“In a sense, it is the coming back, the return, which gives meaning to the going forth. We really don’t know where we’ve been until we come back to where we were—only where we were may not be as it was because of who we’ve become, which, after all, is why we left.”
Last week marked my last Spring Break and, more importantly, my last Spring Break Alternative trip. Last week, I led a group of eight other students to Phoenix, AZ for a week of serving the hunger and homeless populations of the city at the Andre House of Hospitality. From Sunday to Thursday, we worked at the Andre House from 9am to after 8pm and then joined Andre House staff for dinner at their transitional home for men with four of the house’s residents. Throughout the week, we cycled through jobs, experiencing all the services the Andre House provides for its guests. We worked the office, handing out toiletries, blankets, and medicine; portered outside and interacted with the guests; helped distribute clothing in the clothing closet; helped do guests’ laundry; ran showers; helped in the kitchen to prepare dinner; processed and sorted donations; and helped clean up the building in anyway we could. Every night, we would serve around 500 plates to those in most need. From our week, we learned the Andre House is more than a soup kitchen… It is a hospitality center, it is a home. All are welcomed, regardless of origins or conditions, with a friendly smile and kind word. It is a place that notices and values those who are invisible to society. It is a place that restores the dignity of all those who have been stripped of it in some way. It is an organization that is so much more than the services it provides. The Andre House is made up of the staff, guests, and volunteers who create a family. It is a home for the homeless, a community for those without support, a place of refuge for those who struggle.
We met so many amazing people who have impacted our lives in so many ways. We were touched by the personal stories of the guests who we befriended, expanding our horizons and forcing us to think of the world in new ways. We worked with an inspiring group of core staff members who have devoted themselves to serving the homeless and hungry of Phoenix, challenging us to do more and be more. We met groups of volunteer who have been donating their time for weeks, months, and years. In all these people, I learned that I am enough. Anything I can give is enough to impact those around me. I am not able to end homeless. My group was not able to end homelessness. But small, intentional acts, sacrifices of time, and works of kindness, however, are enough to impact others. This week opened all our eyes to the importance of continuing the fight against homelessness. We as a society can do better for our most vulnerable. We need to bring all the lessons we learned on how to treat all people with dignity as humans back home to make a real change. At the end of the week, I had the opportunity to the work the back gate during dinner service and wish everyone that passed through a good night. I asked one guest how his dinner was, and he responded that it was only at the Andre House that people took the time to talk to him, to notice him, and mentioned how much the simple question, “how was your dinner?” meant to him. Anything you can give, you can say, you can do is enough to have an impact on someone.
Following the end of our week, my coleader and I treated our participants to a hummer tour through the red rocks of Sedona. The scenery was unreal. The monumental nature of the red rocks and mountains reflected our monumental experiences at the Andre House. Just as you cannot help but emerge from Sedona changed by the palpable presence of God in nature around you, you cannot help but return home from Phoenix without being changed by the staff, guests, and volunteers at the Andre House. With a heavy heart, fond memories, and dedication to serve others, I am sad to close out SBA but excited to see where these experiences will take me and how they will change me. Sometimes, all it takes is a journey to make you realize what is important and what you can do.