“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30
These sunny days in Tucson, I’ve been working at CHRPA (Community Home Repair Project of Arizona). It’s kind of similar to Habitat for Humanity, however, instead of building new homes, CHRPA staff and volunteers go into the homes of those who qualify as low-income, individuals with disabilities and those who are simply older and cannot get up on their roof in 100 °F weather (Heck! I have a hard enough time as a somewhat limber 23-year-old!) This is just a brief description. There is more at:http://www.chrpaz.org/
Today was in the 90s and 100s. IT IS HOT! When you step outside, you feel like you are entering a sauna. On a daily basis, we at CHRPA repair swamp coolers (an often cheaper alternative to Air Conditioning), rip out and reinstall toilets, roofs, bathroom sinks, kitchen sinks, water heaters, kitchen and bathroom floors, etc. The list is limitless!
Through my work at CHRPA, I have learned and been humbled to the max as I walk into people’s homes and they have holes in their ceilings and therefore, they cannot use that bedroom. I’ve been humbled as I have walked into countless homes and trailer homes and seen the home owners work alongside us to rebuild their homes…..(even as they are wearing a brace boot/cast to stabilize their broken/fractured/weak knee).
Many people have misconceptions about the people we assist. The reality: one of the women who sits in a wheelchair and who we helped one day said to me with tears streaming down her face, “I hate and don’t want to be a burden.”
I wanted to say something meaningful and full of wisdom like, “You are not a burden. I hope you see that this work gives me purpose and dive each day. We all must have time in our lives when we will take care of each other. I just hope there will be CHRPA staff and volunteers when I’m elderly.” Instead, I just said, “Oh! Don’t worry. You are not a burden!”
Honestly, I was a little baffled and without many words. I did not know exactly how to answer because I saw this same fear that I often have of “not wanting to be a burden.” I saw my reflection in her, in her tear-sodden eyes.
But please, let me take this “burden” which is no longer and make it an instrument of blessing. Once again, I was reminded again about how beloved I am. These words that this woman spoke echoed in my ears the whole afternoon.
Hanbyeol and I spoke at our job's Annual Meeting last night. Below is a very serious speech that we wrote together reflecting on the past 5 months of working at CHRPA.
H: On Sept. 3, 2014, Allie and I started our CHRPA story. We will not tell about EVERY day and every job, but here are a few things we have learned so far:
A: There was our first CHRPA school where we learned how to solder copper and every CHRPA school after with Dan R and other CHRPA worker’s careful planning and creative teaching. We learned that plumbing is Hanbyeol’s passion and there’s nothing more fun than the Wirsbo expander tool.
H: We have learned that biking to work is the most fun in the afternoon, when we aren't 20 minutes late for work. True community is when Allie bikes so much faster than me, but I still like her at the end of the day.
A: Community is also when Hanbyeol wakes me up at 6 am every morning for work because I can’t do it on my own.
H: I taught a CHRPA school lesson on Wirsbo, SharkBite fittings, and Rayhow pex to a group of people who are all older than me, something that is not usual in Korean culture.
A: And there’s nothing more satisfying than completing a 2 week gas job with Josh and Dustin, and the all you can eat popcorn at Ferguson's that comes with it.
H: The smell of cats will never leave me and there’s nothing better than a client with puppies.
A: Hugh is a walking story book and figuring out a challenge on Thursday afternoons is so satisfying
H: and it’s a good day when you are completely covered in flash and seal.
A: I have learned that the most important thing about working with clients is just to listen
H: I have learned to not bow, like in South Korean Culture, to clients but how to shake hands instead And how to nod and smile in conversations I don’t understand. No hablo español.
A: We both have learned to count how many times Dan W. says “shoot” in one working day (record was 12).
H: We have learned that CHRPA girls are the strongest, talented, smartest, beautiful women in the world.
A: We’ve never eaten as much ice cream as we have in the past 5 months.
H: Drinking Water is really important and the ability to laugh at mistakes, like falling through a roof is necessary.
A: This job could be hard and stressful, but because of the staff and volunteers who have let us learn, laugh, and grow with them this year, working at CHRPA has been a wonderful experience for both of us and we are excited to see what the next 6 months have in store……
H: dios te bendiga
Part of my job at CHRPA is to contribute to the annual "CHRPA Tales" story book. Below is one of my submissions. I worked with a Jesuit volunteer, Abi, who is a dear friend and one of the few northerners I agree to get along with ;)
On a Thursday afternoon, Abi and I were sent to a house to put up shower walls around a new bathtub. It was my first time working with Abi, and neither one of us had built a shower surround before. But this year is all about firsts, right?
I had been to this superannuated house before, to do the initial assessment with Dustin (a CHRPA employee). I was excited to revisit Reyna and her two chipper little girls. The house was clean, but old, and decorated with a hodgepodge of things. Despite the physical state of the home, I remember the sweet family created a happy and welcoming atmosphere
When we knocked on the front door, the mom – short and round and kind – opened it. Reyna had been expecting us. I don’t speak any Spanish, and she speaks very little English, but she showed us she was excited we were there without saying a word. Reyna led us to the bathroom and Abi and I got to work. As Abi and I ran in and out of the house, measuring the walls and cutting new pebble board, a neighbor pulled up a lawn chair in his next-door yard. He settled in and watched the chaos unfold. The kids ran around the house, chattering to each other in Spanish; something they could finally do after a CHRPA crew came the day before to repair their floor. Reyna ventured into the bathroom and checked on us every once in a while, during the commercial breaks in her favorite TV show.
After the job, Abi and I tried to communicate to Reyna that we were going to have to come back to replace faucet handles another day. We mimed at each other for a few minutes; no success. After laughing together over our ridiculous hand motions, she sent one of her daughters racing next door to fetch a kid who spoke English.
I was worried that she wouldn't be pleased with the shower after Abi and I struggled with our first installation of pebble board – but Reyna was grinning, happy to see the job done. She even helped us load tools back on the truck. I felt good about the work CHRPA did as a whole, because I knew, even without being able to effectively communicate with the family, that they were thankful.
NO, I AM NOT SCREAMING WHILE I WRITE THIS BLOG, NO MATTER HOW MUCH I DISLIKE WRITING. I WANTED TO SHARE WITH Y’ALL WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO WORK IN THE OFFICE AT CHRPA. I HAVE BEGUN SPLITTING MY TIME JUST ABOUT 30/50 WITH OFFICE AND FIELD WORK. EVERY FORM I FILL OUT ON COMPUTER IS TYPED IN ALL CAPS, UNIFORM AND ALMOST SCREAMING TO BE NOTICED AND READ.
WORKING IN THE OFFICE MEANS A CONSTANT PHONE RINGING IN THE BACKGROUND, PAPER WORK, AND VOLUNTEERS WAITING FOR MARCHING ORDERS AND INFORMATION. I, ONLY HAVING EXPERIENCE OF A YEAR OR SO IN CUSTOMER CARE AT A GOLF PRO SHOP, WASN’T QUITE READY FOR THE DIFFERENT TYPE OF CUSTOMERS I WOULD BE DEALING WITH. SONIA, OUR USUAL SECRETARY/GENIUS/THERAPIST WAS OUT FOR VACATION AND I WAS THE FILL IN.
IT WAS HOT A WEEK, SO THEREFORE THE MOST COMMON REQUEST WAS FOR COOLER REPAIRS. MOST PHONE CALLS ARE OVER WITHIN FIVE MINUTES. THEY CALL; I TAKE THEIR INFORMATION; AND ASK A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THEIR REPAIRS. THEY ASK ME HOW LONG THEY HAVE TO WAIT, AND I SAY I DON’T KNOW. THIS IS THE PART THAT STUMPS MOST CONVERSATIONS. HOW DO I TELL SOMEONE WITH 6 KIDS AND A CAVING IN FLOOR THAT WE CAN HELP BUT I JUST DON’T KNOW WHEN? AFTER I DROP THE “I DON’T KNOW BOMB,” THE CONVERSATION USUALLY GOES ONE OF TWO WAYS. ONE, THE CLIENT THANKS ME FOR LISTENING AND FILLING OUT AN APPLICATION, THEN THEY HANG UP. TWO, THE CLIENT MAKES A CASE AS TO WHY THEY SHOULD BE PUT AT THE TOP OF THE “LIST” FOR HOME REPAIRS. 6/10 TIMES THIS LEADS TO TEARS, GUILT TRIPPING, OR THE CLIENT BEGGING FOR MORE HELP.
I’D LIKE TO JUST GO AHEAD AND CURSE MY MOM FOR GIVING ME THE COMPASSION GENE, BECAUSE WHEN CASE 2 OCCURS, I END UP WAY TOO EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED. COMPASSION AND EMPATHY, I HAVE COME TO LEARN, IS MY WEAK POINT. I GET EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED IN STORIES AND PROBLEMS THAT AREN’T ALWAYS MY PLACE TO FIX. I AM LEARNING THAT I DON’T HAVE TO FIX, SOMETIMES I JUST NEED TO LISTEN. I AM LEARNING THE GRACE OF BEING POLITE BUT FIRM.
A LOT OF TIMES THE CLIENTS I SPEAK WITH ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE ON THEIR LAST STRAW. MANY TIMES THEY ARE STRESSED OR EMBARRASSED TO BE ASKING FOR HELP. SOMETIMES THAT COMES ACROSS AS ANGER, SOMETIMES TEARS, AND SOMETIMES JUST RAMBLING. I HAVE ALSO LEARNED THAT SOME CLIENTS JUST NEED SOMEONE TO LISTEN.
ONE DAY, I TOOK A LITTLE EXTRA TIME TO TALK TO MR. SMITH (NAME CHANGED, OF COURSE). HE TOLD ME HIS HOME REPAIR PROBLEMS; I LISTENED, AND LISTENED, AND HIS HOME REPAIR PROBLEMS TURNED INTO HIS LIFE PROBLEMS (THIS IS VERY COMMON). MR. SMITH JUST LOST HIS DAUGHTER. HE WAS IN AND OUT OF THE HOSPITAL, LIVING IN A FALLING APART HOME, AND WAS LONELY. I JUST LISTENED. BY THE END OF OUR 15-20 MINUTE CHAT, I KNEW MORE ABOUT HIM THAN I THINK I KNOW ABOUT MYSELF. AS WE WERE WRAPPING UP THE CONVERSATION, HE THANKED ME FOR BE WILLING TO HELP AND THEN HUNG UP. NOT EVEN FIVE MINUTES LATER, HE CALLED BACK AND TOLD ME THANK YOU FOR JUST LISTENING AND NOT BRUSHING HIM OFF. HE EXPLAINED THAT I WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO CARE ENOUGH TO TALK TO HIM FOR MORE THAN JUST A FEW MINUTES. THEY ALWAYS TEACH YOU A SMILE CAN CHANGE SOMEONE’S DAY, BUT I THINK A LISTENING EAR HAS AN EVEN BIGGER IMPACT.
WHEN I PICK UP THE PHONE, I NEVER KNOW WHAT VERSION OF A “TYPICAL INTAKE” I’LL GET, BUT THIS JOB HAS TAUGHT ME HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO JUST HAVE PATIENCE AND TO LISTEN. SO MAYBE THE COMPASSION GENE, IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY REALLY NEED FROM ME...MAYBE I WAS GIVEN TOOLS TO DO A JOB I NEVER THOUGHT I COULD?
The past 3 weeks have been packed with exciting events and adventures!
I feel like I have truly learned something new every day while working at CHRPA. I have been outdoors and on roofs more than I ever imagined but I love working with my hands and being able to see the immediate result of our work.
This past week, I was able to see a job from start to finish which was gratifying. The project was for a veteran whose kitchen and hallway floors were in terrible shape and in no way safe to walk on. I went to inspect and assess the amount of work/supplies that would be needed for this job and discovered that the homeowner had been living without water in his home for 3 weeks. He was terrified to use running water because a water pipe was leaking right under the floor, making the floors weaker with every passing minute. A CHRPA team was sent to his home to start repairing the leaks and floor. Dustin (a fellow CHRPA worker) and I returned this past Monday and Tuesday to finish the work and lay down laminate flooring. Our very kind client donated tools, bought us lunch, and expressed his thanks many times over, to the point of tears. I am becoming so aware of how useful my hands are and the ways in which I can use them to help people feel safe in their own home.
One of the biggest learning experiences in my work so far has been going into people’s homes and seeing the conditions that people live in. I have lived such a comfortable life and it has been hard to not get emotional over seeing children’s bedroom walls on the verge of crumbling, or elderly people who are trapped in their home because they have no ramp. Each client I have met has a story that has deeply impacted me in some way.
To be honest, it has been hard to establish a routine - I find comfort in routine- in the past month but I know that this is part of transition. I love being able to talk to my family and friends from home, it means the world to me to still feel connected! I know I am right where I need to be because every morning I wake up excited for what the day holds. My housemates are so incredibly supportive and I could not survive this journey without them! Our spiritual and vocational director has encouraged us to journal and/or discuss each day which has become a huge help for processing.
During one of our house discussions, we watched a TED talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story) and discussed what it meant to accept people for more than how we stereotype them. I am learning that when I think of a person as a one thing and ONLY one thing, that is what they become. The people whose homes I work on are more than just “poor.” I am also more aware of how much I need to work on feeling feelings that are more complex than just pity. This short clip has made me seriously reconsider the way I think about others.
I am thankful for the challenges that day-to-day life here holds and for the grace of new beginnings...
Glory be to you, O God,
for the gift of life
unfolding through those who have gone before me.
Glory be to you, O God,
for your life planted within my soul
and in every soul coming into the world.
Glory be to you, O God,
for the grace of new beginnings
placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
Glory, glory, glory
for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.
John Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction; Morning and Night Prayer, 61-65