I’ve volunteered off and on for many years with Outreach Inc and have written about a typical day in the life of the ministry and how it impacts how I view the city I live in. I was recently asked to write about what I felt the first day I went down to volunteer:
There are some mission fields where you end up saying “I’m glad someone’s doing that” because the idea of you doing it seems impossible. Volunteering to work down at Outreach Inc and working with homeless teenagers can be like that for some people. I know it was like that for me the first time I found myself down there.
I’m not always the most outgoing of people, so the idea of working with a room full of homeless teenagers was a daunting prospect. To be perfectly honest, teenagers period were enough to stretch me out of my comfort zone, but in my mind, homeless teenagers were so especially out of the world and people that I dealt with that I was nearly frozen with apprehension from not knowing what to expect. I certainly didn’t know how I was going to initiate a conversation with anyone “so different than me.” We build up all of these “differences” in our heads: they’re so much younger, they come from a different class, I can’t relate to their culture, they look so strange. Through all of that, we forget what we have in common: we’re all people. We all have stories to tell.
I’m a professional writer and I tend to carry around a notepad with me. As much as I’d love to claim that it’s so I can jot down ideas whenever they come to me, which it is, it also doubles as my security blanket. Not to different from my own kids who carried their blankets everywhere we went for so long, I’d cling to my notepad whenever I get anxious. So the first time I sat down with one of the kids from Outreach Inc., they asked me why I had it. Was I with the government? Was I taking a survey? When I told them I was a writer, something wonderful happened: they began telling me their story. That’s when that moment of clarity, aka the D’Uh moment, hit me as I recalled the opening words from my own creative writing seminar I give: “everyone has a story to tell.”
Having the proper heart and intentionality about building relationships is what Outreach Inc is about. The problems many of the kids face won’t and can’t be fixed by throwing money at them, but having people who love them, support them, and want to walk alongside them certainly goes a long way in getting their lives back on track. As much as I struggled with what “someone like me” might have to offer to “someone like them”, the simple fact is that we all have gifts to offer. Everyone has a story to tell, sometimes all it takes to be there for someone is to be a willing listener.