This weekend was a true lesson in hope for me, and I want to share it with you. After all, anything that can strike a little hope in your heart seems especially fitting this week after the nauseating events that took place at the Boston Marathon yesterday afternoon. So here it goes.
On Saturday, I spent a few hours (ended up feeling more like five minutes) volunteering with a church program called Youth Lounge. Please note that whether you believe in church or religion is not the point here at all, so regardless of your beliefs, I urge you to read on. Anyhoo, I had been searching for a volunteer opportunity for a while now, and this really seemed like the perfect fit. I felt that my positive energy and optimistic attitude could help uplift these young people and inspire a little hope in them. I never thought they would do the same and more for me.
Youth Lounge essentially provides a safe space for homeless and at-risk youth in Chicago’s Lakeview community. A majority of these teenagers and young adults identify as LGBTQ, 90 percent of them are people of color and a little over half of them are homeless. Youth Lounge is put on by Broadway United Methodist Church volunteers twice a month on the second and fourth Saturdays, and provides a home cooked meal, activities and a loving environment for these struggling youth.
This particular Saturday was my first time volunteering with the group, and as a hyper emotional person, I was afraid. I was afraid to unintentionally make it about me. I was afraid to make these kids feel as though I felt sorry for them or looked down on them in any way. And as they started walking in the door, many of them with luggage and bags in tote, the tears began to well up in my eyes. I took deep breathes, and kept telling myself, you have to smile, this is not about you, they need your HAPPY.
Little by little, I completely forgot about my tears, and began to be inspired by them. Here they were, so young, many with no place to live, no safe environment to trust, and yet they were so luminous. Many of them knew each other and ran to one another in warm embraces. Many also made jokes and were happy to see the volunteers they already knew. Suddenly, they were not victims in my eyes. They were just kids and despite their situations, they seemed joyful and full of life. They seemed to be oozing with HOPE.
The afternoon began with several musical performances after which the kids all sat down to brightly decorated tables for a warm, home cooked meal prepared by some of the volunteers. They all gathered with their friends, chatted and laughed as the volunteers came by to take their orders and serve them. Some kids seemed very comfortable being served and others seemed almost shocked at the niceness and attention being offered to them. One particular youth could hardly look me in the eyes as I asked him what he wanted to drink and thanked me quietly almost five times.
Dinner time went by so quickly. I forgot about all of my feelings, and suddenly I just felt so focused on giving them what they needed. Soon it was time for the beauty parlor activity. Before the youth had arrived, I had helped set up a little nail spa in the back of the room. Their names were all put in a hat, and several were chosen to receive a manicure. Although my shift was over, I decided to stay a little longer and help do nails. I love getting my nails done, and did it on my own for many years when I couldn’t afford to get them done. I still get a great sense of progress and relaxation when I go have them done, and I couldn’t wait to offer the youth a little pampering and sense of being special.
I had two gentlemen “clients,” and they were so excited to be pampered. They both chose to have their nails polished in addition to the manicure, and I was happy to help them express themselves. One of them told me all about his foster mom as I did his nails, and the other told me about his struggle with drug abuse and having to fight just to be himself in public. He had been to rehab and told me all about how he’s doing much better now. I was so glad to hear it. They both laughed and joked with me, opened up to me, and taught me more about hope and resilience than I had ever expected them to. They had fighter spirits, and despite everything they had been through, they seemed to appreciate life and find ways to smile.
I learned so much from these kids in just a few hours. I learned that you can have nearly nothing and still have a huge smile on your face. I learned that there is always something to look forward to in life if you choose to see it that way. I was also reminded that even though I have my own childhood and adolescent noise, I am so, so lucky. I always had a roof over my head and food to eat, and my parents, despite their many imperfections, never abandoned or disowned me. I was reminded that there is hope all around me, all around us, even from unexpected sources. And most importantly, I was reminded that if those who we would expect to be hopeless can find a way to have hope in their lives and in their hearts, those of us who have been more fortunate can certainly find a way to be more hopeful and optimistic each day.
My thoughts, prayers, hope and heart go out to these beautiful young people, to all those affected by the events in Boston, and to all of you out there searching for a better day. I urge you, as I always do, to pay attention. Hope is all around us, and ready to help us make it through just about anything. At least that’s my hope.
Sonia, Word Share Junkie