By Sarah Novak
Every Friday night since I was a sophomore in college, I have taken on the streets of Downtown Cleveland. Not to go out to the clubs at the Warehouse district with my friends, go eat dinner with my Mom on East 4th or go to the bars on West 25th. I go downtown to bring friendship to my friends who sleep on the streets through a project at my school called the Labre Project. Every Friday night twenty volunteers cook a hot meal and take two vans down to the east and west side of Cleveland. We not only bring food, but also friendship to our friends on the street. We listen to their stories, share a few laughs, cry a few tears and just enjoy each other’s company.
Even though all of my friends hold a special place in my heart, my homeless friends hold a deeper meaning. I have brought them food and friendship but they have given me so much more in return. They have given me laugher, joy, life-lessons and most importantly the most unconditional love one could ever experience from a human being.
Even though my homeless friends do not have a lot, I have received a few trinkets during my time working with them. One of the trinkets I have received was a stuffed dog I got from one of my closest homeless friends. We have become very close over the summer and I have taken her out for lunch a couple of times. We have always had so much fun every time that we hang out. One time when I went to visit her on a Friday I happened to look into her van and saw a really cute stuffed dog. I happened to mention to her how cute I thought the dog was. She opened the door and handed me the dog. She said she planned on giving it to me because I have done so much for her the least that she could do for me was give this to me.
That was one of the most selfless acts of love I have ever experienced in my life. She has so little and what she did have she gave to me. She is someone that will forever hold a very important place in my heart. Another example of a little trinket I received was a pocket watch that another one of my homeless friends gave me. Even though I did not want to take it from him because I know it meant a lot to him, he insisted that I take the pocket watch though because I have done so much for him. These are just two examples of the unconditional love I have experienced from my homeless friends. My homeless friends have filled my life and heart with so much joy, happiness and love. I know that I have given them a lot but they have given back everything I have given them ten-fold. I hope they will come to know how much they have impacted me and have changed my life.
The love, laughter and joy that they have given me is the biggest reason I keep continuing to do Labre every Friday. Sometimes it is stressful to have my phone constantly ringing on Fridays with never ending problems, issues and a variety of people needing a hundred things all at the same time but I would not trade it for the world. The way my heart feels when I am finished on a Friday night is something words can never describe. It is worth all the stress, emails, text messages and multiple phone calls to see the smile on my friends faces when they see me on Friday night. I have loved and still love the people I have served every Friday night as well as the people who have helped me lead Labre.
Even though I am now moving out of the “Mom” status of Labre, as my friends who help me lead Labre refer to me; I am moving into the “grandma” status. This is a status I am looking forward to as a mentor to the younger volunteers. I get to now sit back, enjoy “retirement” and watch the new core team take over and watch them begin to change lives. I have seen how much they are already changing lives and they fill me with so much pride and joy.
They are still going to be looking to me for guidance, but I am excited to see what new ideas this core team has. I am saying a lot of goodbyes this next semester but the hardest goodbye is going to be Labre. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to something that has been such a passion of mine for the past 3 years and has helped me find my calling in life. I know this is the beginning of something new. It is the beginning of me starting a career advocating for the people who have touched my life in a way that no one else could. I am beyond blessed to have had Labre in my life and I am so excited to see what new adventure lies for me around the corner.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronical and NEOCH January 2015