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.
Housing at Outside In is so much more than a roof over your head. The staff is helpful and amazing. They were always there for us anticipating our needs. Finally, we weren’t hungry anymore and we were safe.
I feel safe at Outside In. I love Outside In people. How they love us, care for us. The wonderful and fresh food, the health care, the accommodations, the hospitalities. People talking to me, listening to me. Changing lives. It is a great moment.