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Were You There: Ministry of Presence in the Little Things

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Editor’s Note: DC Service Corps member Ali Sentmanat reflects on an encounter with a man at the Father McKenna Center which changed her perspective and approach to “being there” for other people.

The Father McKenna Center has a large gathering area for meetings that is often called “the chapel.” As I was walked through it one day, there were about 45 guys sitting all around. A call came  from across the chapel.

“Miss lady!”

This is what many of the men call me, and I turned to see who needed me. It was Mr. Smith, an elderly man who uses a cane and rarely talks. I approached, and he asked me if I had a key to the front office. When I asked him why he needed the key, he said that—as he was taking out his things—a quarter rolled under the door, and he would like it back. I told him I could get the key and his quarter during my lunch time.

His honesty and humility in asking me to get his simple quarter really touched me. He was as careful and concerned about his quarter as if it were $20. Out of laziness, I was almost tempted to just give him a quarter out of my wallet. However, recognizing the importance of returning his own quarter to him, I went and retrieved the key, opened the door to the front office, and found the quarter. When I brought it to lunch and gave it to Mr. Smith, his eyes lit up and he thanked me.

It was such a small incident, but it made me realize how something so small in significance to me could be such a big deal to other people. “Being there” for people has always been a struggle for me, because often I find myself wanting to roll my eyes at some people’s “problems.” But I realized that a proper response is not always that “it could be worse,” but to actually listen, understand, and try to assist the person in their need.

At my site service, there are big problems and injustices people have gone through, but I am not the case manager. I do not directly listen to the tales of prison, domestic abuse, drugs, and violence. My job is to be there for the little things—like getting a guy clean socks, underwear, socks and lotion or even 25 cents that rolled under a door. St. Therese of Lisieux’s method was to offer up the little things to Christ, like sitting up straight in a chair or saying hello to someone she didn’t like. So by empathetically being there in the little things and taking them seriously, I hope that I am able to add to being there in the bigger things that are going on in people’s lives. 

Reflection Question: In what ways might you be overlooking the “little needs” present in the people you are with everyday?

During her year as a DC Service Corps member, Ali serves at The Father McKenna center, a Catholic social service agency serving men experiencing homelessness and very low income families. In this role, she provides direct assistance through the daily food pantry and listens, responds to, and encourages the men to engage with the case management team at the center. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Ali graduated from the University of Dallas where she studied Drama.