4/8/11

On the Other Side of Pretty

Juliette Gordon Low Category:Girl Scouts of th...Image via WikipediaSo we took the Girl Scouts for a tour of a skid row homeless shelter for women last week. I had worried that we would come off like disaster tourists, but that's just my narcissism talking. Because we quickly realized the tour wasn't about us at all. It was about the Downtown Women's Center and the amazing work they do. They provide permanent housing for about 70 women. Most of the women who live their will stay their until they die. Most have mental or physical disabilities. Many have had substance abuse problems. Many have been victims of domestic violence. Many just had too much bad luck all at once. The residents can have cats, which I thought was nice.

This guy, Steve, led our tour. He was the volunteer coordinator. He was young and energetic--maybe 25--with a degree in psychology. And as I watched him I was simultaneously inspired and ashamed. Inspired because, in the face of hopelessness, he was so peppy, hopeful and respectful of the people he worked for. Ashamed because never in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me to build a career around this sort of service. My narcissism would not have dug that at all. I think we can all agree that Steve is the better person here.

On the way home, one of our girls said, "I just don't see how you can end up homeless. My brain just can't wrap around this. Wouldn't their families take care of them?"

I tried to repeat what Steve had said..."Blah, blah, blah...mental health...disabilities...drugs...bad luck..."

"But...I just don't get it."

Unfortuntately, I think I do.

(We're making the residents hygiene kits. It's literally the least we can do.)

(The picture is of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded Girl Scouts. But I don't know which one she is!)
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13 comments:

Jess said...

I hate to burst your bubble, but you care about other people too much to be a true narcissist. ;) I think all people, especially young people, should be exposed to the reality of human suffering. As much as we wish to shelter those we love from sadness, it is more important that we work to build compassion and empathy. I wish I had been more involved with Girl Scouts. I was in Brownies but got kicked out for giving the troop leader's daughter bunny ears in a photo that ended up in the newspaper. Well, there OTHER things- but that was the icing on the cake, I think!

Word in the Hand said...

It is a sad reality how quickly people can end up on the other side. Hopefully we all do something - you have highlghted the centre here with your writing and the girls will have learnt and will remember and tell others.

Olga said...

You certainly have nothing to feel ashamed about. That was a good lesson in compassion for all.

Rois said...

A few years ago my family and I volunteered to fill food boxes at one of our local pantry's.
Our eldest kind hearted Issac offered to help an elderly lady down the steps with her bags.As Issac came back in there was a girl about Issac's same age.The girl was beside herself with giddiness, there was cereal in their bags,not even the sugary kind,just plain old Corn Flakes.
Issac was humbled because as he said "We always have cereal"
Exposing kids to the hard things in life can make a difference.Issac has yet to forget that girl.

Bec said...

What a great thing to do with your girls. My exposure to homelessness in college had a great impact on me and shaped my passion and the work I did in my 20s. There are lots of amazing programs in the Pasadena area which continue to inspire me. Before we moved, we would get on the freeway at Lake almost every day. One day, my 3 year old asked, "mom, why isn't there anyone holding a sign today? did they all get houses?" So sad that I couldn't say, "yes!"

altadenahiker said...

Well, that's not Juliette on the far right, because that's you. Or your grandmother.

I toured (somehow that seems not quite the right word) this place several years ago. One of the residents was taking care of her friend's little dog. I immediately liked the shelter and its rules.

Petrea Burchard said...

I'm too much of a narcissist to share my time with a Girl Scout group. Maybe we can have a one up-manship contest.

The thing about Steve and people like him is that instead of overwhelming them, these challenges energize them. Bless them and bravo for them and thank goodness for them. They're holding a seemingly impossible line.

Look what an amazing thing you did for those girls. Sometimes teaching can't be told, it can only be shown.

Desiree said...

Very impressed by your goddesses in training---

Daisy said...

What a great place Margaret. Thank you for sharing it, and Steve, and your visit. When I was working at social services, I heard many a young man say: "I never thought I'd be here". It can happen so quickly. I have a feeling the young "goddesses in training" (I love that. Desiree!) will be thinking about it at their own pace and you have opened their minds and hearts a little wider.

Daisy said...

PS :-) I checked other places on the "web" and the woman in the center of the picture is Juliette Low. Kind of figured but if it's going to be on the "net", we must be accurate! ;-)

Shell Sherree said...

Caring enough to take your Girl Scouts along to see the work they are doing at the centre is an important thing in itself. If just one of those young ladies is inspired to help where it's needed in places like this, what a remarkable thing you've helped to achieve. And just as we need the Steves of the world, we also need intelligent, witty and wise writers like you, Margaret. It's all good.

Susan Campisi said...

It gives me hope for the future to learn about young people like Steve and your girls. I agree with all the other wise women here. You're doing great work on this planet as a mother and a writer.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

The mean streets of downtown. Is the home connected to some kind of hotel rehab? It gives me comfort to know that these woman with their "broken lives" have a safe place to cross the line.