When I moved to Chicago, one of my goals was to volunteer with the homeless, youth in particular.  The Night Ministry had a great program I wanted to be a part of called ODS (Open Door Shelter).  When I contacted them and asked about volunteer opportunities, they sent me some forms to fill out and asked a number of questions.

I ran across these documents today and thought I would share them here.  I think my answers tell the story of why I am so drawn to helping the homeless, youth in particular.

Why would you like to volunteer with the Open Door Shelter at this time?

God has brought me to such a wonderful, exciting place in my life, through trials I thought would crush me. Life seems fresh and new and exciting for the first time in a long time; for the first time ever, perhaps. Along the way, I was given unexpected gifts like joy, compassion, and humor that I feel are important survival elements. I feel like I’ve just got to shout out loud and spread some of this joy around and I feel drawn to teens particularly, maybe because I feel so much like a teen still myself.

How do you deal with your feelings?

Well, I eat, usually. And sometimes sleep. (I’m joking, yet serious.) Mostly I journal when I’m trying to work out something that is bothering me, or talk to good friends who know me well enough to help me get a handle on what’s wrong and what I can do about it. I have always been a self-analyzer so internal monologue often serves to substitute for more expensive counseling sessions. I have, however, talked to professional people when the current crisis in my life seemed to suggest that was a good idea.

Think about a situation when you had a conflict with someone. How did you resolve it?

I first try to determine how much of the problem is mine and how much the other person’s, if I can. Sometimes I can find the solution just by unraveling that mystery. If not, then I will try talking to the person, using I messages, such as “I’m feeling really [insert emotion of your choice here] about this situation and need to talk it out with you.” If this goes nowhere, I usually will talk the situation out with a friend or someone who would give me a good perspective on the situation to determine what I can do about it. The range of solutions then can vary anywhere from remove myself from the source of conflict to find a way to reconcile the conflict with my emotion so it doesn’t push my buttons anymore.

If we’re talking about immediate confrontation here, generally my first reaction is to be conciliatory, but if I feel wronged, I can develop a firm assertiveness. I do have a tendency to err on the side of peacemaker.

Describe the reality of homeless youth on the streets of Chicago. Describe what you believe are the causes.

The causes are no doubt almost as varied as the personalities. I think probably the two most common situations are 1) kids who were kicked out of home, either by parents who make mine look like parent of the year award winners, or because the parent did not approve of the child’s behavior. Then there are 2) kids who have left home, because their home life was unbearable to them, or maybe for reasons that have nothing to do with that. There are probably also kids who are homeless for the same reasons there are homeless adults: no family to care for them, involved with drugs and/or alcohol, or sometimes mental illness.

Probably, the reality of their lives also varies from day to day, kid to kid. But I bet there are common threads: loneliness, depression, uncertainty, hunger, temptations, hopelessness, a thirst for something more. I’ve read about kids sleeping in Belmont Harbor; I’ve seen them standing on corners hoping to get picked up for a few bucks. I read once that some kids pooled their money for a place to stay and I’m hoping that means that sometimes, for some of them at least, there are friendships and alliances that form between them, although I suppose that also means there can be rivalry, territorial disputes, etc.

What do you believe the youth who come to the shelter need?

A way to hold on as they walk through the maze of figuring out who they are and what they can or should do. Laughter, love, friendship, food, suggestions, interest, soap, conversation, education, clean beds, safety. The same things all kids need.

What skills/experience do you bring to the Night Ministry?

I believe I have a good rapport with kids in the teenaged group. For two years I was youth sponsor at my church, Willow Springs Mennonite Church in Tiskilwa, Illinois, and accompanied twelve youth on a one week trip to a youth convention in Oregon. I have two sons myself, ages 19 and 20, who live with their father and have taught me a lot about how to connect with youth who deal with frustrations and heartache beyond the normal teenage angst.

Since October of 1997 I have been spending Friday nights working with Randy Gambony of Emmaus Ministries on W Wilson in Chicago.  One of the main functions of Emmaus is to reach out to young men on the streets age 18 – 30 who are involved in high risk activities such as drugs and prostitution. I am part of a two person team that walks the north side of Chicago from 9 p.m. to midnight or later trying to connect with those who may need assistance, housing, encouragement, etc.

Other Comments:

I have felt a calling to do this for some time, but was afraid and lived too far away. I would like to try to “be there” for these kids: provide a moment of comfort or care, love, friendship, a lifting of the darkness. A moment when they know they are not alone, when they can glimpse, maybe, the great warmth and joy that is at the center of Christ’s love for us. If the encounter plants a seed that leads to their committing their lives to Christ, fantastic. But even if the moment lasts for only those few seconds or minutes, I will still be glad that the moment existed. For one moment, at least,  they were touched by the great love God has for them.

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