While many people here in the United States will have the day off of work tomorrow to celebrate Memorial Day, I will be making my familiar commute to work at the day shelter for homeless men. When people have expressed surprise that we remain open 365 days/year, I explain that homelessness does not take a holiday, and neither do we. Tomorrow, though, will be different for me, as it will be my first day in the newly created Program Director position. As my journey there continues in a new capacity, I have found myself reflecting on how that journey began nearly three years ago.
Some people may be surprised to learn that I never thought I would be working with people who are homeless, and the fact that I feel as if I have found my niche there, both on a professional level and personal level, still surprises me. As with almost every major decision in my life, I listened to my intuition and followed my heart, and I ended up right where I was meant to be. The first step on this path began with an unexpected telephone call at the end of April 2010.
At that time, I was an adjunct faculty member teaching graduate classes at the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work, which is where I earned my master’s degree in social work. I had been teaching there since 2004, and while I truly enjoyed teaching, I was beginning to feel a bit restless in that capacity. I had no idea what I would do if I left teaching, and I really wasn’t looking to leave. At the end of that spring semester, another adjunct faculty member left me a message to call him, and I assumed that he wanted to talk with me about an academic issue. I assumed incorrectly.
This particular person also is the executive director at a family health center that provides free healthcare to the members of our community who are homeless, and the health center is two doors down from the day shelter for homeless men. He called to say that he had been in a meeting with the executive director of the day shelter, and when she asked him if he knew anyone who might want to do 5 hours/week of contract work providing supervision for the case managers there, he thought of me. I was appreciative that he thought enough of me to call me, and I was intrigued by this opportunity. I was somewhat familiar with the day shelter, as one of the graduate students, whom I was a faculty liaison for, had done her field practicum there a few years earlier, but there was now a new executive director in place, and their services had expanded. For reasons I will never understand, I decided to contact the executive director and arrange an interview. Even after scheduling the interview, I still felt ambivalent about it, and in fact, the day before the interview, I almost cancelled it, as I kept thinking, “What am I doing? I am have a great position teaching, and I know nothing about working with this population.” Again, my intuition directed my next steps, and every doubt I had disappeared when I walked through the front doors of the day shelter.
I had a visceral reaction the moment I stepped on the floor of the day shelter, as I surveyed the hustle and bustle of the staff, volunteers, and guests. I immediately felt this sense of joy and belonging come over me that I truly cannot put into words, which was not what I expected to feel walking into a place that most people presume would be sad and depressing. My exposure to people who are homeless had been limited to those nameless persons I would pass on the street, and I admit that I would avoid making eye contact with them or speaking to them, as I felt awkward, uncomfortable, and, sometimes, wary around them. So, my reaction was quite unexpected, but I instantly felt like I was home. This feeling intensified when I talked with the executive director and one of the Board members, as I went from being ambivalent about the job to being passionate about being chosen for it. It was only appropriate that I received the call offering me the position when I was at another “home” of mine, the University of Dayton, for my class reunion, and without hesitation, I accepted. While others could not believe that I walked away from a good position in the academic world for a contract position at a day shelter for homeless men, I have never questioned that decision.
What began as a five-hour/week contract position soon became a ten-hour/week contract position, and in January 2012, I accepted a part-time case manager supervisor position that became a thirty-hour/week Program Manager position last July. So, as I take on the new role as a full-time Program Director tomorrow, I do so with overwhelming gratitude, anticipation, and happiness. At first, I was not sure I would be able to accept this position, as I had concerns about how it would impact my time with my daughters and my abilities to handle some of the additional responsibilities. These concerns weighed heavily on my heart and my mind, and for about a six-week period this spring, I shed countless tears and lost a lot of sleep over the prospect of leaving “my guys” before I was ready to do so. Finally, after I was able to “get my head around it”, as my boss said, I made the decision to accept the job. Someday, I will leave “home”, but for now, it is truly home, sweet, home to me, and I cannot thank the staff, volunteers, and the guys for always making me feel right at home among them. Tomorrow is the beginning of another part of my journey, and I am thrilled to have such wonderful traveling companions to walk with me.
That’s another story. . .
Categories: That's Another Story