As many people might know, I am nearing the end of my year of service as a Mercy Volunteer at Hands on Hartford. My days at the food pantry were filled with answering phone calls, greeting clients, guiding folks around the pantry, entering statistics, and assisting with other various supportive services. This year began with a feeling of anxiety and is now wrapping up with a sense of accomplishment.
Personally, my biggest challenge was communicating with our pantry clients when there was a language barrier. At first I would shy away from any interaction where I might not be able to communicate fully. Over time I have managed to pick up a few Spanish words, but one I like to use frequently is “Me gusta…” and then I point to the part of a client’s outfit I find cute. I have one particular interaction in mind that includes an older Spanish-speaking woman, a pair of earrings, and myself. As usual, I greeted this client with a smile, “hola,” and then my famous “Me gusta…”, followed by a point to her earrings. I never saw someone smile so brightly! This elderly woman radiated with excitement since I noticed her earrings that she immediately offered them to me. Through her broken English and my broken Spanish, we laughed, smiled, and somehow I ended up with the earrings. This client was so happy to be able to make a gift instead of just receiving, she brought me a necklace at her next month’s appointment. I received much more than these two pieces of jewelry in interacting with this woman. She taught me that we always have the power to give to one another- whether it be a smile, hug, food, or something else. It’s these types of interactions that remind me of how much we all have in common in our desire to be appreciated for our own gifts to the world.
My time at Hands on Hartford has been full of new experiences, meeting new people, interacting with a different culture, and also finding ways to help those who are less fortunate. In my social work role, I have come to truly love assisting clients, especially with their utility bills. Whenever I schedule an appointment for utility assistance, I dedicate one full hour for them. This time is special to me because I am able to sit down with a family and hear more about their story- their jobs, struggles, family dynamic, and expenses. My first client this year was one that I will remember forever: The woman worked a job that gave her hours only during certain seasons, received limited assistance from the government, but for the most part was trying to make it on her own. I then advocated for her to her electric company. Together, we were able to set up a payment plan that she could afford- $90 a month. I submitted the proper paperwork and then was happily surprised when I learned we could provide her with 3 months of payments- a total of $270! Upon calling the lady to let her know of our assistance, I received the delighted reply of “I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!” I guess you could say she was grateful and excited. While not every client reacts with such strong emotions, I know that by advocating for them, I can help to alleviate a portion of their financial burden and stress.
It is in these moments of interacting with clients that I have come to realize that my passion lies in helping others. My time with Hands on Hartford has solidified my plan of attending graduate school for social work. I have truly found myself while serving my clients each and every day. Even though I cannot solve all of the world’s problems, I can make a positive difference on the lives of those I do encounter. Saying good-bye to everyone has been difficult, but I appreciate the well wishes from clients for my next endeavors for graduate school back home in Rochester, NY. Thanks for making this year so memorable!
Mercy Volunteer at Hands on Hartford