Saying goodbye is never easy. I’ve been dwelling on the leaving part more than celebrating the new beginnings part. Rather than focusing on how I’m going to miss everyone that I have worked with in the outreach ministries, I’m going to focus on all of the great things that I have accomplished here at Old First.
I joined the Outreach/Wellspring SLG during a time of great change. The previous coordinators had departed early and there was a change in the leadership of the SLG. We were starting out fresh together and it felt that way at times, forging the waters of homeless ministry. With the help of Mindy and the Outreach SLG leaders I was able to get my ministry legs in no time. Once I got attached to the guests and the ministries, there was no going back. As if you didn’t notice by me continuing my term for two more years! I love the work that much.
The Cupboard has grown and changed into a more relaxing and welcoming environment. The guests aren’t sitting or standing outside, instead they are inside at tables relaxing while we serve them a home-cooked breakfast. This transition has to be one of the best ones. Incidences of frustration and abusive language have decreased with this change. I was following a model that I witnessed at another local social service provider. I am so glad that this transition to “come in, relax” has been so well received by the people we serve and our volunteers. Everyone has a chance to say hello to their friends that they haven’t seen in a while, take their time to drink their coffee, and enjoy the heat during the cold winter Saturdays. Somewhere along the way I was able to recruit a strong group of volunteers for the Cupboard. Many have been attending years before I was here and several have joined in since I came along. I know who I can count on if I can’t make it in or who to call when we run out of clothing or toiletries – and things get done. I can’t say enough how much I have appreciated having volunteers work with me to be sure everything gets done that needs to. It may look like I’ve been running a one-woman show, but that is not the case.
The Urban Service Camp groups have been phenomenal for me. I have really enjoyed reflecting with the youth about their pre-service perceptions and their perceptions once they’ve spent a day or two working with non-profits and churches in our community. That has to be my favorite part- hearing about their experiences, the connections they have made, and their excitement to share the good news with their parents and friends back home. It’s a lot of work being sure that all the teens are kept busy in a constructive way and also have time to relax, see the city and decompress from their service work. As much effort goes into it, I received that much in reward when they tell me how great their experience has been.
The men’s shelter has my heart, as I’m sure it does many of yours. I’ve spent many evenings talking with the guests about their day, their goals, and pop culture topics. They are people with lives just like the rest of us. I’ve grown attached to the folks from Bethesda, the volunteer cooks, and the guests. Each season, I am grateful for all the guests who find a warm place to stay in a home of their own and sad for the lack of resources to be sure each guest to have that opportunity. The guests have enjoyed me as much as I have enjoyed them. At the end of the 2012-2013 season one of the guys called the church, singing my praises. He told Michael how much it meant to him that I treated him like a person, listening to him and giving him my full attention. It really made him feel like I cared, and I do care. I haven’t forgotten the men who have let me into their lives, or the volunteers who I’ve come to call my friends. It takes all of us to make the shelter a welcoming place and I’m so grateful for the support for the men’s shelter from within and outside the Old First congregation.
I hope that you’ll join me in church this Sunday for a joint farewell reception to honor Tim Kuntz and I as we move on from Old First (we’ll also be saying our goodbyes to the Brünger family as they return to Germany). I will not be in worship this fall as I release my responsibilities on to the new coordinator, Kayla. I want to give her time to settle in and let the adjustment period happen naturally without my shadow hanging over. This is a good time for me to detach from the ministries that have become so dear to me and adjust to my new job as a Social Service worker at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. My temporary absence will hopefully make a place for Old First to grow with the new Young Adult Service Community volunteers.
I appreciate all that this community has done to help me grow in my professional and spiritual life. Don’t worry, you haven’t seen the last of me!