I completely lied when I said I would feel less discombobulated today. Honestly though, I still love every second of being a VISTA, even the hectic seconds that seem to add up to hours fairly quickly. Before we get into the Social Politics part of the blog, I want to give you all a breakdown of the AMAZING amount of donations of socks and underwear that were collected at the Connecticut Sun WNBA game Sunday night as a fundraiser. A grand total of 233 articles of clothing were collected breaking down to: 29 shirts, 80 pairs of socks, 118 pairs of underwear, and 6 bras. THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who came out and also those who donated!! Which brings me to my next point...the influence that volunteers and fundraising have on the social politics of poverty.
I'm not sure how many of you lovely readers can grasp how incredibly essential our volunteers are, not only to our organization as a whole, but to demolishing social barriers that create an "us" and "them" mentality of those facing homelessness. Volunteers actually become the social politics, they create the social politics, in a positive light that allows us all to see one another more equally.
As a volunteer, I get that one of the most common concerns is that when we go into any place to volunteer, we worry that others may think we are judging them. The last thing we want when we are volunteering is for those we are serving to think that we see ourselves as superior, right? Something I've found more and more people worrying about lately though, being judged by those we serve. As much as there is a stigma and "reputation" of generalization surrounding homelessness, there is also one surrounding say, college students, church goers, Generation Xers, teenagers, athletes, law enforcement officers, bikers, so on and so forth. We all find ourselves being categorized and often times patronized for how we are labeled. As volunteers become more comfortable, they tend to drop their generalizations, similar to how we tend to let go of our first impression judgements of those we meet in the workplace, at school, or on sports teams. We can assume that the captain of the football team thinks he is the best player on the team, is unintelligent, or will only get into college on a scholarship, but after playing on the team or sharing some classes we find that he is actually very humble and encouraging to his teammates, he gets straight A's in AP classes and is attending a military academy, NOT using football to get through life.
Our perceptions and judgements of others can truly cloud our ability to see, respect, and appreciate their humanity and the beautiful gifts they have to offer. As much as I love our volunteers answering phones, checking mail, refilling sugar for the coffee, and all those other tasks that they so greatly complete without so much as a sigh, their presence actually makes such an immense difference in the light of social barriers. Volunteers become a familiar face, someone that our guests get used to seeing everyday, someone they can trust, someone who can help them. To the volunteers (and us VISTAs!), guests also become familiar faces, as excited as we are to see someone get housed it can be sad to realize that we won't be seeing them everyday anymore. In my first couple weeks when I had no idea what was ever going on (actually, I still don't), there were a few guests that I met that I learned to rely on for some direction. Upon arriving at the overnight shelter for my first shift, I didn't know where I was supposed to go or if I was allowed to go in before 7, but a couple guests that I had met earlier helped point me in the right direction. I see these same guests almost everyday when I'm getting my morning coffee and it has become a comfort to know that they are there, even if it's just a wave across the street. The comfort of recognizing and being present for another person is a KEY to breaking down negative social barriers and "us" and "them" mentalities.
FUNDRAISING takes play in the social politics of poverty in that more people can be involved. We love, adore, and appreciate our volunteers, but the simple donation of a bag of socks creates a connection that is unique. When you bring in the bag of socks, you don't know who will receive each pair, but take a minute to think about it. A woman comes into the shelter crying, she's had a long day. It's hot outside, she has barely been able to eat, maybe a loved one has passed away, maybe a partner has broken up with her. Her clothes are not washed, she's severely uncomfortable, she lost her birth certificate and can't get a job. We can offer her a pair of clean socks, clean underwear, and a clean shirt even just to sleep in, and the weight that is lifted off of her shoulders in unexplainable. You know that feeling that you get after a hot shower on a 14 hour work day and getting into clean sheets? It's comfort, and in this case, it's feeling that someone cares. We know that you care, your donation and support shows us, and we are able to pass this on to our guests and bring them the comfort and hospitality that we would to our friends.
Social politics and breaking down social barriers is about not only tolerance, but acceptance. It involves treating everyone the same, but also responding to their NEEDSTHANK you, as a volunteer, donor, participant, or supporter. Not only because you answer our phones, give us socks, pick up food, or comment on our blog (but seriously, you should), but also because your TIME, PRESENCE, and COMPASSION are what make a world of difference and encourage change.
Continue encouraging change (I am SO confident in how much you already have!) and remember that you are in the hearts and minds of our guests constantly. Even when they're being dramatic or lashing out (come on, we all do it). Truth is, we tend to become vulnerable with those we trust the most, so maybe even take it as a hint that you're doing something right.
THANK YOU! You are simply incredible. Seriously. No really, you are. Are you blushing yet?