Thursday, August 02, 2007

First impressions lead to a memorable experience

By Charlotte Stokes, Summer Student, Public Relations Department

Yesterday, Doris a volunteer in the kitchen at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre noticed I was wearing a wool sweater.

“Do you like wool sweaters?” she asked.

“I do,” I replied not thinking any more about her question.

Today she showed up with a bag of wool sweaters for me that she doesn’t wear anymore. This generous and selfless act is a perfect example of the character of the staff and volunteers at the Drop-In.

I started working at the Drop-In in May of this year. My position as a summer student is “Public Relations and Resource Development Assistant.” As much as my job does entail that, it also involves so much more. I consider this to have been a great opportunity working here. Not only did I get to take part in an exciting summer job, I got to see what the Drop-In is really about.

Now I’ll admit, I had never been to the Drop In before this summer job experience, and it wasn’t really at the top of my list of things to do either. I am sure that I was na├»ve and thought what the majority of Calgary’s population thought: the Drop-In is just a place where ‘the homeless’ can come and sleep.

I was so wrong. On my first day, Louise Gallagher, head of Public Relations here at the Drop-In, took me on a tour of the entire facility. I was amazed to learn about the amount of meals that the kitchen serves each day, and the security in the building that keeps clients, volunteers and staff alike safe. I was in awe of the vast amount of programs that the Centre provides for its clients, the clothing store and its efficient ability to organize, the opportunities that the Centre provides for clients who are looking for employment. I remember feeling educated, impressed, and most of all touched during this tour.

One of my favorite parts of my job is watching the people I give tours to react with the same awed faces that I had the first time I took the tour. Tours of the Drop-In are important. They provide a way to show people of Calgary what the Drop-In is doing to improve the quality of life of people less fortunate than them.

I can’t say that having the opportunity to work at the Drop-In this summer changed my perspective on homelessness, but I can say that it gave me one. Coming into this job, I can honestly say that I didn’t have a large knowledge base on homelessness. With that first step in my learning experience, I’ve got a whole new perspective.

Early in the summer I had an opportunity to attend a meeting for the planning of Homeless Awareness Week. This was a huge eye opener as well as another step in my learning experience. I had never realized that there were so many organizations working with the same objective: to improve the quality of life for today’s homeless population. I was amazed at the compassion and extreme concern of the members of this organization. I don’t think I ever realized that so many people had made careers based around helping the homeless. I always thought of “helping the homeless” as a volunteer task. This just goes to show that if you are passionate about anything, in this case, helping as much as you can, you can make a career out of it. These organizations cannot be ignored. Power in numbers prevails in this case, and by the strong numbers of people creating awareness on homelessness, I really believe that the current state can only get better.

Another aspect of my job involved writing for the Drop-In’s seasonal newsletter. This task entailed interviewing staff, volunteers and clients of the Drop-In. I got to interview John (I have used fictional names for clients), a client who was formerly in accounting who bravely bared his soul to me, telling me about his journey that eventually ended him up at the Drop-In. I was given the privilege of talking to friends of a Drop-In client who had passed away, leaving his artist’s legacy behind. I was given a run down of everyday activity for the Drop-In’s Registered Nurse, learning from him about his unique approach to the profession and the clients.

There’s been something that’s touched me every day during my time here. One day Louise appeared in my office with an elderly man named Vic. Vic is a volunteer, and his intention was to come in once a week and sing for the clients. Vic set up his music stand in a small corner in the day area on the second floor. He sang old songs and hymns with all of his heart and a voice that was powerful and passionate. Vic continued for an hour no matter the small audience that he had collected or even some of the heckling that occurred. After he was done singing I took Vic on a tour of the Drop In, and he said to me “I can tell that I am getting through to a couple of them, and that’s all that is important.” It is kindness and concern like this that makes the Drop-In the unique place that it is.

Earlier on in the summer, Louise had told me about a young girl named Tamara who was making and selling jewelry so that she could donate her profits to the Drop-In. I was immediately impressed by the drive of this girl, only 12 years old, and her desire to help. I got to interview Tamara as well as her mother on the phone, and then got to write an article on this young philanthropist. Imagine my excitement a couple of weeks later when I got to give them a tour! I met this 12 year old girl, clearly so mature and so selfless for her age. Tamara and her mother were both extremely impressed by the Drop-In, but not as impressed as I was with the compassionate nature and drive to make a difference that they both possess. On the tour, we walked by the multi-purpose room with the sign, “Dedicated to Mother Teresa” over the entrance. Tamara and her mother told me about the Mother Teresa quote that they live by: “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

This inspiring quote by Mother Teresa really proves to be true when I look around the Drop-In. Everyone here is doing small things; whether it be the organizing of an art program, or going out of their way to check up on a client’s health. All of these actions are all part of the bigger picture, the Drop-In. When these small acts come together with the overriding compassion evident at the Drop-In, a difference can really be made in the face of today’s homelessness.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

Hi there,
Tamara is my niece and I am really amazed by her desire to help others less fortunate. Her compassion for others becomes stronger the older she gets. My sister has done a teriffic job of supporting Tamara's dream to "pay-it-forward" through helping others. I am so proud of both of them and know that this will not be the last project we see Tamara doing.
Plentywood, Montana USA