I’ve been working at Paul’s Place for more than a year now, and writing about it is starting to feel redundant. I don’t say this to be reductive of its importance or its impact on me; but rather to illustrate my frustration with being continuously unable to capture the feeling of volunteering there. I’ve taken prac 4 times which means i’ve written about it every week (when i have school) for more than a year now, but I still cant quite get it.
My first semester at UMBC I came to be apart of the Shriver living learning community, which required me to pick a service site and do 30 hours of service. That first semester I volunteered with the choice program and while I could see the merits it’s never felt like I was a part of something; if I missed a week nobody would even notice.
This couldn’t be more untrue of Paul’s Place. An organization integrated into the community, with exhaustive resources & a deep well of empathy that I haven’t encountered anywhere else.
Paul’s Place is an oasis. Left of MLK, so many people feel underserved by the systems created to help them, feel helpless to the systems above those systems that disambiguate them from feeling like they have any control over their world. To feel helpless is unbearable.
Every week at the ‘morning meeting’ inspirational quotes are read by newcomers, hugs are exchanged, jokes are cracked, songs are sung off key. It feels incredibly simple but structured. Somewhere between a palate cleanser & a debriefing room this is the deliberate first impression of the organization. Everyone present, everything moving, everyone in.
–I forgot. The morning meeting is also when “the counting of the marbles” happens.
“The marbles are to remind us to treat every paul’s place guest with dignity & respect” –each volunteer raises the marbles they received at the close of day when they last volunteered.
I outline the morning meeting as an example of what volunteering there feels like. It feels organic. But that does not mean that it is not precise– crafted in order to allow people to feel involved, welcome, & informed.
Lessons in activism that have taken me years to learn could have taken minutes, if only by paying more precise attention to what happens at Paul’s place. Because when it comes down to it, you can build activist communities either by educating them on everything they shouldn’t do or you can show them what they should be doing. Paying respect to each other, working towards a common goal, & helping each other