“If you wish to serve, if you have compassion for people, if you have any love for the world, step forward bravely.” – Amma
On December 17th, 2016, members of AYUDH Boston came together to make Blessing Bags for a women’s shelter in Ashland, MA. They raised enough money with the help of the MA Center of New England to make enough bags for all thirty guests at the shelter. The bags contained a water bottle, Emergen-C, a granola bar, crackers, toothpaste, a toothbrush, mouthwash, gum, shower gel, shampoo, lotion, deodorant, hand sanitizer, Kleenex, band aids, gloves, a tube scarf, socks, a hat, and a treat of chocolate. Each bag also contained a handwritten note and card signed “We love you! ~ Embracing the World.” The next day, AYUDH Boston members visited the shelter to distribute the bags and meet the recipients. Here are their reflections and a few of the Blessing Bag recipients’ stories (the names have been changed to respect confidentiality):
By the time we reached the women’s shelter, it was already dark. We pulled into an icy and slushy curb outside an old, white house and began to unload the thirty bright and cheery holiday bags from the van. As the shelter coordinator began unlocking all of the gates, we stood outside the door, the white paint chipping off around the edges, unsure of what we would find on the other side. The shelter provided support for women going through all different kinds of difficulties in life including drug abuse and domestic violence. A faint scent of cigarette smoke wafted into the winter air as the door opened.
However, when we got inside, we were greeted by friendly smiles from the shelter coordinator and some residents near the foyer. “Never give up. Miracles happen everyday,” said a sign in the corner of one of the rooms. We learned that the shelter, in operation since 1993, housed women in need for up to ninety days, supporting them through a nearby career center with computers and staff to provide help with finding employment and teach skills like resume building. In addition to housing, the women are provided two regularly scheduled meals, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, the opportunity to step up to more stable housing, and support for daily needs like learning chores and maintaining hygiene.
Before we handed out the bags, we sat down together with some of the guests and learned about their lives, sorrows, hobbies, hopes for the future, and what puts a smile on their faces. By the end, as we were handing out the Blessing Bags and the women read the cards inside, some were in tears, thanking us and holding our hands. Some of the women came to the shelter with nothing except the clothes on their backs. By welcoming us into their residence for the evening, these women gave us a new perspective on life and provided an experience that will help us learn how we can better serve humanity in our futures too. It was a blessing both ways. It was amazing to see what we thought wouldn’t make much of a difference, made their day so much better and made them feel so special.
As we watched the women, many finally beginning to win against a lifetime struggle with addiction or on stable medications for the first time, smile and open their hearts to us, we realized that we also received an incredible gift, indeed a blessing, by allowing their stories to open our hearts as well. As Amma says, “We are not isolated islands, we are connected links in the chain.”
Humans of AYUDH
Anna – “Willpower”
“L O V E” read the tattoo on the fingers of Anna’s left hand. Anna grew up in Massachusetts in a family with alcoholism, abuse, and divorce. She struggled with drugs and alcohol for twenty-nine years. The first time she came to the shelter, she wasn’t ready to change, but then later found the willpower to engage in self-reflection and find a positive attitude. With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, she was able to learn to accept others’ suggestions for how to change her life, moving from withdrawing from criticism to learning to really listen. “Being homeless is hard. You feel lost and alone. It’s a struggle. It helps to have people who care.” Having lived a few months in a tent on the street, Anna is now grateful to have a place to sleep at night and a job. With her new job, she was able to buy some Christmas gifts for her seven-year old daughter who lives with Anna’s mother. Anna is looking forward to forming a better relationship with her daughter.
Rachel – “My father’s love”
Rachel’s parents both passed away when she was young, her mother when she was six and her father when she was twenty-seven. When her father died, Rachel found that she was on her own, and all that used to be stable in her life suddenly disappeared. One day Rachel slipped and fell on a patch of ice, getting hurt and disabled and needed to move in with one of her sisters. After a while without a job or income due to the injury, Rachel had to leave and fortunately found the shelter. “It’s been a gift. An absolute gift.“ Despite the hard times, Rachel carries the optimism, inspiration and love from her father, who diligently took Rachel to church when he was alive, with her everyday. Rachel is looking forward to one day having a place of her own in which to live and finding a good job opportunity that will allow her to give back to the shelter.
Catherine – “A better person”
Catherine has been working at the shelter since August and explains how it has been a very humbling experience. When she comes in for the day, she knows that she has to put aside whatever she is feeling and instead dive into everyone’s points of view on a case-by-case basis. She explains that her job is to keep the place safe, give the guests their medication, and sometimes call for medical and psychiatric emergency help when needed. Catherine explains that everyone has their own path, everyone has their own needs. Sometimes the guests just need someone to sit and talk with and sometimes they just want to be left alone. Catherine has seen some really tough cases as well as some miracle cases; sometimes the women achieve stable housing and employment and are even able to get their children back. She says that working at the shelter has helped her become better at empathizing with people. “It’s made me a better person. It’s made me a better listener.”
Denise – “Getting out on my own”
Denise doesn’t like to talk much about her life, but she does love to draw. She draws “whatever comes to mind.” Denise says that she also likes to hang out. She says life is good and that at the shelter, “It’s a nice place.” Denise is looking forward to “getting out on my own.”
Patricia – “Here to help”
Patricia first came through the shelter as a client three years ago after getting out of prison. Even though she had a huge family, none of her relatives were able to take her in after she was released. She came to the shelter with nothing but a plastic bag with a few letters. The house manager at the time gave her clothes and support, and for once she “didn’t have to fight for it.” She ended up getting a job three weeks later, transitioned to longer-term housing after one month, and eventually became the house manager. “This house has done so much for me,” she says, “If you want to do the right thing, every single one of us here is here to help. We all work together to get the women up on their feet.” Patricia thanked us profusely for the Blessing Bags. A little teary-eyed, Patricia told us “I’m touched because when I first came here I had absolutely nothing.” Now in the position of house manager, Patricia is so grateful to be able to give the women these necessities just as she was helped out when she was in need.
Candice – “Blessed”
Candice struggled for years with medical disabilities that made it difficult to work, sleep, and do daily activities. Candice is also recently divorced from a husband who has severe depression. Because of her disabilities and need for expensive medications, Candice found that her savings were all gone and that she couldn’t pay for her mortgage. “This shelter and the people have been a blessing.” Candice hopes to become financially more stable and move closer to her family in Canada