A volunteer point of view

This was written by a dedicated volunteer who has volunteered at Julia West for an extended period.
Years ago when I was working for a large company here in town, I spotted a young disheveled man who used to pick cigarette butts from an urn placed outside my building. Some days he looked more disheveled than others and I wondered why he was there and what his story was. I never, however, looked him in the eyes. I never said
“good morning”, I walked past him as if he didn’t exist. I can excuse this behavior in many ways— growing up in NYC, I was taught to never make eye contact with strangers. Also, an unwritten code of conduct is that there a some people who are deemed invisible by society (me?) and that’s the way we treat them. Maybe we really don’t want to know their story. They ‘re scary for many reasons.
Then came the day when I first volunteered at Julia West. I entered the main room and it was filled with “the invisible people”. I
started my “new job” by basically only talking to other staff members, reading relevant paperwork and answering the phones. It was a “safe start”.
I slowly noticed though, that these “invisible” people had faces, stories and personalities. True, some of them still seemed a bit
scary. Slowly though I began to nod to folks and say “have a good day” when they came to get the bags that they had stored. I was
surprised at first when they called me by my name. Then I realized I had my name badge on and had to laugh at myself.
One day, the cigarette urn man came in. I recognized him and said “good morning.” I found out his name was “David” and we began to wave when we saw each other and even smile. I found that some days he looked a lot better than others and my heart was heavy when he looked more confused than usual. He seemed happy to be able to have a cup of coffee, sit down for awhile and be recognized by another human being. And I am happy to be able to see beneath the tangled hair and ragged clothes. I am happy to greet “David”.