Orientation days are always a bit hectic at Family Scholar House. These twice-a-month, learn-the-ins-and-outs-of-the-program, figure-out-whether-this-is-really-what-you’re-looking-for sessions are a very liminal sort of space–the “between” for so many single parents who’ve come searching for a way up and out of poverty. The men and women who come to them appear to be, and usually are, at the end of their rope in more ways than one, and you can see the longing for hope in their eyes.
They come needing to believe that there is a better way through life–more importantly, they come needing to believe that they have it in them to seek this better life, to set about the difficult and so very rewarding task of becoming all that they have the potential to be.
One orientation session this summer brought in a single mother and her two sons–both the children in diapers and a beat-up double stroller helping her get them from place to place. All three members of the little family looked exhausted. Worn. Beaten down.
The older of the two boys was gulping back sobs, tears streaming down his round face. One small hand clutched the other and it didn’t take long for FSH staff to realize he was hurt. A deep cut ran along the inside of one tiny finger, and his mother’s stress over arriving to orientation on time was greatly magnified by her obvious concern for her son. Staffers took a look, and then safely and effectively cleaned out the cut, covering it with a thick blob of antibiotic ointment and a strong Band-Aid. The little one didn’t take too well to the invasion of his space by total strangers (Who would?) and so it took some doing…some cajoling…some strategic assistance from his mother.
And then, purely for the sake of distracting conversation, a staffer asked, “Are you all new to town?”
“No ma’am,” came the quiet response.
“Where are you staying?”
“We stayed at the Salvation Army last night,” came the response again, quieter still.
“Well,” the staffer responded, “I’m glad you found somewhere to go. And I’m glad you’re here now. And I think this little guy is gonna be okay.”
“He’s gonna be okay.”
“You’re gonna be okay.”
“It’s gonna be okay.”
These words we so often say, willing them to be true. Offering them as solace in the face of desperation and discouragement, and hoping against our own hope that somehow, somewhere, they will ring true in the lives of these families we serve.
We do this work holding on to those words. Trusting their promise. Believing in their possibility. And standing with those we serve until they, too, can hold on…trust…believe.