We arrived at our place at the Voyager, in Tucson, just a month ago and we've settled in to most of our schedule. Art has musical play rehearsals on Monday and Thursday afternoons (they're doing You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown this year, and he is playing Pigpen). My handbell choir practices on Monday afternoons and plays at the Voyager's nondenominational church service once a month, which is the only time I attend. There's a current events discussion group on Wednesday afternoons that I like; when I started six years ago most of the attendees were conservative, and now they're mostly liberal. Almost everyone is better informed than me, which is good because I can learn. In January there will also be a foreign affairs discussion group called Great Decisions. I do that on Thursdays.
In the last two years I've made five trips to Greece to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp with Do Your Part, a small American nonprofit. I've become committed to supporting people who have left their homeland because of unsafe conditions and helping to provide the services they need during their time of transition.
Last winter I decided to volunteer in the Tucson community. I went to the asylum clinic for Keep Tucson Together every other Saturday to help people prepare their asylum paperwork. I loved the person-to-person contact, but the clinic didn't seem very well organized, and sometimes I wasn't able to be useful at all. When I first got to Tucson this year, I went to a volunteer training for KTT. It's much better organized now, with more options available for volunteers, but none of them felt right, so I didn't sign up. I decided to wait.
I found another group, Casa Alitas, which provides temporary accommodations for migrants and refugees who have been interviewed by the Border Patrol or ICE and allowed entry into the US to apply for asylum. They're at Casa Alitas for only a few days, until their US host - a friend or a relative in another city - has sent money for a bus ticket. Again, I went to the volunteer training. Again, it didn't feel right.
Then, last week, I heard about the Refugee Shelter Ministry at St. Francis in the Foothills, a very progressive Methodist Church in Tucson. This is a very new program at the church; it had only been active for a week. It's just like the one at Casa Alitas providing temporary support and shelter for migrants and refugees on their way to hosts elsewhere in the country. Art and I signed up for a four-hour shift last Saturday. We received a quick introductory tour. He then went off to help prepare dinner for the 15 being sheltered, and I kept company with those in the social area. No one spoke any English at all, and I speak not much Spanish, but we managed. Dinner arrived and I was the hostess.
I love doing service work one on one. Every one of these people expressed their gratitude for the least little thing: help interpreting a bus route to Maryland, for example, with the five bus tickets that would be required; a cup of coffee con leche y azucar; a travel pack with food for each person leaving. I got hugs and smiles for just being there.
I told some friends about our experience. One of them has already signed up for three shifts!
We've signed up for another shift tonight. We leave in 45 minutes.
I've found my place to be of service.
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