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Taking a Minute with Those People


A few weeks ago I was at work with a to-do list a mile long. That thing just doesn’t get shorter and the more I engage with staff members and learn about their challenges, the longer the list gets. Let’s just say that while it can be exhausting, it also provides some job security!

Anyway, on this particular day I had to step away from my desk at 4pm, no matter what I was working on. There was no choice. You see, we were going to be sharing a moment of silence for a 21-year-old man who was a big part of our young adult community and had passed away from an accidental overdose of fentanyl the week prior. His death came as a shock to our folks, clients and staff alike, so as part of processing this tragedy, the moment of silence and sharing of memories was arranged. Then, following our grassroots service was an early dinner which we, the staff, would serve to our client community. This was simply not a moment for me to stay behind my desk. At 3:55, I ran down 4 flights of stairs to the clubhouse where the gathering was taking place.

The service itself was organic and quiet. Young adults shared some stories, one sang a song she wrote, and a staff member reminded everybody that the only way to honor our friend was to work hard to improve ourselves and the world around us. That is what he would have wanted. It was, after all, the dream he was trying to reach even on the night he made one last choice that ended up taking his life.

When we completed the service, it was time to serve food. This is where choices are made; big, significant choices. Do we, as staff members, man a station and serve our portion of the meal or do we layer into that moment the opportunity to break bread with folks who some would call “those people”? Those people, are ones who aren’t like us (or so we think). They have behavioral health diagnoses, or substance abuse addictions, or are homeless, jobless, family-less.

Of course we all sat are various tables and broke bread (Okay, the truth? We broke taco salads with fresh guacamole). I was looking for a spot to sit and noticed that a young woman was making room for me across from her. I went over and we started talking. She was so excited because she was beginning a new job that next Wednesday, at the local McDonalds. She is living in a homeless shelter and wants to save enough money to move into an apartment but was worried about how to make it all work. We talked about the particular challenges she was concerned with and then my new friend smiled. “You know what is best?”, she asked me. “They changed the bus stop so now I don’t need to run across 4 lanes of traffic to get to McDonalds. I had to do that when I worked in that area before and I always froze. Anxiety is like that, you know. It just sort of happens and then what? Actually, once a woman got off the bus with me and saw me kind of freak out so she stopped traffic so I could cross. She was nice.”

When we finished our meal and said goodbye, I climbed back up the same four flights of stairs I had run down an hour earlier. I was, as I always am after spending time with clients, humbled. I am certain that I was the one fed that particular afternoon.

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