I am a student at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I am taking a class during Winter Quarter called Poverty in America, and for the class, we have several “service learning projects” that require us to go out to places in the community that help impoverished people. This past week I was scheduled to go to St. Vincent’s (a homeless shelter) in downtown Dayton. I was supposed to be helping to sort clothing donations, but what I got was a knife to the stomach as far as the reality of poverty. As I walked into the building, a young woman and her two children were leaving the building. They were two little girls, probably about 2 and 4, with angelic faces, full heads of pale blond hair, and blue eyes. They were a little disheveled, but I assumed that they had been playing roughly like most little kids do. The older one saw me standing at the receptionist’s desk and took a few steps toward me with total confidence, declaring, “look at my new shoes!”. She proudly displayed her white and pink high-top sneakers as a gold medal by pulling up a pant leg. The shoes were obviously used. I smiled and told her that she looked pretty in her new shoes. She skipped and jumped around the lobby, singing to herself. Her younger sister smiled at me and shyly slipped her small arm around her mother’s knee. She was carrying a garbage bag of clothing, and after a pleasant goodbye, herded the girls out the door and into the snow. I smiled to myself watching them walk away. The receptionist, an elderly woman with soft white hair, stated, “that’s one of our homeless families”. I felt as if I could fit a bowling ball in my mouth, it was open so wide. But, they seemed so normal! Homeless people, in my limited experience, have been stereotypically disheveled and distraught. This family was neither. My ignorance caused my cheeks to turn red and flushed, and I turned my face away quickly. Who knew that a class that literally forced you to be charitable would teach me the reality of homelessness and the resiliency of human character.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.