TEDxHunterCCS – Emma Hartung- The Importance of ______ in Community Service



Translator: Sheree Murray
Reviewer: Denise RQ I'm here to talk about an important
element of community service that we tend to ignore. So, what's the blank? Well, the first element I thought of
and maybe, the more conventional answer to that question is
the 'warm and fuzzy' factor. You know, that human component of service that makes you feel fulfilled,
and warm and fuzzy inside. HAAH has certainly shown me
the importance of that. We participate in night time distributions
of food, clothing, and toiletries called Midnight Runs; and while these runs serve
a real need in the homeless community, what is equally important about them is the sense of respect
and affection they build between the housed and the homeless. And the Midnight Run organization
emphasizes that. They encourage us
to keep group sizes small, and as we go around the city in our vans, they leave time in our schedule so we can linger a little bit
at each stop. And as a result, each run has
its own elements of humanity. On one, a poet read us his poetry. On another, a trained opera singer
led us in singing Christmas songs. A man living in a shelter showed
his latest accomplishment, he'd set up an email address. A group of Hispanic laborers
encouraged us to see the world. A woman who had been robbed of
her belongings while asleep on the streets still thanked us profusely
and waved goodbye as we drove away. These moments that HAAH shares with
the homeless and the conversations we have are just as important as any one bagged meal
or pair of pants that we can give them. And they're important
for the volunteers, too. Nothing encourages me more
to keep doing what I am doing than seeing the look on someone's face
when I hand them the right pair of pants, or being thanked
by one particularly effusive man, for having thought
of absolutely everything. And it's not just me. I'll never forget one freshman, skipping
back to the van after her first run, smiling and exclaiming,
"Helping people makes me so happy." Because that is
what the warm and fuzzy factor does. It makes people feel happy.
It makes them feel fulfilled. And when they're done, it makes them want
to come back and do it again. So, what could be more
important than that? That's right: awkwardness. Does having a picture of a pad appear,
make anyone feel a bit uncomfortable? Yeah … Well, feeling uncomfortable can
be just as important as feeling fulfilled. Service isn't always going to be
warm, fuzzy, and fulfilling. It can be intensely awkward. But if we let
those uncomfortable moments sink in, they can be great motivators, too. I think a lot of the people
that have talked today have already given great examples of that,
and I am going to add my own, and this is also a story that will explain why I chose
to put a pad up in front of all of you. One of the first rules they teach on
Midnight Runs is the rule of equity. You can't give someone extra just because they are
particularly sweet or insistent, or claim they have a friend
waiting around the corner. Because what seems
like generosity, at that point, could turn into somebody at a later stop
going to sleep without socks on. That rule is going through my head as we pull up alongside the church
at a little past midnight. Most people were alseep,
so we called out, "Midnight Run" and walked over. Leaving bagged meals
next to men asleep in their boxes, and bringing back clothing from the van for those who poked
their heads out with requests. And then there was
the woman sitting on the steps. We gave her a bagged meal,
basic clothing, some toiletries. She looked at the single pad
in our toiletries bag and asked if we had any extra. She was having her period. So I went back over to the van, pulled out the bag of six or so extras
tucked under the seat. And was about to go over to her,
when that rule kicked in. It was our last stop that night.
It was an extraordinary circumstance. And as that woman looked on, I put half of the pads back in the van
and walked over to her. "Here you go," I said,
giving her the remaining three. "Have a good night." But driving back to school
with our extra supplies, I suddenly didn't feel good;
I deprived a woman of pads she needed. And turned what is normally
a satisfying and respectful exchange into one that just felt begrudging. But from then on,
when I thought of that run, I didn't think of the conversations
we had or the people we had helped, instead, I just saw that woman's face, And kicked myself really hard. But over time, because I didn't avoid
that sense of shame, I learnt from it. I realized I needed to be more compassionate
and less fixated on the rules, if I wanted genuinely
to make a difference in people's nights. As I thought about awkward moments
on the Midnight Runs, I realized they are more common
than I sometimes expect. Yes, runs are overwhelming
positive and safe experiences, but some people show up
understandably aggravated, especially if they have
a long line to wait on. And there is always the one man
who keeps insistently demanding, say, his pair of long underwear,
when we've already given it to him, and there are people waiting behind. But instead of pushing these dissatisfied people
and uncomfortable moments to the backs of our minds, so we can focus on
singing Christmas songs, we need to remember them, and act on them. Because they're reminders that Midnight Runs
aren't permanent solutions, they aren't intended to be
permanent solutions. Instead, they forge the bonds that encourage us
to build those solutions, and if we only focus on
how fulfilled we feel, we will never get to addressing
those underlying issues. And, ultimately, that's why being open to these memorable, uncomfortable,
awkward moments is so important. Because, yes, the warm and fuzzy factor
is a great motivator, but it motivates us
to keep doing what we are doing. It takes a truly awkward moment
to make us think. (Applause)

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