A Summer of Service at Hesed House

"Welcome aboard. Family." She spoke in incomplete sentences, throwing phrases out there left and right, but the words she spoke made my heart come alive - "Welcome. Here is home. This is home. We are family. Family, home, here. All family." There were just what I needed to hear. There I was, standing in the doorway of my new home for the next eight weeks with my new roommate Emily, listening to the words of our brand new next door neighbor, on the one hand excited for the journey of these next two months, on the other hand nervous, uneasy, and uncertain as to what lies ahead.

For the next eight weeks, I will be living at a place called Hesed House in Aurora, Illinois, about an hour and a half outside of downtown Chicago. Hesed House is divided into two parts: a homeless shelter and a Transitional Living Center (TLC). My roommate and I (both rising sophomores at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN) will be living in the TLC, but serving in all different parts of the organization.

Yesterday afternoon, Emily and I arrived here at Hesed. The main staff members introduced themselves and gave us a tour of the campus. What strikes me the most about this place is the fact that it is not just a shelter for those without homes. It is a place of hope, a place of peace, a place of smiling faces and a chance for a new beginning, especially the Transitional Living Center. However, there certainly is plenty of brokenness here, broken people who have faced despair and rejection beyond comprehension.

But that is where Hesed House comes in. Hesed House provides a number of services to people without a home. First and foremost, Hesed provides mats and rooms in which to sleep at night. In the shelter, the men sleep on the top floor, the dining room is in the middle, and the women and children sleep on the bottom floor. As you walk around these floors, there are lockers for people to store their things. So often we forget that people without homes must carry their entire lives with them from place to place. Everything you own is in a backpack, or perhaps in a few worn trash bags. And here we are, on the other side of life, with a beautiful house in a great neighborhood with any toy or article of clothing we could ever desire. So often we forget the rarity of the lives we lead and the brokenness of the lives that so many must face every single day.

Secondly, Hesed House provides food for these people. I've only been at Hesed 24 hours now, but I am already overwhelmed by how giving the staff members are and how giving the people in this community are. Many meals are covered by a local Church group, a boy scout/girl scout girl, a soccer/basketball team, an office group, etc. This week, Emily and I will only have to cook one meal for the people at the shelter - breakfast on Wednesday morning (4 AM wake up call...Yikes!). But it's pretty amazing just how many people volunteer every single day to serve meals or to help out at the soup kitchen. I've realized that there's a whole lot of good in this world that we often overlook. People are better than you think.

Thirdly, Hesed provides a food pantry. The food pantry is available to families and individuals in the community who already have homes but who do not make enough money to afford food each week. This morning and afternoon, a long line stretched outside of the food pantry, into the burning sun, as person after person stood and waited for a chance to get enough food for themselves and/or their family. On top of that, Hesed House also provides a clothes closet and a comprehensive treatment plan including, but not limited to, job training, counseling, educational opportunities, fitness plans, etc.

All in all, Hesed House is about building the whole person. There is no key to "solving" homelessness. As long as this world is turning, there will be homeless people, broken people, people without so much as a reason to hope or smile. But that's where places like Hesed House come in. Hesed House gives these people hope. Hesed cannot take away peoples' homeless, but they can give them hope in their situation, giving them the tools necessary to ultimately find a job and home. And it's not just about handing them a nice cooked meal a few times a day. It's not about "hand outs." It's about hand UPS. It's about saying, "I know this is the life you lead now. But it doesn't have to be this way. Things will change, if you have the ability and the ambition to change. If you don't have the ability, we're here to help. We have counselors, educators, professionals, etc. all yearning to help you create a better life. But your job is to have ambition. If you don't have the desire and the will to change, than there's not much we can do." These are not the concrete words of Hesed House staff; these are my words. But I believe that this is the overall message Hesed is trying to convey: if you have ambition, we'll help you find a better life. Anything is possible when you take advantage of the necessary resources and you do everything in your power to reach a new beginning.

For the next eight weeks, I will be helping Hesed House carry out its mission. I will be getting to know the wonderful staff here at Hesed, getting to know the families in the Transitional Living Center, and even getting to know the homeless individuals who come for meals and a place to stay at the shelter. Last night, Emily and I served dinner to more than 150 homeless people of all ages and all backgrounds and all futures. It has been interesting so far, to say the least, but it's already pretty easy to see God's grace in this place. He's always is that light in the darkness, isn't He? I really feel Him more in the broken parts of life. This is I know for certain, that the more we step out of comfort zones, the more we are comforted by the presence of our sweet Jesus. Needless to say, I'll be out of my comfort zone for the next eight weeks. So come on into my life, sweet Jesus, stronger and clearer than ever before. I need You now more than ever. Grant than I may be able to serve as Your light in this place of darkness with the most broken of people. Shine in me, O Lord.

To learn more about my new home for the next eight weeks, please visit the Hesed House website.

The exterior of Hesed House
The shelter is on the far left, beyond the picture.
The food pantry is on the left side of the picture.
And the Transitional Living Center is on the right side of the picture.

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