With the first half of my MICAH summer fellowship almost over I can finally say that I am starting to become acclimated and feel comfortable in the environment at St. Anthony’s. I’ve learned a lot in the few days that I have served, both about the community at St. Anthony’s and about myself. I’ve learned about how the beauty of the Tenderloin—the art murals, the people that live there, the relationships they have with each other—and about the societal ills that blemish it—substance abuse, racism, hunger, poverty, and lack of housing. I’ve learned a lot about the population that inhabits the Tenderloin as well. I’ve learned about the demographics of the population and the stories of the people that make up the population. I’ve learned how tender and generous people can be, and I’ve also seen how agitated and frustrated and scared people can be as well. The Tenderloin exists within its own microclimate in which every slight change affects its people. On a sunny day most people are in a good mood, but if it gets too warm everyone can be on edge. It’s as if the Tenderloin is its own being. And the St. Anthony’s Dining Room is just as malleable. It can go from quiet to bustling to tense to relaxed within the span of a few minutes. At first it was extremely overwhelming for me, but now after four weeks I am getting more comfortable. I have learned that I am stronger than I thought I was. At first it was hard for me to initiate conversation with people I did not know and even harder to keep doing it when people ignored me. It was still harder to face confrontation with the guests; it still fills me with anxiety, but I think I’m slowly getting better. In this I have learned that its never personal. Each person that I interact with has a background that affected how they are able to interact with people and I have to be able to empathize. I think this might be the most important lesson I’ve learned thus far.
In the last half of the summer fellowship I hope to continue to build relationships and tolearn the stories of the people I interact with. In the first four weeks the people I serve became familiar with me and me with them and know that we have built relationships with each other, I have been fortunate enough to have glimpses into their lives. I hope this continues and deepens in the next four weeks. By hearing stories I hope that I can gather more about the systemic problems that have affect the Dining Room guests and in what ways. I also hope that I can learn more about how I can help them besides listening to their stories. While being a patient and earnest listener is so important for people that have been marginalized and ignored, I want to learn what I can do with the stories I am told and how I can act upon them in the future to pursue the common good.