Lauren Mims

Lauren Mims is a third-year English and Psychology student at the University of Virginia. She is from Fairfax, Virginia and volunteers at Madison House in the On Our Own program.

Posts from Lauren:

The rain soaked my Sperry’s the second I ran from the car to the Student Activities Building. The room, despite the melancholy weather, was abuzz with activity as students and community members gathered to arrange rides to various sites for Cavaliers Care, the one day service event put on by Madison House.  Elizabeth Bass and the executive committee seamlessly adapted to the weather by moving those who were supposed to volunteer outside to venues inside. My job this morning was to go on a Charlottesville adventure to check in on activities at various sites.

First Stop: The Discovery Museum.  As soon as I walked into the Museum, I instantly felt welcomed by all of the big toys and the large tree house. Volunteers prepared the center for a early morning cooking class for children and their parents to cook inside, out of the downpour. My second venue of the morning was to visit the Ronald McDonald House. Here, volunteers interacted with children while cleaning and tidying the house for family members

Time whizzed by as I navigated through the puddles to the Cedar Center.  Inside, volunteers and home residents were just finishing up a bingo game as I walked in. After two more numbers, a volunteer yelled BINGO and the rest of the room groaned and commented that they were so close. I smiled as a woman commented that she didn’t want the UVA students to leave because the BINGO game was so exciting. I was tempted to jump into a game myself, but I hopped into the car to brave the traffic and visit my last location.

I arrived just as the Hope Community Center volunteers were finishing their cleaning. The room looked spotless and smelled of sweet lemons. The volunteers proudly gathered for a picture in the room they had just cleaned. My little sisters in the mentoring program, who graciously kept me company in the car, congratulated them with me and literally danced in the rain upon finishing our marathon 4 places in an hour and a half.  A full day of service!

ten_miler_arrows_400-1

The woman at the end of the race power walked on the heels of the pace car.. I almost missed her arrival because nobody cheered or clapped excitedly like when they had seen the other runners. My job was to act as a traffic controller and stop oncoming vehicles from making either a left or a right turn onto the corner from the side street between the Bank of America and the church. Many drivers were enraged that they would have to walk to Starbucks or Mincer’s from the Bank of America parking lot. I shrugged and continued to gesture to drivers that they must turn around and reverse down the wrong way OR wait until the last runner passed the bank. Many chose to idle and wait for the last runner, but where was she or he?

I was so busy arguing with a woman about the safety issues involved if she tried to maneuver her car through an opening between runners that I almost missed the last runner. The police car lights caught my eye and I swiveled around mid sentence. There she was. Running alone at 9 am, almost 20 minutes behind the last few racers we had seen. I mentally checked her number and began to clap and cheer this woman on. I admired her strength to run the race in the cold, alone on the heels of the pace car. To my surprise, she smiled and stopped for a second. “Thank you for staying to make sure I was safe and cheer me on. It was important to me,” she said. I smiled and yelled that I wouldn’t have missed her run for the world and mustered one more rousing good luck. For a minute, I watched her determinedly walk up the hill. To me, she was the most inspiring runner because her spirit was unyielding.

The car in front of me menacingly inched forward and a woman rolled down her window to kindly as me if now she could drive to the dry cleaners. The race was over and all the runners were safe. I reluctantly lifted my hands in the air and signaled that all the cars can now move freely on the streets again.  I do not know if the last runner finished the race, but in my eyes she will always be the winner of the race. The Charlottesville 10 miler was a race of endurance–this woman mentally surpassed the front runners!

red candle

One of the members of On Our Own brought me a candle.

He usually rushes in at 5:15, a regular with whom I worked on job applications. He was applying and filling out a tedious 14 page job application to be a seafood clerk. We usually completed 4 pages before he lost focus or told me a story or his ride came.

This particularly warm Thursday, everyone was sleeping as an old western came on TV. I smiled as the man heroically saved the woman from plunging 500 feet to her death in the rapids on television. The program ended and Makia talked about her adventures, in Spanish so we could practice fluency. I waited patiently to be a resource if anyone needed it, but this evening everyone just needed a place to sleep for a bit.

At 5:30, the door opened and my friend came in looking frazzled. He said he had rushed to be here and wanted to work more on his application. He then pulled two candles out of his backpack to give to us as thanks for helping him. I was touched he had remembered the time, because he had promised he would try hard to stick to his appointments, and that he had thought to bring us little trinkets. He insisted we keep the candles and sheepishly moved his eyes back to the computer screen.

That candle burns in my apartment this week to remind me how fortunate I am to be warm and inside my apartment. Keep the hope alive :)

When I walked in, I was greeted by the sweet smell of spaghetti wafting from the kitchen.  Each member emerged from the kitchen with a steaming plate of noodles; some getting two bowls of pasta for their family seated on the couch.  The sound of Judge Mathus comingles with members’ discussions of hair color, working and baseball. Makia and I spend much of our time enjoying the welcoming environment with the members.

One of the members rushed in from work and asked us to help him apply for a job on the computer. He got a bit frustrated as we dictated the long list of directions on how to reset his password, and I began to see how hard it was to apply for jobs online.  He got confused when “goolgr.com” did not take him to his e-mail and became impatient as the computer took a long time to load. After thirty minutes, his ride came to take him home, and all we had done was reset his password and open the application. The application was almost as unforgiving as the process! The original website redirected you to an external website where you had to once again create a username and password. None of the work could be saved, so I reassured him that we would continue next week. He shook our hands and apologized for being so frazzled. He told us his boss had taken him out for drinks and he shouldn’t have drank. We nodded forgivingly and promised we would see him later.

Makia and I ended our volunteering quietly with a Friends episode; a hilarious episode where Rachel finds out she is pregnant and wants to tell the father. One member piped up that he has a guy friend who just found out that his girl is pregnant and they have an appointment at the Charlottesville Free Clinic (the Pregnancy Center of Central Virginia offers free and confidential services to all members of the Charlottesville/ UVA community).

The members of On Our Own sat on the steps sunbathing and cheerfully discussing current events in the unusually warm weather that Thursday. After greeting them and signing in, we giggled our way upstairs to complete the assigned organization task.

The weather makes everyone cheery, and the windows of On Our Own let in lots of natural light. We enjoyed ourselves inventorying the oddest holiday and craft supplies on a legal pad. “3 Jumbo pencils without erasers, 4 small pinecones…” The task was fairly simple and we finished quickly as a team.

supplies

Afterwards, we sat outside On Our Own and talked to the man with the purple nail polish about violence in Charlottesville, but the mood was less somber in the sunlight. He discussed the 30 hours of raw footage he had of homeless men for a documentary expose and we discussed how he should go about cutting and creating his “docu-drama”. The faces at On Our Own were new faces from the week before, and I enjoyed the easy conversation. We tentatively arranged to meet some people next week, but it really seems to depend on the weather. Weatherman, weatherman: what will you forecast for next Thursday?

The members of On Our Own sat on the steps sunbathing and cheerfully discussing current events in the unusually warm weather that Thursday. After greeting them and signing in, we giggled our way upstairs to complete the assigned organization task.

The weather makes everyone cheery, and the windows of On Our Own let in lots of natural light. We enjoyed ourselves inventorying the oddest holiday and craft supplies on a legal pad. “3 Jumbo pencils without erasers, 4 small pinecones…” The task was fairly simple and we finished quickly as a team.

supplies

Afterwards, we sat outside On Our Own and talked to the man with the purple nail polish about violence in Charlottesville, but the mood was less somber in the sunlight. He discussed the 30 hours of raw footage he had of homeless men for a documentary expose and we discussed how he should go about cutting and creating his “docu-drama”. The faces at On Our Own were new faces from the week before, and I enjoyed the easy conversation. We tentatively arranged to meet some people next week, but it really seems to depend on the weather. Weatherman, weatherman: what will you forecast for next Thursday?

I have to admit, I stared at a blank word document for thirty minutes before beginning the slow clacking of the keys. Volunteering at On Our Own for the first time was an incredibly eye opening experience and I am not sure where to begin.

First, I have a cooking lesson look forward to! Makia, the super sweet second year whom I volunteer with, admitted to a member at the program that we had never learned how to cook. He proudly told us that he had a culinary background and urged us to cook with him next Thursday when he made dinner for himself. He excitedly shook our hands and we had a date….I hope!

On August 17th, a homeless man was beaten half to death in Charlottesville and remains in the hospital for severe injuries. A very vocal man in the program recounted this and the tale of how he was slammed onto the ground and had five teeth knocked out. In the light of all the incidents occurring around Charlottesville, he cautioned me to be careful at night and that he was so grateful to have moved out of his tent. As he told me about his plans to make a documentary on the life of homeless people, he bit his purple painted nails. He candidly told us he was recovering from addiction and the program leader reminded us that they accepted homeless men and women in any stage of their recoveries. For those of you who like numbers, the 2006 United States Conference of Mayors “Hunger and Homelessness Survey” reports that approximately 26% of the homeless population is dealing with issues of substance abuse.

That number seemed quite large when various members began to jump in and tell us their stories of addiction. One man sitting in the corner caught my attention by not jumping in with his story. He asked my major and then smiled widely when I said I was an English major. He told me that he had always wanted to get his GED, but didn’t know how to read. With 99% of the population defined as literate, how had this man only been taught the basics? He shyly told me he hid a baby book at his place of residence and would love it if I would read with him since I was an English major. I smiled and fiddled with the small ring on my finger.

Each vignette I have told has an unsatisfying conclusion. You, like me, might wonder if the man will show up to teach me how to fry chicken, if the man with the purple painted nails will bring his raw documentary footage for me to look over because he thought I had an “open mind,” or even if the man in army fatigue will bring his book for us to read. I guess, my dear readers, we will find out next week! In the meantime, keep those who live in tents or on the streets in your warmest thoughts as it gets cold. On Our Own offers food and shelter during the day, but it is up to these men and women to secure a job to keep them off the streets during the evenings.

A gently used, but much loved, Saddle Club book sat on the top of the pile. The comforting old book smell, that smell you get when you go into a library or a used bookstore, triggered a strong feeling of nostalgia. I gingerly picked the book up and remembered how I used to read that series for hours on end in suspense: would the horse get better so she could make it to that big race? Will she make up with her friend after they had that fight? Noticing my hesitation, the head coordinator gave me a moment to look over the donated books before giving me my task. The boxes, already categorized by age, were to be packed up in boxes and sent off to pediatric unit waiting rooms for children to enjoy.

At first, I was disappointed because this meant that I would not be able to be in contact with patients. The work was slow and calculated as I meticulous placed ten books from each grade level in the box. As I continued placing books in the box, more and more titles triggered childhood memories. Goosebumps books, easy readers and I spy picture books were all placed in one box; these were all books I had devoured as a child. It made me think of this task as more than just something to consume three hours. Those books used to make me forget everything for hours at a time. I DREADED being called for dinner and having to let go of the book.

I visualized a little boy reading the trucks picture book while waiting for a X-ray. The Barbie Step into Reading book reminded me of the time I read a Step into reading book to my little cousins three times in a row because they loved it so much. What happened to books? Books become movies and movies become video games. I tend to be an eternal optimist BUT maybe the little girl who picks up the Saddle Club in the waiting room will enjoy it so much that she will beg her parents to stop by the library. The library, of course, will have all the books in the series and she will be able to pick up the first in the series and read all the way to the end. Research shows that those who read more, read faster and absorb academic material better. So maybe this girl will score highly on her standardized test scores and end up at the second best public university. ☺

Your resident bookwork,

Lauren

My hands trembled a bit in the elevator as I held a basket of paper pumpkins, the faces on the construction paper were scrawled heavily by inexperienced sharpie users – young children at a local church. Each pumpkin had a different face and I had been instructed to deliver them to the entire hospital, an intimidating feat, which I admit I left without fully completing. Looking back, those pumpkins were really cute! At the time, I was too nervous about the task at hand. The elevator binged, alerting me that my ascension skyward had ended. I stepped out, adjusted my ill-fitting smock and walked to the entrance of the unit.

I thought of that Liberty Mutual commercial where one person’s good deed aids the entire community. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, please check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frpp6DjCaJU&feature=related )

With a bit more pep in my step, I walked into the first room.

A woman with a newborn on her chest told me loudly to come in; she had to talk loudly to be heard over the woman talking on the telephone and the court show on television. I carefully chose the prettiest of the scary construction paper pumpkins and walked to her bedside. I explained that young volunteers wanted to spread the spirit of the holiday by giving everyone mini pumpkins. She smiled broadly and took the pumpkin, showing it off to everyone in the room. The baby squirmed and I snuck a peek at his little face. She gushed about how sweet the gesture was and I left the room down 1 pumpkin, with 40 more ugly faces longing to be given away.

The rest of the delivery went smoothly; each pumpkin got its proper oohs and aahs! The bottom of the basket still couldn’t be seen among the pile of pumpkins and I contemplated skipping my Spanish test in order to finish my assignment. I felt like the Santa Clause of Halloween. Sometimes I forget how important it is to display small acts of kindness!

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