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Learning to Volunteer


Editor’s Note: * indicates names changed to ensure privacy. 

When I cam to FMS in November, I had very little previous experience in volunteering. It was a requirement in high school, but my football coach usually signed us off for moving tables, and I worked in a soup kitchen and food pantry once or twice, but that was it. And to be honest, I was pretty timid before going to my first day at Miriam’s Kitchen. But it has turned into a bright spot in my week that I continuously look forward to.

Like most people my age, I had misconceptions on homelessness and those effected by it. I didn’t know if I was going to be looked at like a person of privilege and not accepted or if I would unintentionally say something wrong to someone and forever damage my cause for volunteering at art therapy. Luckily, none of that ever happened.

I don’t think I would have been able to become so comfortable at MK without meeting Anna* my first day. I was sheepish looking around trying to find what I was supposed to do, but then Sarah Hoffeditz, who had been a volunteer at MK during her volunteer year, introduced me to a table working on beads.

Anna is an Algonquin who I sat down and began talking to and bonded with immediately. She told me stories of when she was a kid, of the trips she had with a Cherokee friend in Florida, of the extraordinary bead work she used to do. We had a genuine conversation—something I didn’t think I would be having my first day as a volunteer.

As I continue to go every Wednesday, I keep finding people to talk to, that I have relationships at this point. Always checking how things are going, learning about where they’re from, even having philosophical discussions in some instances. MK has become something that I look forward to every week.

What MK has done most for me, though, has showed me what homelessness really is. I’m lucky enough to come from a small town in Pennsylvania where there really isn’t any homelessness, so it’s mostly “out of sight, out of mind,” and when I came to the city I just walked on.

MK has showed me that these aren’t just faces on the streets that have dug themselves into a hole, but victims. Real people that have real likes and dislikes and real talents. I’m embarrassed to admit my previously held ignorance, but I am happy to say that, with the help of the staff at Miriam’s Kitchen, as well as the guests, I have shed that ignorance. They have introduced me the issues many of them face on a daily basis that weren’t even thoughts to me before, and they have taught me compassion, that they are no different from my friends or my family.

When any of the guests thanks me for coming in and volunteering my time to help them or their friends out, I’m overwhelmed with encouragement. A lot of people’s jobs don’t do much direct good for other people, at least for people that are in the most need, but for those few hours each week I am actually doing something directly for someone who doesn’t often get attention or assistance, but needs it and would benefit from it the most.

Numerous studies have proven that volunteering is good for the soul, showing increased levels of happiness, and overall health and life expectancy in those who give their time for others. If I am any example for anything, it should be that it is never too late to volunteer, and there are people that need it. For National Volunteer Month, make it a point to go out and help others even once a month until next April, then evaluate yourself on if you met your goal of service to others.

Nate Marsh served as the communications associate at Franciscan Mission Service from fall 2014 to spring 2015. He is a graduate of La Roche College in Pittsburgh, PA. Currently he is in culinary school in Chicago, IL.