Elisabeth Moore, a Teen Feed Advocate, writes an article for Real Change answering the question:
“What was it like for a student from Bush School to work with homeless youth?”
In the end we’re all just people.
While being stuck in traffic or at a red light one of my favorite pastimes is to sticker gaze. This is especially satisfying given the social, environmental, and political consciousness that embodies the Pacific Northwest. Everyone seems to wear their views on their sleeves, proudly displaying their political puns or environmental slogans; even organizations’ logos adorn the bumpers and windows of our cars. It was on one of these cars’ stickers “think globally act locally” that resonated with me and eventually lead me to Teen Feed.
I had already worked with advocates of animal and human rights, environmental causes, disease research awareness, refugee assimilation, and attended more protests, marches, and rallies than I can remember. I started thinking locally, very locally. It was then that I found Teen Feed, a component of the University District Service Providers Alliance (UDSPA). It was a perfect match. Less than five minutes away from my home was an entire community, an untouched microcosm, I had never engaged.
It was intimidating; some of the homeless youth were older than me in years and experience, so I stood guarded behind a kitchen service wall serving meals and being protected from their sometimes harsh and sometimes gracious stares. My only interactions with youth were non-conversation starters like, “salad or fruit?” or “Is that enough?” So when I was asked by one of my supervisors to work as an advocate, sharing meals and conversations with the youth, I was in a mixed state of excitement to be out of the kitchens and nervousness to be actually working with youth directly; I could no longer hide behind the service wall.
My first meal was similar to my first day at a new school; I went down the line getting my food and then scouted out a place to sit. I didn’t know much more of youth’s identities than a “salad person” or a “more cheese person”; but I swallowed my hesitance, tried to look composed and took a seat. I repeated the words I had been told when confiding my concerns with another advocate, “they might be homeless, but we’re all just people.” After a few rounds of that chorus I was peeled out of my own head when the youth sitting across from me said, “Today was a weird day” and the ice cracked. From there on it only got easier. The following meals were filled with conversations about everything from SNL skits to politics and religion. It didn’t have to be deep it just had to be a connection. So youth continued from celebrity gossip to guilty TV and movie pleasures and by the second week I had met more compelling people in two weeks than I had met in a lifetime.
And so I stay. My project is now wrapping up yet I am finding myself ready to go to Teen Feed even on my days off. I feel obligated to the people I have met. I think about them and their stories when listening to a friend complain about having “nothing to wear” when I know people who actually have nothing to wear. So my advice to you is “act locally”, the first step to bettering the world is bettering your community. You don’t need to adopt a child from China, there are orphans here, and in my case, I didn’t need to fly to Palestine to work with displaced people, they are right in my neighborhood.