This is part of a series on people and projects making change at Bread. You can read the other blog posts in the series here.
I try to change people by holding them to a standard of openness. Not everything is “one way,” and you don’t have to be “one way.” My method of making change is to illustrate it by my actions — to be the change as opposed to using a lot of words. This draws people to me who are curious to know about how I think and what I value.
I also coordinate the clothing room at Bread for the City’s Southeast Center. At times, people who come in are frustrated and a little defensive. Remaining patient and calm helps to diffuse a tense atmosphere before people can react with anger.
I try to always remind people that we owe it to others to help because we have been helped. When I first joined BFC, the clothing room was cramped and full to capacity. I started by clearing the room out, rearranging and organizing it by bringing in my dad as a volunteer contractor to build the racks and shelves.
The changes I initiated were aimed at providing an accessible open area where people could get articles of clothing that they really enjoyed because they can see the selection and move around more freely in an unhurried and dignified way while they are “shopping.”
Recently, graduates from the Pre-Employment (PEP) have started to intern in the clothing room. This paid internship is a bridge between pre-employment and full-time employment. For over six years, PEP has been facilitated by Stacey Smith. PEP has been the catalyst for inspiring people to achieve their goals through self-awareness and providing opportunities that build their self-confidence. In 2012, twenty-one PEP alumni became employed.
TaKeisha Watlington and Reggie Pierce were the first PEP graduates to participate in the six-week internship in the clothing room. Reggie has a great personality; he makes it a point to assist people in finding what they want and make them smile or laugh. TaKeisha’s organizational skills are wonderful; she keeps everything running smoothly.
I always keep it in mind that I am accountable to the people who have invested in me to make me feel special, or those who go the extra mile to make sure that I am included in projects, activities and other community events. I feel that I owe them that respect, even if they are no longer living, by living out the values and standards that they poured into me.
When I was younger, I often felt that my elders cared more about how I lived than how I felt. Now, I am grateful for their reinforcement of positive values and compassion for others. My grandmother used to tell me, “You have to bear with each other in love.” This reminds me that you have to be patient and kind with people because, I believe, God is that patient and kind with us.
I try to treat people in a way that will make them rethink typical everyday interactions, which can be corrupted by deception, mistrust, anger and impatience. I hope that the standards of positivity, kindness, and patience that I cherish will seep into people whose lives I touch, even if just briefly in the clothing room, and that people will in turn teach these qualities to their children. I think the best thing about what I do is that I can’t see myself in a lofty way because I may never see the results of the work that is important to me. I’m glad for the little opportunities I have to help others, as I have been helped.