Working at MATS full time has turned out to be a rewarding and eye-opening experience. Prior to this, I had only worked in corporations, where I enjoyed growing in management, pushing myself to learn multiple trades and excelling in each one. I lived to work, and one could say I was definitely a workaholic. With the birth of my first grandchild, I knew I wanted to slow things down a bit and learn to appreciate life. I wanted to work so that I could live. With that came the question, “Well Lord, where do you want me?”
Nothing could have prepared me for what his answer would be. I mean, I’m a person who holds some pretty strict standards. If I had a penny for every time my daughter told me my standards were too high, well you see where I am going with this. So, how well would I fare in non-profit work? I think I came in with the same mindset that most people have when thinking of the homeless population. The stereotypical: “lazy, want something for nothing, did it to themselves, why don’t they just go out and get a job, drunks or drug abusers," you name it, I thought it. My first month, I thought, “whew, what have I gotten myself into here?” I debated many times if I was the person for the job. My skill set superseded the job itself; the question posed was more about my mindset. I promised myself one year before answering that question, and I am so thankful I did.
Loving statistics like I do, I started putting data into spreadsheets. I wanted to know what the reasons for the homelessness were, and I wanted to know if we were being successful in making a difference, both in the community and in these people’s lives. The answers I found impressed me and my excitement grew with each month. What I began learning took everything I thought homelessness was and threw it out the window. When you sit with someone during an approximate 90 minute intake process, asking all the right questions, you begin to see their problematic areas and armed with that information you can start building an individual plan for them. Everything from teaching basic soft skills, cooking, budgeting, time management, collaborating with area services to give the client full service help all the way around, touching every aspect of their life, improving upon some good habits and retraining where the bad ones were, a paradigm change begins to form and you are rewarded with seeing progress. This is where I am reminded in the Bible about the “least of these," which is a phrase that originates from Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus speaks of those in need. I do not believe in handouts, but I do believe in offering a hand up to those who are ready, willing and able to help themselves.
I know what you must be thinking. I thought the same thing. “This is common sense stuff, right?”
To most of us, yes. When you’ve been fortunate to grow up in a stable family with working parents, stay at home parents, parents in general who have invested in their children and have taught them the basics, you generally take for granted common knowledge things. Small things you and I never even give thought to, such as: hygiene, how you should dress for different occasions, how to treat others, how to cook, do laundry, and the list just goes on and on. I never give thought to those things. I get up, make the bed up, shower, brush my teeth and get dressed for the day. I have a routine that requires no thought process; it’s automatic, because as a child my parents invested in me, they taught me those things early on. I was fortunate. I have learned there are many who were not as fortunate, and now they’re adults, some are parents and the cycle repeats. I remember taking a young woman, finding her some clothes that actually fit her, showing her how to care for her hair, and watching the excitement in her eyes as she looked at herself in the mirror. She said, “I didn’t even know that I could look like this." My heart hurt at her words, but my heart also soared with emotion that I couldn’t even name at the time.
We’ve had families come in who thought they were financially stable, worked at their job for numerous years with a good head start on their 401(k), and never dreamed they would need the help of MATS. Corporations generally give no warning to employees when they decide to sell their company, and likewise, new owners rarely give notice when they decide to liquidate that company and eliminate the jobs. This family thought they would be able to gain employment long before the 401(k) ran out, but that didn’t happen. Late on rent, the landlord began the eviction process. This scenario was nowhere in my thought process of the reasons why people found themselves homeless and I learned that anyone could be just a few paychecks away from this family’s very situation. What would happen in this case if MATS did not exist? How quickly could this family have pulled things together for themselves and their children? I am not sure of that answer.
In my five years here, I have many such stories. The top reasons for homelessness among our population have been: un-medicated mental illness, and the lack of affordable housing, especially for the disabled and families with children, followed by unemployment, poverty and low-wage jobs. Our Case Managers and Fill-ins here at MATS are on the front line every single day, 365 days a year, setting things into motion and ensuring clients are following their individualized plans. The Director, myself, case managers, board members and donors collectively make a difference in the lives of “the least of these”. I have a job where people’s lives are changed and progress is made. This is gratifying, this is what life is about and this is what I envision Christ requiring of us daily. I am pleased to be such a part of something much bigger than I am and something that will be here long after I am gone.
No matter where life takes me. My time spent here has forever changed me as a person. I will always make a point to give money, time or both to this cause, because it is the right thing to do. My husband and I both now have a different perspective of what homelessness really is, and as such, we know that we are blessed, and we never forget to be grateful daily for what we have. Since putting that into practice in our own lives, we have seen even more blessings bestowed upon us. Live every day with a grateful heart, treat people with respect and always look for a way to be a help to someone else without looking for something back in return – God will bless you for that.