This summer I worked at Dove’s Nest in Charlotte. Dove’s Nest is a women’s rehabilitation center for substance abuse. My job was to basically spend time with the women and hear about their stories. Everyday I sat in on group therapy sessions, attended classes and workshops, and ate lunch with the women. I also did various organizational tasks for my supervisor. Additionally, I had the opportunity to help out in the admissions department of Dove’s Nest. This meant that I helped orient new residents to the program and gave them their materials.
I worked at Dove’s Nest through the Stapleton/Davidson Urban Service Internship program. This is a program that is offered every year through the Chaplain’s Office. Its focus is to understand issues of urban poverty and homelessness through non-profit work in the city of Charlotte. My time at Dove’s Nest flew by incredibly fast, and before I knew it, I was already saying goodbye.
My final day at Dove’s Nest, I left in tears and was still sobbing on the city bus, all the way back to my host family’s home.
It is difficult to pinpoint one specific reason I was crying so hard. One motivation that stands out to me is that I thought I was going to have a better chance to say goodbye to the women I loved so dearly. I sat in on my last group therapy session and the women in this group said their goodbyes then, but I kept saying back to every woman, “I’ll see you later.” At lunch, it was the same routine. I kept telling all the women I sat with everyday that I would see them later in the day. Sadly though, this wasn’t true. I ended up being treated to lunch by my supervisor and another co-worker, and did not make it back in time to say goodbye to anyone. The overwhelming realization washed over me that I would never be in the same place again. The women would be different, the people different, the stories different. I was so mad that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, but I also wondered to myself if it would make any difference. I know that this experience at Dove’s Nest had touched me, but had it really touched them in the same way?
I used to be concerned with this question of “how much impact have I made on these people?” and “what tangible difference can I see?” But after this summer, my questions of worth are ones like “what have I learned?” and “how can I see things differently from the way I have seen them before?” and “how much impact have these other people made on me?” I was crying on the bus because there was an overwhelming answer to all of these questions, on top of a genuine concern that I didn’t get to fully say thank you to the women at Dove’s Nest for all they had done for me.
This job was not about outcome or success, rather building relationships with people based off our common humanity.
The Stapleton showed me how to work towards loving people exactly as they are. It showed me that there is nothing more I can do to be seen as lovely or worthy. It reminded me of this essential truth in everyone, and inspired me to see people in this way. I believe I was weeping on the bus in part because I made the realization that we still cast men and women away. We are conditioned to come up for justifications for why “they deserve” to be homeless, an addict, poor, and we are so conditioned to ignore the simple truth that we are all worthy. This summer opened my eyes like never before to this truth, and challenged me to think of the moments where I have simply cast others away.
Through my tears on that final day, I saw out of the corner of my eye a tissue in the hand of an African-American man. I looked up and held eye contact with this stranger for a moment, when I realized that this man was familiar. He was actually the only person I remember from the bus route consistently. He got on at West Boulevard, what many native Charlotte-eans refer to as “rough part of town” and rode the same bus to uptown where I got off everyday to get to my host family’s house. This act of kindness made me cry even harder than I was crying before. Through my tears, I somehow mustered the words, “thank you.” When the bus got to my stop, I walked out towards the door. I turned back to give that man one last look. He looked at me and nodded. I got off the bus. I will never learn that man’s name. I will never get to tell him how much that moment meant to me. Simply, he showed me that he loved me, without knowing me, without knowing if I was “worthy.”
The Stapleton was so much more than a work experience. It changed the way I think about theology, homelessness, poverty, and my response as a person of faith. In fact, it is hard for me to really think about this experience as “work.” I met some of my favorite women at Dove’s Nest, that I never would have had the chance to meet if it wasn’t for this internship program and the Chaplain’s Office. I am eternally grateful for this internship, for the Chaplain’s Office, and for that tissue from that stranger.