The following is an edited version of an article written by Miss Zoe Shulman, 7th Grader.
Last summer, an interest in GLIDE Memorial Church was sparked in me. I attended a camp held at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and served lunch there everyday for a week. During my first day, I felt terrified. The plan was to offer meals and feed the homeless, the strangers I had been discouraged from making eye contact with all of my young life. This was a new and totally unfamiliar experience for me, so for the first 15 minutes, I was paralyzed out of fear. Looking back now, I know I had nothing to be afraid of. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
After that first lunch service, my fellow campers and I sat at one of the tables where we had just served lunch. We talked about our service, and were offered the food that Glide had served that day. I politely declined, once more out of fear of the unknown, and ate my own bagged-lunch.
The next day, when we returned to GLIDE, I worked at the GLIDE Coffee House. The Coffee House is where people with disabilities or families can go to eat. It is much smaller than GLIDE’s general mess hall, which made me more comfortable because there were fewer people there to take care of. I saw that the people who work in the Coffee House were strong communicators, which was important because some of the people who eat there are tightly wound, don’t speak English or have other challenges that they need help with. Over the course of those two days, I had built some confidence. I approached the first guest to offer him a tray of lunch. He was in a wheelchair due to severe injuries on his legs and I said, “Here is your tray, my name is Zoe, and if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask me.” This man responded with, “Thank ya, Zoe,” and just that statement alone made me feel many different emotions at once. I thought, “How could a man living on the streets with those injuries be so kind?” That was the first time I realized that people aren’t so different after all, even those who lead different lives than we do.
One example of this is a woman named Iris. Iris works at GLIDE, and her story is one of heartbreak and triumph. Iris was the single mother of four, when her world was turned upside-down due to a tragic loss of her son. Iris was in shatters. She had just lost a child, was living on the streets, and had no soft landing pad to fall back on. Then she turned to GLIDE. At first, she just came for the meals, but after a while, she started going to some of the many programs GLIDE offers. She had begun to put the pieces of her life back together. It took time and some doing, but she did it. Now she lives in the GLIDE Community Housing, and works as a security guard there, determined to help others in the way GLIDE helped her. This is just one story that came to be at GLIDE. There are hundreds of others, some better, some worse, but most end in the same way: Victory.
Fast forward to Friday, the last day of my camp, and I’m giving everyone hugs, referring to them by name, and having heart-to-heart conversations with them. No matter what job I worked, I had fun, and made friends with the person next to me. The last day there, when I was offered the lunch that they had served that day, I happily accepted, and ate the meal with a smile on my face. Just one week working at GLIDE and I became a person I didn’t know I could become. I was talking to these people, making eye contact and smiling along with them.
GLIDE isn’t just a church. GLIDE is so much more. It is a warm meal, a shoulder to lean on when you need it, and programs that help the needy. GLIDE is a family, and GLIDE is in me. Even from day one, I knew this place was special. Sacred, even. This is a place that welcomes everyone, and has housed hundreds of the homeless with their new community homes.
I am lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn there. Not many people can say that they have. GLIDE provides the food, the shelter and the tools needed to teach someone how to fend for themselves. Like the old saying goes: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; if you give a man a fishing pole, he will eat forever.” GLIDE does just that. Like a good parent, they supply the things needed to satisfy oneself, teach the lessons that need to be taught, and educate about the things people need to know. GLIDE’s goal is to liberate individuals so they don’t have to be dependent on someone else; to free them of their cage. This is one of the things I learned there, and it is a lesson I will carry with me forever. I have always led a safe and sheltered life, and only experienced poverty as an observer from the sidelines. Before GLIDE, it was hard for me to relate to and understand people down-on-their-luck. Now I understand the courage and resiliency it must take to ask for help, help oneself, and create a new future.
The human connection there is immense. People from completely different backgrounds relate to each other in ways deeper than words can describe. I must admit, going there for the first time, I was full of judgments about these people. To really experience Glide, I had to put all of those judgments away, and accept these people for who they are and not for their current living situation. After I did that, made a little change in behavior, I began to create connections with people there. Like I said in the title, “Overcome the separation mindset.”