By Eleanor Williamson
When I wake up in the morning, I am not worried about whether I am going to struggle to pay my rent this month. I am not worried about whether my lights are going to get turned off or if I won’t have water in the next couple of days. When I wake up in the morning, my first worry is if I am late for work or class, and that is a privilege I didn’t even know I had until I began working at Crisis Assistance Ministry this summer.
I joined the team as a summer intern for the Volunteer Team but ended up being an intern for the whole agency, and I would not have had it any other way. I got to see the ins and outs of pretty much every department that helps the Agency serve people every day. However, no matter what I was doing during the day, my favorite part was being able to sit down and talk with our customers.
The customers that come through that door every morning are just like me. In fact, at some point, they probably were me. A college student, doing internships, trying to figure out what career they want to dedicate their life to. Now, they are dealing with the hardships that life generates. They come into our lobby with complications I cannot imagine. But I sit with them and I listen, because sometimes that is all they need.
I sat with one customer for a while this summer while we filled out an application for Food and Nutrition Services together. She was in her 60s and had never been in a financial crisis before. She was scared and she was anxious, and she was struggling to support herself without any help from friends or family. As I listened to her story, I realized it was the same story that I heard day after day, just with a few different details. Maybe one customer has three children, and they are supporting them on their own. Maybe one customer’s partner has been in the hospital and neither of them can work.
Every single day, all these different stories walk through our doors, and I sometimes forget that these are the people who serve me when I get takeout. These are the people I say hello to in the grocery store when they hold the door for me. This is my bus driver or my tattoo artist. This is my teacher or my electrician.
Everyone that I interact with daily could find themselves sitting in our lobby like the person I helped the day before. But what that means, really, is that I could end up walking through the doors of Crisis Assistance Ministry needing help.
This summer I learned that it is easy to put up a barrier between the customer and yourself. I learned it is easy to pretend that you will never be in a financial crisis and need to ask for help. It is easy to put up that wall between “them” and “us.”
But there is no “them” and there is no “us.” We are all just people. And life deals every single person a different hand. It does not mean that one hand is more difficult to hold than another, it just means the weight may be different at different times.
Right now, I am carrying a light hand. I was dealt a hand that includes a family who is supporting me and helping me through school. I am holding a hand which allows me to be the person who sits with customers in our lobby and talks with them, helps them apply for aid, and eases their worry. But this summer also taught me not to take the hand I am holding right now for granted because I don’t know what it will look like in the next round of the game.
Eleanor Williamson is a Junior at Queens University of Charlotte studying Communications and Interfaith Studies. She served at Crisis Assistance Ministry as a Gambrell Social Justice Intern through Caldwell Presbyterian Church. When she isn’t busy being a campus or community leader, you can probably find her with her friends or curled up with a good book.