Last month, a small group of volunteers from the Women AdvaNCe team in Charlotte helped their community face-to-face. They prepared and served dinner at the Salvation Army Center for Hope for Women and Children. The Center for Hope is an emergency shelter for women and children in the Charlotte area. They provide a safe place to stay, social work services, healthcare, childcare, and three meals a day.
“I wasn’t prepared for the number of children that were there,” said Elizabeth Goodwin, the Women AdvaNCe team leader, describing her experience. The first group of women Goodwin and her team served were the women without children — this was then followed by a much larger group of women with children. Goodwin said there were women everywhere throughout the building — waiting in hallways to speak to a social worker, and curled up on the floor with their children.
“It was incredible the number of women that were there,” Goodwin said.
Even for Goodwin, who has been involved in politics and activism for much of her life, it was somewhat of a shock to interact directly with the enormous need present in her local area. She spent much of her life in Charlotte and has worked on municipal campaigns across the state. Her work on larger campaigns such as the Obama campaign, and more recently on Kay Hagan’s bid, gave her a chance to focus on bringing better policies to needy citizens.
However, she said that there is still a level of abstraction that comes from working at the policy level rather than being on the ground providing the services to the person who needs them.
“You don’t realize how privileged you are until you look into the faces of people that aren’t,” Goodwin said.
The evening affected her deeply. Talking to her reminded me of my long-standing goal to give back more to my community. I often rationalize my lack of community service, telling myself that I am giving back through my work every day.
There is a danger in this — I forget how incredibly privileged I am. When I’m struggling to get shoes on my toddler’s feet so that we can get in the car and get to work on time, I don’t stop to be grateful for my daughter’s shoes, our car, or the fact that I have a job to go to each day. More importantly, I forget that every day I need to be working to support the liberation of our community’s marginalized citizens.
It is far too easy to be insular — to focus on our needs and our family’s needs and to hardly take notice of the world around us. Yes, we might read the news and share pertinent articles on our social media feeds, but we could still miss the world right in front of us.
Goodwin downplayed her group’s contribution, saying that they didn’t do much. But I think they did. They got out of their own bubbles and entered the lives of other people. They prepared and served a meal. At the very least, they inspired me to get out and do the same.
How do you serve your community? What motivates you to serve? Please share your story in the comments.