Personal Essay: A Trip to the Homeless Shelter

The following essay comes from the pen of Kathleen Bateman, SHARE-UMMS Treasurer, who works in the Pathology Department. If you read this and get excited to dedicate some of your own time to families in need, check out this directory of central Worcester homeless shelters.
Kathy, preparing for last year's SHARE Chocolate Day
Just a couple of weeks ago, I volunteered a few short hours of my time at a homeless shelter in Worcester for the first time ever. I had no idea what to expect or what I would be walking into. The host welcomed me and gave me a quick run-down on the layout of the building and some background information about the families living there. Then she passed me the keys and I was left with the families. The adults occupied themselves by cooking dinner or staying in the one bedroom that they shared with their whole family, or watching television in the main family room. Two little girls, with paper and paints in hand, ran straight up to me and asked me to paint with them. So I said ok. They moved very quickly and in about one minute, they were covered up to their elbows in finger paints. Luckily I had some help from another parent cleaning up that catastrophic mess. Shortly thereafter, the person who was the designated cook for this night’s evening meal announced that dinner would not be ready at 6:00 and it would be at least another hour to hour and a half for the roast to be done, that she had put it in the oven too late. I panicked, not knowing if this was something I should involve myself in, or if there was anything I should say or do or not. It was clear that some of the children were hungry. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was in over my head and this was the right thing for me to be doing. After a few minutes, the cook-of-the-day and the other parents decided that the rest of the other food was ready and brought it out to the table. Everyone ate their dinner while the roast continued to cook. It finished cooking at 7:30 and the families munched on it.
There were many children ranging in age from three to sixteen years old. Even today I can picture each child in my mind; however, there was one child in particular, a beautiful ten year old girl, who will remain in my memory. She stood straight and tall, walked up to me with a smile on her face and asked, “Would you help me with my homework, please?” She asked so confidently and unafraid. I said that I would be happy to help her with her homework and said, “I just hope it isn’t math.” She laughed and said, “It is Math”. The homework was to calculate the areas and the perimeters of rectangles! I am no whiz at mathematics, it is my Achilles heel, (again, in over my head), but we sat together and she showed me the “how to” directions at the top of the page on how to calculate the area. She struggled to add up the columns and carry her “1”s, and I guided her as best I could. You could see the effort and earnestness in her desire to learn, and to learn how to do it right. She completed the area calculations into centimeters, however there was no instruction on how to calculate the perimeter of a rectangle. I now believe that Google is a miracle! We googled how to calculate the perimeter of a rectangle – which turned out to be pretty simple. So she finished her homework and we joined the other children and a few mothers in the family room. Some of the older children occupied a few of the younger ones, by playing dolls, brushing their hair, and reading books to them. I was amazed by their cooperation.
We sat, talked, and eventually we got around to singing. This beautiful ten year-old girl said that she loved to sing, that she and her mom sing together and that their favorite song to sing together is, “Killing Me Softly.” Roberta Flack had a huge hit with this song in the late 1900’s, way back in the last century. It was made into a remix recently, which is the version she sang for me, still sung by Roberta Flack. The voice that came out from this girl was so amazingly beautiful – I couldn’t help but think that she should be on American Idol. The other children sang their favorite song, “Stitches,” and they danced along to it too. We read a few books and soon it was time for the children to go to bed. Each child said good night but this beautiful 10 year old girl in the 4th grade came over to me and gave me such a goodnight hug and said, “Thank you.” She hugged me for a very long time. I felt that hug on my whole drive home. Those few short hours have stayed with me ever since and I think of her often.
I will surely be volunteering my time again.