The train ride was thirteen hours, the subway was crammed with bodies and our luggage, and the church was four D.C. blocks away from our stop on foot with over fifty pound bags. I started out my Alternative Spring Break in the nation’s capital cranky, tired, hungry, and inevitably thinking, “Is this real life?”
But thankfully my pissy pants attitude dried out when I remembered why I’d made the trip in the first place. I wasn’t there to be comfortable or relax. I went to volunteer for the homeless and get educated on the root of urban poverty.
I’ve always known that I’ve been blessed. My parents have been able to provide my family with everything we’ve ever needed and more since I was born. I’ve never had to go hungry or without a new winter coat. I’ve never had to sleep outside except in a tent in the summer.
During our first couple of days in Washington D.C. seven other University of Michigan-Dearborn students and I spent our time volunteering behind the scenes throughout the city preparing meals for people in need, picking up garbage in poor areas, and separating food donations at a food bank. This was mind numbing work filled with repetition. The leaders at these sites were motivated and never failed to be smiling. While these jobs obviously felt rewarding, there was still a disconnect.
The realization of why we were really in Washington D.C. hit me when I started to meet the people I was working behind the scenes for…
A homeless man advocating for the homeless who is so well known in the capital that people in Congress know him by name.
Women living in a long term night shelter with families, jobs, college degrees, and stories.
Two little girls living in poverty who already knew too much about racism but are too trusting in strangers because their parents aren’t around.
A quiet homeless man sitting in the corner of a food kitchen waiting his turn for a free meal with a library book in hand who I ended up talking to for thirty minutes to swap stories about our favorite books.
And so many more people with captivating stories and unfavorable situations.
So often the average person pictures the homeless population to be nothing more than lazy, unstable, and illiterate.
I realized that not only was this stereotype completely null and in my eyes proved void, but this situation these kind, humble people were in could happen to me or anyone, really. All it would take would be a negative turn of events…death, unemployment, a serious illness, anything, and I could be in a dire situation.
I learned that it’s so important to lend to those less fortunate a helping hand because at any time that unfortunate person could be me or you.