Posted By Michelle On Wednesday, August 15, 2012, 3:13 PM in Blog

Story request from RHB's Dave Howlett - co-blogged:

I don't like to "assume" anything and here's why...

Not so long ago I was volunteering at the Mustard Seed drop-in center in Calgary. The Seed provides free food and shelter for folks dealing with life's struggles. But they also try to make sure people keep their dignity - a hand up, not a hand out. As an example, the Seed charges a dime for a cup of coffee and a nickle for tea. If the clients protest and claim they have no money, I often request they offer trade in kind. For example, a person might tell me a clean joke or sing a song. Some of the staff let them get away with free coffee but I've noticed a dime often magically appears if I'm firm about the deal and if not, the clients often feel a sense of self-respect when "paying" for their drink.

One day a new guy made his way to the front of the coffee line and my "drink serving" partner that day asked for a dime. The client replied that he had no money. Some of the regulars laughed as they knew what was coming. My partner smiled "Michelle's rules! You'll have to tell me a clean joke or sing a song."

He looked surprised. Then he very shyly turned around and opened his mouth. Out flowed a magnificent aria that would not be out of place in an opera hall. People stood motionless as this beautiful song filled the center. It was like nothing I've ever withnessed before. When he concluded, the entire place went crazy. People were clapping furiously and standing on the tables cheering. (We don't ever request people share songs with the whole hall - we meant for the song to be sung only for us. It took some time to settle the clients down.)

He turned back around and red-faced asked if that would do. My partner, tears in her eyes, told him he could have as much coffee as he liked! She looked at me and I just sat gobsmacked, realizing what we had witnessed in that moment would change us all forever.

It's easy to put a homeless person in a worthless category. But beautiful books often hide inside of battered covers.

Do you have a story to share about a time when you were amazed by another person? Any stories you'd like to share about your volunteering experiences?

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