Over spring break, I had the opportunity to go on an Alternative Service Break set up the through the university. I applied and was accepted, but I truly did not know the impact this trip would have on me.
I traveled to Boise, ID to do service with Boise Rescue Mission. I was on a team with eight other students and a university faculty member. While driving down to Boise on Saturday, I was nervous and anxious. I found myself thinking about what I would be doing instead of this service trip, and I couldn’t help but think maybe I should have just gone home for the week to spend time with my family.
We started service on Monday with the mission. My team had to be at the Boise Rescue Mission warehouse at 4:30 in the morning. After the initial shock of hearing the ungodly hour we had to be awake, I was excited and curious to begin service for the week. We arrived at the warehouse and met some of the employees for the mission. They explained what the mission did and their goals. The mission has four shelters in the Boise area – two women’s and children’s shelters and two men’s shelters. They also had a massive warehouse where they house the employee offices and sort through donations. My team walked around the expansive warehouse full of donations of food, clothing, house supplies, toys, and other random things. I got to see firsthand all the things that were donated to the mission, and it truly surprised me how much people wanted to donate in order to help those in need.
After we did some service at the warehouse, we were escorted to the other shelters in the downtown Boise area. We toured the shelters and learned about the various housing to people in need. The Boise Rescue Mission offers housing for the homeless, but they also offer drug and alcohol treatment programs. These programs focus on helping people through addiction, which make a huge percentage of the homeless. The mission also provides housing for veterans – men and women.
During the next few days my team painted some apartments at a women’s shelter. The apartments weren’t terrible, big enough for two people, and the kitchen was small, but it was a kitchen. They looked better after we painted them. But there was just some stuff I couldn’t ignore; the smell of urine in the carpets, the dirty floors, the unsightly views from the windows – it was hard to imagine someone living there, but it was home to some, and maybe the only home they knew.
While this type of service (painting, repairs, etc.) is important and needed, the type of service that affect me the most was interacting with the people who were in need. While the majority of the interactions I had with people in the shelter was positive, there were some negative aspects that I could not ignore and had a hard time thinking through during the week.
We were able to serve lunch a few times at the men’s shelter. Most of the people who walked through the doors were incredibly nice. They said thank you and were truly grateful for our service. But with others, that wasn’t the case – some didn’t want to look at me in the face, they were picky about the food, and some would make comments under their breath and walk away.
I started feeling something I did not expect I would feel. I felt like we were bothering them. We were throwing off their routine. I felt like some of the people were ashamed and did not want us there to see them. I felt like they thought they were some sideshow we were just passing through to witness; like they thought we were learning some kind of lesson at their expense.
This feeling was something I continued to feel throughout the week. I started to feel bad and discouraged. I didn’t want them to be resentful of the service we did.
There really isn’t a way for me to know how those people felt, but if I were to tell them one thing, it was that I wasn’t there to judge them. I wasn’t there to learn at their expense. If anything, I wanted to know them. I wanted to know their stories and who they are. I wanted to know their names and jobs and struggles and joys. I wanted to know what they wanted our team to do – what things they saw that needed some extra work or what they wanted to see done at the shelters.
At first, my trip was about me. It was about me searching to find something about myself that maybe I hadn’t discovered. But in the end, it was about the people who were struggling. They have a story to tell. I want to listen