When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a secretary, a teacher, or an attorney. I grew up and became none of those things actually. I grew up and became a social worker. My career path has been a circuitous one, as I have worked in a variety of agencies and capacities, such as a therapist at a community mental health agency in a rural town, a therapist at a university counseling center, an adjunct faculty member in social work graduate program, and now as a program director at a day shelter for homeless men. I did not dream of any of these jobs, but in their own way, they were/are a dream come true.
Yet, I still find myself asking the age-old question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”, even though I am grown up and in a well-established career. This vocational reflection was prompted by some of my greatest teachers in life, the men who come to the day shelter. Last fall, 118 of these men volunteered to take part in a survey conducted by a local university’s social work program. The survey assesses their needs and their satisfaction with the services that they receive. The men answered fifty-three questions, but it was their responses to Question 30 that stood out to me the most.
(30) If you could have the perfect job tomorrow, what type of work would you be doing?
The men could from a list of jobs, such as construction/repair, medical, military, etc., but the category that received the most responses was “Other work”. When I read their remarks that detailed what “other work” meant to them, I was deeply touched. Among the 25 men who chose this category, they listed their perfect jobs, which included “a suit-wearing job”, “preaching”, “security or management”, “horse groomer”, etc. Two “perfect” jobs that were listed that especially touched my heart were “in here serving coffee” and “staff at the day shelter”. As I scanned their candid responses, I started to wonder, as I often do, what happened to these men along the way. They all were little boys with big dreams at one point, and now, they were grown men who were still dreaming or who had given up on their dreams. No-one dreams of being homeless, so, when did their dreams become nightmares?
There are as many reasons a person becomes homeless as there are people who are homeless, and each person is unique and should not be stereotyped. When I walked into the day shelter this morning, their responses to Question 30 lingered in my mind, and I started looking at these familiar faces in a different way. As I looked at the crowd gathered here on a cold March morning, I kept wondering what their dreams were growing up and what dreams did they still hold onto as adults. I then wondered what we as a staff and as a community could do to support them in making their dreams come true.
Question 30 served as a poignant reminder that everyone has dreams hidden away and that the men who come here are no different. They are dreamers who want to be doers, and my dream for them is that they always have a dream to pursue and to fulfill. Is it too late for them? I hope not.
That’s another story. . .
Categories: That's Another Story