Bittersweet. If you were to ask me how I feel about having returned from my final mission trip with Wrights Chapel, a church that has been a part of my life for the past 13 years. This time, we spent the better part of a week in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the focus of this mission being assisting the homeless and those at risk for the condition.
We spent our first few days volunteering with an organization called UMAR, an organization dedicated to providing homes and independence to mentally disabled adults, and CAM (Crisis Assistance Ministry), who provide clothes and household items to homeless or lower income people free of charge. During these first few days, I didn’t really feel like I was learning anything new. I’d volunteered for organizations like these plenty of times before. Everything felt like second nature to me. It wasn’t necessarily a negative feeling; I enjoyed what we were doing and the people we were doing it with, it just didn’t feel new.
That is until a small group I was in volunteered at a place called “A Dove’s Nest”, a women’s addiction treatment center. While I did learn that addiction is one of the leading causes of homelessness in Charlotte there, I also learned something much more significant: a new perspective.
When our small group of about 10 was split up to help with different jobs around their dining room, I was the only one assigned to the kitchen (I was the only one wearing the required clothing for kitchen work), and I got to work with a woman named Shelby. At first, I thought she was one of the staff, including several of the other women there. They didn’t look anything like what I was expecting someone dealing with addiction to look like. They were full of energy, happy, and seemed just as well put together as any “normal” person. But that wasn’t even the biggest lesson I learned.
No, the most impactful thing I learned there encompassed every mission I’ve been on until now. Every single time I’ve volunteered, every person I’ve helped, and every time I’ve won a game of Mafia. You see, Shelby pointed something out to me. When we were working together in the kitchen and she learned that I was about to start college, she said something along the lines of “Wow, you’ve been doing this for a while then, this must be just like any other day for you.” At face value, this could be seen as a simple statement made to make conversation or maybe even a joke to make me feel more comfortable with my job serving pizza to women I’d never met, but I took it to heart.
Like I said before, it did feel like second nature, but I never put much thought into it until I heard that. I thought back to every trip I’d been on, and how I’d gotten to that point: a soon-to-be college student volunteering on his final trip as a member of Wrights Chapel’s Youth. I realized that throughout these years of going to places like Heart Havens, Teens Opposing Poverty, and even Haiti, I’ve changed a lot. I’d grown from someone who would never even dream of going out and serving random people he’d never met to someone who did it willingly and enjoyed it.
I realized something else too: all of the younger kids around me are getting that same experience. That’s the amazing thing about the work Wrights Chapel does and the opportunities for growth it gives you. You can go from never even dreaming of doing volunteer work to someone who does it because it feels natural without even realizing it. Wrights Chapel’s youth program didn’t just push me out of my comfort zone, it crafted me and is crafting others into people who are willing and ready to make the world a better, more loving place.