Making Circles of Welcome Out of Gatherings of Strangers at the
Downtown Drop-In Center (DIC) for Homeless Youth
Beloved, teach us to open our shuttered hearts
and our portioned and boarded up spirits
with bold generosity and with courageous hospitality.
Estranged and alienated so often and from so much,
sustain us in making circles of welcome out of gatherings of strangers.
Around the table of wonder, meet us in abundance,
drawing out our stories
and showing us how to weave together community with steadfast love.
(part of a prayer by Rev. Naomi King, and posted on The Wonderment. http://thewonderment.typepad.com/]
A group of dedicated First Church volunteers, is partnering with the non-profits Sasha Bruce Youthwork and Stand-up for Kids to “make circles of welcome out of gatherings of strangers” at the First Church Drop-In Center for homeless DC youth. Every Monday night from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, First Church provides a safe haven for youth to relax, eat, socialize, and eventually connect with Sasha Bruce’s supportive services.
Sasha Bruce overcomes many challenges connecting youth with supportive services by using a technique described by Dr. Natasha Slesnick in an article titled “The Best Way to Help Homeless Youth is Hardly Ever Used.” Dr. Slesnick, of The Ohio State University, writes that “teens without homes, many of whom have suffered at the hands of those entrusted with providing them care and kindness, often refuse to seek warmth and nourishment in shelters. She continues that “many kids won’t go to shelters because they’re hiding on the street. They’re avoiding the service system because they’ve been abused and betrayed by everyone who is supposed to love them.” Dr. Slesnick proved in a 2016 study that “Drop-In Centers- safe havens with fewer rules and no older adults-could open doors to jobs, sobriety and housing that is safe and secure.”
As the following comments show, volunteers really enjoy their work:
I find the Drop-In Center to be a place where people from all walks of life come, meet, exchange each other’s views. This itself is another way to develop a stronger community.
The Drop-In Center is a place of connection. There are conversations going on everywhere, usually over pizza. My (Sasha Bruce) co-workers and I usually set up a board game (often Scrabble) and use the game to initiate conversations. The atmosphere is always humming and I leave feeling excited about what’s going on in this space.
My initial involvement in the Drop-In Center was strictly as the “Cookie Lady.” I came one night shortly after the church started working with Sasha Bruce, and was dismayed to see they were eating store bought cookies, and decided that baking and bringing cookies would be my way to show the young people that First Church cared about them. A year ago I began coming a couple of Mondays a month. It has been so satisfying to serve these young homeless people, who are anonymous when they are on the street. I try to learn their names and know what kind of pizza they prefer. When they come to First Church on Mondays, I am able to say, “Hi John,” how are you tonight?” or “Willie, the cookies in the red container have nuts, so make sure you eat the other ones.”
It is inspiring to see so many different groups of people- youth, Sasha Bruce Staff, Stand-Up for Kids volunteers, and members of the First Church congregation come together for the shared purpose of honoring each other’s humanity and creating a space that is fun and warm for all. Whether it’s watching a movie, playing a board game, goofing off with friends or connecting with services, there’s something for everyone here. Having a space that is specifically designed for the purpose of connecting and having fun with each person there is so energizing, and I feel very grateful to be part of this community.
There’s room for you to help at the DIC. Please consider coming on Monday nights or donating snacks or toiletries. Please contact Janneke Ratcliffe at Janneke1018@gmail.com for more information about helping to support downtown DC youth.