Over the last six years, I have amassed over a thousand community service hours, volunteering at a variety of different events and organizations. I’ve worked at trash pick-ups, tutoring clubs, golf tournaments, you name it. However, there has been one experience that has resonated with me.
When I was a freshman in high school, I met a group called Ascend. They are a diverse medley of college students with a shared passion of spreading love to the world. Ascend had planned a homeless outreach and even though I was new to the group, I decided to partake in it. We spent the night filling lunch bags with homemade sandwiches, water bottles, and cookies and drove all the way to Washington DC.
It was a callously cold Saturday in the dead of winter. We walked up to the this park filled with homeless men and women dragging their belongings, holding on tightly to their thin blankets. Our task was to not only pass out all the lunches, but also to spark conversation with them. One of the Ascend leaders, Bernard, exhorted us to not treat them condescendingly or judge anyone. We were there to share love, and warmth desperately needed in that cold winter.
For the first few hours, I just watched my group as they passed out sandwiches, making conversation with different people. The park was a conglomeration of all different type of people from different walks of life. They all had stories to share and different reasons for ending up where they were. We sat for hours, numbed-fingered and shivering in the rigid cold. One of the homeless men we met had a guitar with him and we all gathered around singing songs outside. In that moment, there was nothing separating any of us. Music melted away any barriers and we became not strangers but fellow undertakers of the human experience.
However, despite the serenity of that moment, I saw something troubling in each of those homeless men and women. As we got to know them, it struck me that they all seemed to carry a beaten down spirit. Somewhere down the road, they lost their zeal, the fire in their eyes. Each of these individuals were a shadow of what could have been, all echoing the line “I’ve been out here for 15 years. I’m fine.” Many of these people had given up on the prospect of a better life and had grown complacent with their current situation. It was saddening.
That homeless outreach happened three years ago but its impact never left me. That trip to DC showed me the importance of a simple conversation, of getting to know people’s story. It taught me the importance of resilience and perseverance. I’m only 17. I still have many dreams and visions stirring within me and I never want to become so broken that I give them up. That homeless outreach taught me to never lose the fire in my eyes and to encourage my peer to never lose theirs either.
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