Houston Youth Serve at the Youth Drop-in Centre
For the Houston youth, the start of the New Year also signaled the start of volunteering at the homeless youth drop-in centre. After having gone through the training in November, the four young adults were eager to put their learnings to good use. The drop-in centre had scheduled them to volunteer two Thursday evenings every month with other groups, with the responsibility of facilitating an open and loving environment for the visiting youth to share and grow. As this was their first session, the volunteers went in open-minded, knowing Bhagawan would help guide their own contribution and growth. As it turns out in fact, their experience was even more touching than they could have anticipated.
The volunteers arrived by 6:00 PM and were immediately put to use sorting and filling shelves with donated clothes from the holiday season. During this time, the at-risk youth started filing into the drop-in shelter and taking their seats in the large dining room. The volunteers joined them and while everyone waited for dinner to be served - prepared by another gracious volunteer group - light conversations were struck up.
The daily struggles of the youth, the unusually freezing winter days, and the red-hot Houston Rockets basketball team - whatever the topic, the words flowed easily before and through dinner. After the plates and the tables were cleared, the main session of the night was set to begin. Usually, the drop-in centre director would organise an outside speaker to come in and lead a workshop. This time, a representative from Writing In The Schools (WITS) had arrived to help the youth get comfortable with a new outlet for their hopes, emotions and dreams - the written word. Dressed in a black sweatshirt, jeans and Converses, and standing before the group, she shared her own story through a poignant poem, her words painting an intricate portrait of her struggles and triumphs as they resounded through the hall. The youth - and the volunteers - sat raptured, and when she finished, they all gave a hearty round of applause. She smiled, "Now your turn." The youth looked at each other apprehensively. "Nah, that ain't for me," one said. "I haven't written in years," said another. But just as skillfully as she weaved through her story, she broke out journals and pens for each of the youth and calmly reassured them, "Don't worry, you write whatever you wanna write. I'm just here to help." She started off with simple prompts: "Write 'I dream...' on one line, 'I will...' on another line, and 'I hope...' on a third line." For one young man who insisted on just drawing, she encouraged him to draw whatever he'd like. For the others, it was as if these prompts struck a chord with their souls. In either case, for a few miraculous minutes, the pens didn't stop moving. "Now," the WITS lead asked as she broke the silence, "who would like to share?"
After some coaxing, she got two sisters to volunteer. As they got to the front of the hall and started reading their poems, she noticed an opportunity. She quickly interrupted them, "I'd like you to alternate reading each of your lines - can you do that?" The sisters laughed. And then started again. As they made their way through their poems, each of their lines grew more powerful from the other's - a beautiful interwoven story of their now inseparable lives. Smiles and applause filled the hall and a senior lead volunteer spoke up, with tears in her eyes, "I've never in so many years of coming here seen something like this. These kids have never opened up like this." The rest of the youth shared their own stories, one by one, and towards the end, the WITS lead asked the kids, "So how many of you surprised yourself today?" Almost all of the kids raised their hands. She expressed her gratitude to the youth for being such willing participants and the youth and the volunteers reciprocated with gratitude for helping to bring light to the shelter and beyond. After the final clean up and with full stomachs and hearts, the volunteers and the youth walked out into the world ready to share their open hearts with one and all.