|Jess (right) having fun with a client|
The Savannah I see every day is not so beautifully tinged. I see the homeless men who sleep on the steps of City Hall. I see the public housing units, crime-ridden with little police intervention, located two blocks from the expensive restaurants laden with well-dressed, beautiful people. I see the men and women twisting palm leaves into flowers and crosses, peddling them to the couples and families meandering along River Street. I continually look into the faces of the people, looking for the differences, trying to understand how their lives diverged so much. Drugs, alcohol, familial instability, poor work ethics, government hand-outs, lack of education – the reasons that are given for viewing people who are impoverished as less than human. What I strive to hear, though, is how similar we all are. Every day at St. Mary’s Community Center I am face-to-face with the very same men and women and children who live each day in poverty. I laugh with them, cry with them, thank them for their help, am thanked for my help, talk about consequential and inconsequential things, and form bonds and relationships.
I have come to the conclusion that the overall prevailing mission of our Community Center, while not written on pamphlets or scrolled across the double doors, is to treat each person as a human being. I’m aware this sounds simple and idealistic and entirely too broad to make any practical, community-wide changes. But I think that may actually be the point. After being continually treated as a statistic, a number, a nameless and faceless member of some poorly-run system, wouldn’t it feel great to have someone look at you and respond, person-to-person? To make someone feel human again is not a trivial matter; society has become so desensitized to people living in poverty that we can walk by someone sleeping on the steps of a downtown building at 3 A.M. without looking back at them because it’s ‘normal.’ I could tell all the stories in the world about my past year, but it would take pages and pages to tell each individual’s story. I cannot tell one solitary story in hopes that my year, what I have seen and done, will be encompassed by it; every single day comes with its own stories. I am just grateful that there are people who still willfully share their stories with others, and I hope that we all start to listen.
Jess Atkinson - St. Mary's Community Center - Savannah, GA