For example, for the past couple months we have hosted nutrition students from the University of Southern Indiana. They have done a study to try to improve the health of people with high blood pressure by providing information on better nutrition. The students staffed a table throughout the summer taking blood pressures, giving out extra food, offering nutritional advice, and simply talking to the cast of characters who come through our doors every day.
On her last morning with us, one of the students came into the main office and said, “It’s been interesting. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned about who I want to work with in the future and…who I don’t. I don’t know how you guys do it every day. ”
Over the course of the summer, she’d spoken with men, women, and children who were low income, homeless, mentally ill, disabled, sick, healthy, gay, straight, non-English speaking, African American, Hispanic, white, angry, frustrated, happy, hopeful, and everything in between.
“I believe that everybody has a redeeming quality. For some it’s not so hard to see. Some it is, but everyone has something,” says Mary Damm, who volunteers regularly in the Health Ministry.
Our volunteers are here to help, but they also have a good opportunity to learn from our guests. I am thankful for time to talk to our guests and to get to know them and their stories. For all of them, these stories are complex and go beyond bare statistics and polarizing pro/con arguments. They are individuals, and they are created in the image of God. Learning from them is one of the things that makes my job worthwhile.
For another reflection on learning at Patchwork, watch this interview with Jesse Graber in which he talks about his experience as an Arts & Smarts staff member and a Mennonite Voluntary Service worker: