothing to pass out.  Hanging out with homeless people who slept in the park sure was intimidating, until I discovered that as humans, we are all able to connect and to learn from each other.  Seeing the effects of systems of oppression in that park, I began to feel like this one week wasn’t enough for me.  I began to feel as though focusing on social justice would be my life’s work.
Fast forward 10 years.  I have been working at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter for almost a year now through Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC).  LVC’s core values include Community, Simplicity/Sustainability, and Social Justice.  My job placement with the LPCS is primarily the social justice function, by walking alongside and finding ways to empower individuals to make life changes. 

I also see the other two core values of LVC reflected at work.  This interim housing shelter is a community of adults working to better themselves and each other, existing within and being supported by the community in Lincoln Park.  My experience living in an intentional community as part of LVC has allowed me a bit of understanding about community living within a shelter: it is challenging, and requires both patience and compromise. At the LPCS we encourage guests to learn about “Living Green,” while we also try to reduce environmental impacts (sustainability) and well as unnecessary spending (simplicity). 
I’ve found that the little things make an impact.  Maybe you have the time and resources to cook a hot breakfast and eat alongside the people for whom you cooked.  Maybe you can share your skills through teaching a class. Perhaps you have some household goods that someone who finally has their own space could use in their new home.  For some of us it’s a week long mission trip to serve, or a year long volunteer commitment; at the LPCS, our daily mission is serving and walking with fellow members of our community.

--Brianne Spresser, LVC, Case Manager

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