She began her career with a solid education that provided the hard skills of essential knowledge and nursing practices. For the next forty-eight years she stayed current, and that enabled her to be a good nurse. She and those she served were blessed that she also had a host of soft skills, social and emotional attributes such as compassion, patience, understanding, and empathy. Some people have a high level of emotional intelligence; she was emotionally brilliant, and that made her a great nurse! At age 70 she decided to retire.
Over her career, she had seen folks through some of the worst period in their lives. She cried with many and rejoiced with countless people and their families. She felt their pain, and she embraced their relief when all turned well. She listened to their anguish, and she reveled with them in their joy. As a result, she came to understand and appreciate the human condition on a very intimate level. She witnessed the highs and lows of life on a daily basis, and just as her hard skills were kept current by study, patient by patient her soft skills continually developed and were renewed. After she retired, she wasn’t done, not by a long shot. There was still work to be done.
The hospital where she had worked was in an urban setting. The long-term failure of the steel industry in the ’80s brought a resulting decline in the local economy. Homelessness, poverty, hunger, and a resulting hopelessness were very real consequences. Although they were not technically illnesses, they were most definitely problems that resulted in both physical and mental health issues. This was going to be her new line of work.
There was an abandoned store front a few blocks from the hospital where she worked. Through a contact at her church, she got a 90-day lease at no charge. A local rental agency provided folding tables and chairs. A discount grocery chain offered to provide donuts and cold drinks. Her church donated two coffee machines and agreed to provide supplies on an ongoing basis. Painted on the main window front window were the words “Coffee & Donuts.”
It started with no great fanfare, and after a month, no one would have faulted her if she had closed up shop and moved on into retirement. Oh, a few folks had stopped in, but they stayed only long enough to get something to eat and drink. All but dismayed she thought through some of the basics she had learned in medicine more than 50 years earlier. Then she asked herself, “What is the illness and what are its possible causes?” Quickly she came to realize that the illness was no personal motivation, and the cause was hopelessness. She was providing for physical needs and that was good, but if she could provide some emotional nourishment, that could be great. Below the words already on the front window, she added in larger print the word “HOPE.”
It took time, but by the end of the second month, she and several colleagues who volunteered to join her began reaching a wider cliental. They began providing something more than food and drinks. They began talking to the folks who came through their door. The city police established a presence, as did some local businesses and three churches. Two guidance counselors from the high school volunteered after school. The nurses often referred to their clients as patients. They saw them in need of healing, and that’s what they and the other volunteers were there to do.
They had their ups and down, but over time, their impact grew. Their lease was extended indefinitely. Additional donations allowed them to provide more supports for those with material needs, but their biggest offering, their mission if you will, became hope. That hope was born out of the compassion, patience, understanding, and empathy they could bring to those who were on the verge of or in the dark midst of hopelessness. The volunteers brought their soft skills to those in need, and that produced an impact that no one could have imagined. It was a treatment for the illness of hopelessness, and it was working.
A statement painted on a wall in their store front defined their mission. It was there for the patients, but maybe more importantly, it was there as a daily reminder for the volunteers who served them.
We each get one life. Every day you bemoan your situation, blame someone for your lot in life, view yourself as entitled, or demand that someone else make your life better, you’ve wasted another day. Don’t be a victim of your own inactivity. We’ll be happy to help you start helping yourself to a better life!