It’s one thing to safely advocate for those less fortunate from the sidelines, and another entirely to jump onto the field and play the game.
Inspiring stories like this one make a real impact on me and make me rethink how I’m giving back to others. While I know it’s a departure from my normal posts, this story is too special to keep to myself (and I was graciously given permission to share). I wanted to add it to The CHiC Scribe leading up to Thanksgiving to hopefully inspire others to consider how they, too, can give sacrificially, and not just peripherally.
I met Dr. Dawn McCarty, an associate professor of social work, through my job at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD). She doesn’t treat her job as a 9 to 5 means to a paycheck. She jumps in headfirst and gives the best thing she can to perfect strangers – herself.
Dawn, though married, has chosen to make her home with the city’s poorest and most disadvantaged. Each week, she spends three to four nights in her 500-square-foot apartment at Casa Juan Diego, a homeless shelter for disadvantaged women, and the rest of the week at the house she shares with her husband in Galveston. Wow.
She told me that, “You really can’t know the specific needs of a population unless you live side-by-side with them. Living with these women is a joy and an honor, and is in no way a sacrifice for me.” Double wow.
When she first began working with the women’s home of Casa Juan Diego in Houston, she thought she would live with the community for three months to provide support and serve as an example for her social work students. But three months turned into four years and she’s never looked back.
In addition to eating meals with the guests, she weaves herself intricately into their lives, helping them attain legal documents, file police reports and work with Child Protective Services. Many of the women in the shelter are undocumented immigrants, victims of human trafficking, or mentally or physically battered.
One of her students also lives at Casa Juan Diego, where she moved with her family at age 10. Wendy Ramirez graduated at the top of her class and aspires to be a doctor. Dawn has been instrumental for Wendy in breaking down barriers to medical school and helping her to network.
Talk about the “power of one.” As for me: I’ve been meaning to reactivate my membership with Junior League so I can volunteer in the community again. (Been saying that for about a year now). But I don’t have to reactivate with Junior League to serve; I can volunteer with the SPCA (as I see my colleague do each week) or with a retirement home on my own. Hmm, but has it happened?
Dawn exposes all my excuses – which is exactly what they are – for the “me-centered” life I’ve chosen by default. Gulp.
As a Christian, it’s not just an “I should really do that” afterthought; it’s my duty and privilege.
“… By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:35
While Thanksgiving is certainly a time to be thankful for my blessings, it also reminds me of my need to be a blessing to others. (FYI, one of my favorite books – Same Kind of Different as Me – is an amazing memoir about how even tiny gestures can change someone’s life).
Is anyone else as inspired by Dawn’s story as I am? Who else wants to make that volunteer commitment in honor of Turkey Day? Consider the gauntlet officially thrown! Leave a comment and let me know if you sign up to volunteer, and if you already volunteer, share that with me, too! For those of you who live in Houston, Volunteer Houston is a wonderful website that will hook you up with a volunteer opportunity of any type that you choose – working with animals, the elderly, the homeless, you name it…
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” ~ Matthew 25:40
Happy Thanksgiving week!