Look for the Helpers

A man with bone cancer becomes too sick to work and loses his job. He must now choose between spending money on food or his radiation therapy.

A woman with three young children is beaten daily by her husband. She makes the incredibly brave decision to leave her abuser and move herself and her children into a shelter.

A man is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The constant voices in his head make it impossible for him to hold down a job. He now sleeps on the sidewalk.

These are just a few of the real experiences of the people that I have met during my National Health Corps Florida service term at the Sulzbacher Center, a homeless shelter in Jacksonville, Florida.

Interacting with these people and listening to their stories on a daily basis has opened my eyes to a harsh reality; the world can be a scary and unforgiving place, especially for people experiencing homelessness. I have often left service with an aching heart, wondering if I would ever be able to display the incredible amount of bravery and resilience that my clients have shown throughout their struggles if I were in their place.

Having gained this greater insight into my clients’ hardships, it has sometimes been difficult to think of the world as anything but an unjust place where bad things happen to good people. However, while my position has given me a better view of the social injustice that exists in this world, it has also given me the opportunity to witness the immense amount of good that also exists.

When I think of my term at Sulzbacher, I am often reminded of a story told by TV personality Mister Rogers. In this story he says that when he was younger and he saw scary things in the news, his mother would tell him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” This quote could not be truer, especially at Sulzbacher. Every day I am surrounded by a team of professionals who have dedicated their lives to providing services to the homeless in Jacksonville while empowering them to better their own lives. They are all extremely passionate about their work, and this passion is infectious.

I see our medical assistants working 12-hour shifts, 5 days a week, taking vitals and running labs to make sure our patients are healthy.

I see our pharmacy technician come in early and stay late every day to make sure that every single patient at the shelter gets the life-sustaining medications they need.

I see our outreach team venture out into the sweltering Florida heat to heal the wounds of the homeless on the downtown Jacksonville streets.

Sulzbacher is full of “helpers,” and being surrounded by so many people who care so deeply about the issue of homelessness has been an incredibly uplifting experience. Through my service term, I have been able to see first-hand that where pain and suffering exist, there will always be people who care enough to dedicate their time and talents to relieve this pain.

As I leave service, I will always remember the stories and faces of the Sulzbacher residents. I no longer see the world through rose colored glasses. I am more aware of the problems that exist in my community, and these problems make me angry. However, the passionate energy of the Sulzbacher staff has inspired me to not let my knowledge of these issues negatively impact my view of the world, but rather to channel my anger into passion, and use this passion to continue seeking out opportunities to serve others.

This blog post was written by NHC FL AmeriCorps member, McKenzie Rooney.

McKenzie served as a Patient Navigator at the I.M. Sulzbacher Center.