At 7:30 a.m., I’m cracking eggs, sliding pans of bacon into the oven, and chopping onions for a savory stir-fry. As 9 a.m. approaches, I’m pouring orange juice over ice and scooping up bowls of fresh fruit.
Then begins the best part of my week: Young folks lining up for breakfast and smiling back when I say, “Good morning! What may I serve you today?”
I started as a volunteer in the Outside In Café in November of 2016. Upset over the results of the presidential election – and fearing that already-marginalized young people would continue to be left behind – I scrambled for something positive I could do.
I’d heard about Outside In from two friends. The agency’s mission and values seemed aligned with my own.
It turned out to be a perfect fit.
As I worked alongside kitchen managers and other volunteers, I began to feel I was doing something tangible and rewarding. I felt I might be providing one more positive human connection, however brief, to youth who just want to be treated with dignity and respect.
I also observed scores of terrific staff members who came through the line for a little breakfast and then mingled easily with the youth in the relaxed atmosphere – listening, laughing, comforting, and advising.
I’ve served breakfast to young people with red, bumpy marks on their foreheads after spending the night on the sidewalk. I’ve seen them beet-red with sunburn or still shivering from the cold.
I’ve also seen them elated after finishing a job-training program, thrilled as they move into safe housing, and proud to be marking new sobriety milestones.
I don’t kid myself that I’m turning anyone’s life around by being a kitchen volunteer. Many of these young folks have challenges that defy imagination. The staff professionals are the ones equipped to help them navigate through the obstacles and build a positive future.
I can’t do what the counselors do.
But I can make sure these young people get a good breakfast. I can remember their names. I can make sure they get a kind word and a smile.
That’s something every volunteer can do.
And that can be worth a lot.
As a patient at Outside In, the dignity, compassion, and respect that I was shown by staff truly had a lasting impact on me and directly resulted in me wanting to get involved in helping my community.