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What I Learned as a Volunteer Counselor At Resurrection House (Toby D.)

For the past two years I have been working at the homeless shelter, Resurrection House, as a counselor. People tend to refer to “the homeless” as a group. But, they are all individuals.

The circumstances that brought them to this situation vary from financial loss, traumatic situations from which they could not seem to recover, illness...both physical and mental...and a life that disconnected them from other supportive people. Regardless, it is a hard life they have now. But, it is far from a hopeless one.

Often scorned on the outside, when they see a counselor they are frequently surprised that someone sees them as a worthwhile person and that someone cares. Like all of us, they long for dignity and respect, and when it is offered it is often life-changing. Many times someone has come to me feeling hopeless, if not worthless. They think they are seeing me to get the food or clothing or a referral that they need. And in part that is the case. (For example, a new set of clothes can make them confident in pursuing a job.) But, when they realize that someone really wants to know about them, their stories and their feelings, the dynamic changes. I cannot tell you how many times, at the end of a session, I and my fellow counselors have heard: “You listened to me!” It is a joy and privilege to gain the trust of someone who has learned to be wary. And it is touching beyond words to have someone who comes in angry or defensive turn to leave with their arms wide open asking if they can have a hug.

I expected a lot more anger than I encountered. Mostly what I see, along with resilience, is the gratitude they express for the help they are getting, for the existence of Resurrection House. I see that and the care that many of them take of each other...sharing food and watching out for the safety of the more vulnerable members. Not everyone succeeds in overcoming their homelessness, but the successes give everyone hope. To be a part of that is an honor.

Most of us who volunteer are in much better situations than our clients. We have homes to go back to and people who care for us. But, we carry them in our hearts when we leave. These are real people with something to offer and who are responsive to the affection we develop for them. I try to remind each person of something I see in them...whether it is their smile, their courage or what they have accomplished. And there is almost always something. I care about providing for their practical needs and for giving them the tools and coping responses to improve their situations, but most of all I remember what one of my teachers taught me: “You cannot heal someone, you can only sit with them and see the beauty that they have forgotten”. We as fellow human beings can be the mirror they can look into to see their own good and worthiness.

Resurrection House does an extraordinary job of offering the services the homeless need. I am ever grateful to them for allowing me the privilege of working there.