Anthony J. D’Angelo said, “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”
I moved back to West Virginia a little over a year ago after spending the last 15 years out of state. What I found when I moved back was very disheartening. Not only was the drug epidemic rampant, (I joked (I no longer do) multiple times that the people wandering around downtown Clarksburg looked like extras from The Walking Dead) but the citizens of Clarksburg spewed so much hate and negativity towards the homeless and addicts that I wanted to punch someone (not really, but you get that it made me angry). This was not the West Virginia I knew and loved. It wasn’t the West Virginia that I swelled with pride when I got to tell a complete stranger where I was born and raised. My Mountain Mama loved everyone and helped everyone and didn’t turn a blind eye on those that were down on their luck or needed help. We stepped up. We helped one another. Even those who did us wrong.
Over the last couple of months a shift has been occurring. A sea of positivity and change has been underway. I see more and more people getting involved and wanting to help. Each week we have new faces showing up at Outreaches to volunteer. Each day someone new is reaching out to The Change Initiative asking how they can get involved. And I’ve been blown away by this shift and by the desire others have to help those they do not know.
I now see fewer negative posts on Facebook and more posts about people wanting to help. If we want to fix the problem we cannot do so with hate. Responding with hate is bit like throwing a ball at a wall - it’s always going to bounce back. It only seems appropriate to quote Martin Luther King, Jr. “ Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
Yesterday was the pinnacle of the positive shift to date. The Christ Episcopal Church allowed The Change Initiative and The Clarksburg Mission to use their gym as an emergency shelter Sunday and Monday night so those without a place to stay could get out of the cold and stay someplace warm. We had a nurse from the Clarksburg Treatment Center who volunteered her time to attend to anyone who may need medical attention.
The people seeking shelter are grateful - as a right of passage Karen made them play the Bean Boozled game - (For the record, every jelly bean I got was the nasty flavor) they weren’t so grateful for that. (who wants to eat a barf flavored jelly bean?) They volunteered to help - clean up, pass out food, whatever we needed. One guy told me we were angels. I told him we were just doing what we hoped someone would do for us if we were in the same situation.
On my way home tonight it was a blistering eight degrees. I began to cry. I cried for those without a place to stay. I cried for those we helped. I cried for those who volunteered. But selfishly, I mostly cried because I was so grateful that I don’t know what it is like to be homeless. It really could happen to any of us. Life is funny like that. None of us are that far removed from a couple of bad choices and chances that could lead us to being on the street. Or being an addict.
In less than 12 hours we raised $300 in donations, bought 40 air mattresses, had 40+ blankets, soup, snacks, and a ton of pastries donated. Do you know how awesome that is? Do you know why that was possible?
Because people care. Because we are a community.
If any church would like to serve as an emergency shelter please reach out to The Change Initiative firstname.lastname@example.org