Why I Volunteer at Montrose Grace Place

[Grace Lutheran Church is privileged to host Montrose Grace Place, a safe, welcoming environment for vulnerable homeless youth of all sexualities and gender identities, providing nourishment, healthy relationships, and hope for the future. Read more about Montrose Grace Place on the Grace Place page. ]

I moved to Houston in the fall of 2009 when my husband was relocated here for work. As a lifelong Chicagoan with very deep Midwestern roots, the move to Texas was a huge one for me. I closed my private practice as a clinical psychologist, said teary goodbyes to family and friends, told my young adult children who were in college out East that they would always have a home with us (knowing by virtue of circumstance combined with their stage of life that they would never consider Houston home), and headed Southwest.

Soon after we moved here I developed a friendship with Steven Walker, my then new workout buddy at the gym. Steve and I talked away many hours at the gym—when we weren’t completely breathless-- in an effort to offset the rigors of training. As we got to know one another better, I told him about the challenges I was facing in adapting to life in a new city while being unable to practice here automatically as a psychologist, due to an absence of licensure reciprocity between Texas and Illinois.

One day Steve told me that he and his partner, Hal Core, are involved in a homeless youth program at their church, called Montrose Grace Place, smiled and said that he thought I’d make a good volunteer. I told him that I was very interested in volunteering in the program before parting ways for the day.

When we next trained together I told him I was still very interested in the program, but “warned” him that I was almost 55 years old, a married heterosexual with kids, Jewish and basically an atheist. When he told me that this was all fine and would add beneficially to the diversity of the program, I strongly suspected the program would be a good fit.

Today, while there are many bright spots to my life in Houston, Montrose Grace Place is undoubtedly one of the brightest. I eagerly look forward to each Thursday night I volunteer in the program and wish the program would meet more frequently and that I could volunteer in it more often. There are many reasons I enjoy working as a direct youth volunteer for Montrose Grace Place, some of which I will share here.

As the mother of two young adult children and as a psychologist, I believe that while meeting peoples’ basic life needs is paramount (e.g., water, food, clothing, shelter), the next most important set of human needs are to be accepted for who we are and loved unconditionally. Wanting and being able to meet so many of these needs of the young people we serve is a large part of what brought me to Montrose Grace Place, keeps me there and sustains me—along with the hope that I am making a difference in their lives.

I volunteer for MGP in an effort to give back. I have had a life full of good fortune, am very grateful for that, and feel both desire and obligation to “pay it forward.” I am a firm believer in equality and justice and abhor prejudice and discrimination. I am sickened by our country’s reluctance to grant equal rights to our LGBTQ citizens. When our kids were babies, my husband and I took them to protest at a neighborhood anti-gay rally to be sure both sides knew we support equal rights. We felt privileged to have the opportunity to watch our daughter marry her husband at the Office of the City Clerk in Manhattan two weeks ago, alongside several same-sex couples that had just won the long-awaited right to do so. I volunteer in MGP in an effort to make a difference on the individual as well as the group level.

I have identified a number of the reasons I chose to volunteer at Montrose Grace Place, and some of what keeps me here. In closing, I’d like to add that while the youth are the driving force, I continue to work as a direct volunteer at Montrose Grace Place because it has given me the opportunity to get to know some of the most compassionate, dedicated, interesting and fun people there in my fellow volunteers. Thanks to all for allowing me to give you a small fraction of what you give to me.
-Jan

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