Every now and then we like to highlight the people who give their time to serve our clients. This month it’s Bill! He’s been volunteering with us for several months, and has been a fixture of our Breakfast Program.
I am president of the Greater Washington China Investment Center, a small nonprofit organization. I formed the organization about two years ago. It’s a bit of a “semi-retirement” project, which gives me time to work with Thrive DC.
Before that I worked 17 years for a global PR firm.
I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that would allow me to help people in need directly, face to face. A consultant I had hired for my China work asked me to be a reference for Thrive DC. I provided the reference but became curious about Thrive DC’s mission. The more I learned, the more I was convinced that this was the kind of organization I was looking for.
I have found working with Thrive extremely rewarding. I’m now coming twice a week. On Monday’s I work in the kitchen with a group from my church Blessed Sacrament. And on Thursdays I usually take names of our guests as they arrive.
I enjoy both for different reasons. The kitchen allows me to prepare the actual “product” that we provide to the guests. It also helps me hone my kitchen skills, under the gentle guidance of chef Terrance. And the intake gives me a chance to meet the guests and get to know them.
I really enjoy getting to know the guests. I try to learn more names each week so I can greet them personally. Brian is my hero in this effort. He knows everybody. As I get to know them personally, I am constantly surprised to learn people’s true personalities and “backstories.”
Not really a “moment,” but I love getting stock tips from Manny. It is so incongruous to hear him talk so knowledgeably about obscure companies he has researched and his guarantees that, if I buy a particular stock, I will get rich. Last week, I was amazed when he pulled his notes out of his pocket and produced a hand-written spreadsheet full of data on dozens of companies that he had prepared at the library. As he often says, “I am not kidding!” He’s not.
A couple of weeks ago there was a really touching incident. That day, most of the clients had arrived and the dining room was pretty full. As usual, there was a lot of conversation and laughter. I was having a conversation with Brian, a staff member, and William, a client. Years ago William was a client of Thrive DC and, in appreciation for the help he received, he returns to the breakfast program almost every day to provide emotional and spiritual support for the guests. William thrives on intellectual discourse and, when he’s not encouraging clients and staff, he is engaged in deep philosophical discussions.
We were probably talking about the meaning of life when a woman came in who was clearly in pain, not physical pain, but emotional pain. Her face was wracked. She was so stressed she couldn’t speak. I asked her for her name, but she didn’t – or couldn’t – respond. She just stood there looking like she was carrying all the anxiety in the world on her shoulders.
William asked her if she was alright. No answer. Just pain in her face. He asked her again. Nothing. Then he said, “You need a hug,” and walked over and wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. She leaned into him and put her face on his chest. They held that pose for a long time. Her face softened a bit. After a while, they separated and William kissed her on the cheek, saying, “You need to pray, dear, just pray, and you’ll be fine.” She proceeded to her table, seemingly somewhat relieved, and William departed.
The incident illustrated what is, for me, the best thing about Thrive DC. There is a spirit of community that infuses the organization. The direct services provided are necessary for the body, but the community serves the soul. Who’s to say which is the more valuable? Both are necessary and both can be found in great measure at Thrive DC.
Thrive was my first experience working directly with people in need. Frankly, I was amazed at the laughter and good will in the breakfast program. In addition to the food, laundry and showers, I was surprised to see the social benefit that Thrive DC provides the guests. The staff treat the guests with respect and affection and the feelings are reciprocated. There’s so much laughter in the room. That’s what surprised me most.
I don’t think I’ve been involved deeply or long enough to be personally “proud” of anything that Thrive DC does. But what impresses me most is the degree to which the staff treats the clients with dignity and genuine affection. I work most closely with Brian, so he stands out for me. But everyone seems to fully appreciate the humanity of all the clients.