Reflections from Nikki and Mara

July 10, 2018

Mara Koren

As my year ends at Broad Street, I leave with images and faces. The day we got the new carpet in the dining room, and lay on our bellies, marveling that it would never again look so perfect. Charles’s cookies. Geremi’s ever-present and ever-wise, “Yes, and.” Old Schedule Mondays when Sam, Nikki, and I rolled out the dining room tables in silence, 6:30 a.m., blue light through the windows. I told myself it was exercise. Every morning we came in and told each other our opinions on the weather, our dreams from the night before, our weekend stories.

We were not perfect, and I especially struggled with the constant decision of giving out our limited supply of clothing. How could I make that choice? Part of me is glad that soon I won’t have to make that call anymore. And all of me will miss the guests, my surrogate grandparents, my friends, the folks who checked in on me in the rush of clothing sign-ups. Never did I lift a table or carry my crate of Threadz things without someone offering to do it for me. When I refused, they did it anyway.

In March I went to a dinner for the Café staff, where they told us about the long nights, a room full of guests, a handful of staff members. It struck me that this is good work. I suppose that should have been obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Days are taxing, hard choices are made, and there is a power dynamic, as much as we want to escape it. And that night, I thought about what the Café was: a place for people to get out of the cold. There is so much hope in the world that problems will be solved, that someone else will take care of it. I saw before me those people. The ones who stayed up all night. The ones who defused tensions, who opened the doors, who lived with our guests for four months. They were the people doing it. This is good work.

I don’t know exactly what I’m doing after my AmeriCorps year, but I know I will be bringing the humility I learned with me, the humanity of meeting people where they are. And, the warmth of my “Fishbowl” Family in the front office that kept me coming back. Coffee runs with Mel and Geremi; the number of times people bought coffee for me. The many, many meetings that ended in laughter.

I am grateful to: all of you, volunteers, guests, and staff, for teaching me what compassion looks like, day after day after day.

Nicolette Santiago

I still can’t believe I’ve made it almost a year at Broad Street Ministry. It feels like I’ve been here so much longer. I decided three years ago that I wanted to work in the nonprofit world, but I had no idea what that looked like. I definitely would have never imagined my experience would include BSM, but I can honestly say this year has been more then I could have hoped for.
BSM has impacted me in so many different ways. Mainly, in the knowledge I’ve received from our staff and guests, which has helped me break personal stereotypes I have – both unconsciously and consciously. I’ve been able to share that knowledge and have been able to change people’s conversation when it comes to what they might think of homelessness, drug use, drug addiction, and mental health as a whole. I’ve been more comfortable in calling people out on words they are using to describe mental health because of working at BSM. I’ve always been a mental health advocate but seeing people that deal with it on a daily basis in different capacities than the public likes to talk about is eye opening – and a great conversation starter. Mental health is not just depression and what is portrayed on T.V. It can be truly debilitating when trying to live a “normal” life.

Many of the guests have significantly touched my life, which has made me reflect on my own self. Being able to watch them navigate the housing system and other systems that are in place – with the many setbacks and barriers – with determination and patience has made me reflect on my own self. Many of us have been a ride a long of sorts on their journeys as they FINALLY get housing or employment. One guest in particular informed that she had gotten housing after months of couch surfing. As she showed me pictures of her new place and her new furniture, I became emotional because when I met her she was in very low spirits and in tears about her situation. I stopped to talk and encourage her and since then she always comes in to check back with me, as many of the guests do. Just yesterday she was hired as a legal secretary, which she hasn’t done since 2004 but kept saying she wanted to get back to doing. She came to check in with me during her lunch break from the new job and I was so excited for her. Not only did she receive employment, but she was hired to do something she has experience in and wanted to do. She has come so far and I feel lucky that I’ve gotten to see her journey upward.

I don’t think my experience would have been the same without BSM’s amazing staff. They all treated me like family as soon as I walked in the door. Each and every one of them have taught me so much in this past year. Each of them bring such a uniqueness and light to the space that makes it so much easier to work in, even on off days. Having the privilege to not only have a great work relationship but a personal one with many of the staff is something I truly am grateful for.

I can’t even imagine leaving Broad Street Ministry, so I’m happy to say I’ll be sticking around another year 🙂