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The One Among the Ninety-Nine

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Editor’s note: DCSC member Ali Sentmanat reflects on the lessons she has learned and the challenges she has faced over her time of service at the Father McKenna Center.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:3-7

My first day at the Father McKenna Center was August 29th, 2016. My previous exposure to  people experiencing homelessness included my mom giving them money and warning us to avoid the gypsies in Europe. When I began work at the Center, I was immediately surprised by three things: the guests were all older than I had expected, many of the guests didn’t look like the guys that sit on the corner of streets, and the Center itself seemed to run at an impressively fast pace.

Working at the Father McKenna Center has taught me many lessons that I shall never forget. In the beginning of my year of  service, Ned Hogan—my site supervisor—asked me what my goals were, and I had replied that I wanted to grow spiritually and emotionally. I can say for sure that—throughout this year—I have definitely grown.

I have been through many emotional roller coasters in my own personal life, but I had no idea that work could be an emotional roller coaster too. By getting to know the guys, I have realized that becoming homeless could happen to anybody, including myself. Homelessness is a situation, and—as is the case with situations—one can get out of it if they really try, they just need encouragement. I strive to give that encouragement, and then I get easily attached to people. Working here, I have had to get used to feeling hurt. The very moment I thought a guy was on his way up, he fell right back down. There have been days that I’ve helped a guest  get new clothes and shoes, only to have him asking for more the very next week because he threw away the ones I had just given him.

The Center is a place where it doesn’t always smell good, where men lie, where someone may have a breakdown at any moment, where those who get back up on their feet and get a job then have a relapse and start drinking, doing drugs again, or get arrested. Many of the guys this happens to are men that I have known, spoken with, respected, and looked up to. What happens here can seem completely unpredictable.

Yet, through all of the struggles, through all of this suffering and pain, the staff at the McKenna Center keeps going. They give guests clothing, help them get back on their feet and get jobs, and they keep assisting the men in their lowest moments with persistence, patience,  and humility.  They continually inspire me throughout the work, the challenges, and the disappointments.

The men who have gotten back up on their feet and stayed are worth all the pain and disappointment: they give us renewed hope. The staff here go after that one lost sheep, because every person is worth it no matter what.

I have learned in this year of service at the Father McKenna Center that tough love is sometimes the best love; that I fall, and everyone falls; that even in the most hopeless situation, there is hope; that it is okay to be disappointed; and that no matter how hard I fall, I can get back up and keep going, because there is ALWAYS hope.

Reflection Question: When you feel challenged by difficult situations, how can you feel supported and inspired by those around you?

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.