It’s been pretty difficult for me to hop inside the shoes of the people I’ve helped in the past.
The summer before I came to Simpson I did some work in Uganda and had a really tough time identifying with the way of life there.
During May Term last year I worked in Denver, Co. on the Call of Service trip and found myself face-to-face with hundreds of homeless people.
Even at Shalom Zone, an after-school program I now work with in Des Moines, I struggle to relate to my girls, whose experiences at home are so very different from my own.
I simply could not identify with all these people on a lot of levels.
Working with flood victims in Cedar Rapids over fall break was a new experience. The house I grew up in sits about half a mile from the Mississippi River. When so much of my extended family and so many of my friends live in my hometown, how is it that I’ve never before witnessed flood damage first hand?
It could easily have been my family or my friends on the receiving-end of flood-relief aid.
While we were in Cedar Rapids, eight of us had the opportunity to work with two homeowners in desperate need of help.
Tammy, a mother of two, owns a house overlooking the Cedar River in a little town called Vinton. She had been out of town during the flood and came back to mold 2 1?2 feet up her first floor walls.
While at Tammy’s house, we teamed up with a crew from Michigan and got to work replacing the floor upstairs, sanding and mudding drywall, replacing the bottom three feet of siding on the outside of the house and hanging drywall and framing in the shower in the bathroom.
Mike, on the other hand, lived with his children in a house in downtown Cedar Rapids. Mike hadn’t touched his house since the flood.
The mess and the smell were overwhelming, and the mold had gotten out-of-hand.
Our crew, including students from the University of Nebraska and a youth group from Minnesota, cleared the entire first floor, the back yard and some of the basement and garage. We piled trash five feet high and two properties wide in front of the house for the city to pick up.
This project didn’t allow me to act as a privileged, upper-middle class citizen reaching out to help the poor or marginalized.
This time I worked with families that were no different than my own. Tammy’s and Mike’s stories drove me to consider how easily I could end up on the receiving end of aid.
Moreover, I think this experience forced me to remember that we all need help every once in a while. Although I give freely when I can, I know I’m given a whole lot as well. Volunteer service, for me, is a way of reciprocating all I receive.