Pause & Say Hello – Siena Francis House, Omaha


I do not do service all the time to simply help. I do it to be bound up with the people and their problems, their life.
Where do I even begin to describe my time living in solidarity and community with those at Siena/Francis House? On the first day, we stepped foot onto Siena/Francis House’s campus and I could just feel the nerves and anxiety among my group. We barely said much and just jumped right into the activities of the day with anxious hearts and minds, excited but nervous and scared for what was to come. The staff showed us the rooms we would be staying in with the rest of the guests. Although I was nervous, I was reminded of what Tim, the director of Siena/Francis House had told us before arriving, “There is no need to be scared or worried. Everyone here are just people like you and me that are just in a different place in their life.” I recalled that statement as we first encountered the community of hundreds of men and women staying at the Siena/Francis House.

Immediately, I decided that this trip would not be solely focused on learning about “homelessness” but also learning about people, creating relationships, sharing in the human condition, living in community, and serving as brothers and sisters in Christ. I am called to love and understand each and every person I encounter as Christ does himself. Opening myself to this experience and to the people I encountered was the best decision I could have made. Although the experience was hard, challenging and disheartening at times, the relationships I made during my time at Siena/Francis House have changed my heart and mind.

I am incredibly thankful to have learned about a piece of these people’s lives, challenges, heartaches, and happiness. I think each and every person in my group can say that by the end of the week, these people, that we initially assumed were so different from us, had become our friends. They were people we looked forward to talking to and seeing at the end of the day when we got back to our rooms. This community of people was their own family.

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Fast forward to our last day on the trip. We were stopped multiple times walking one place to the next by our friends. As we went to dinner, I got excited to see the familiar faces of those I had talked to earlier, who had given me advice and told me their stories. I had been welcomed into this community of Siena/Francis House, this family of sorts. I was protective of these people and the place they called home. I wanted to make them feel loved, cared about, and important because maybe then they would remember there is still more to life, a reason to fight and move forward. I can remember one night in particular as we were preparing to go to dinner, the kitchen guys asked us if we would be able to help serve dinner as we had done before. Without hesitation, we jumped into action. I loved helping with dinner, not just because I was doing physical helping but because I was able to see more and more people that I had met and say hi and ask them about their day. However, this one night, we were helping another group of volunteers who happened to be college students there for some kind of research project. They told us that they were there for a school project to do service and experience homelessness and “help out.” As I journaled about this night I wrote:

“For some reason I was kind put off by the volunteers, that they thought they could just come in and serve dinner. Their goal was efficiency, get them in, get them out, get information for my project. They looked scared and just wanted to get dinner done so they could get their hours and leave. It upset me as I watched them walk around and serve dinner to these people who had become my friends. I just wanted to tell the volunteers to stop and slow down. To ask them why they looked so scared, to tell them to just treat the guests like people. As I watched these volunteers, I wanted to tell them to sit in a room with one of these individuals, look at them in the eyes as they tell you the intense, scary, experiences they have endured in their lives that got them to where they are today. Sit down with these people, see them cry, and cry with them as they pour out their heart and tell you about the choices they regret and the kids they love so much but never get to see. As human beings we are just called to be with each other and to love each other. Just being, making someone feel important, cared about, loved, respected, feel human; that is what service is about. To be bound up with the people in their lives, their problems, together.”

I love these people and my heart breaks for them every day as I think of what they go through and just wish I could do something to help. Not just help improve their situation, but find a way for them to feel independent again. I would be lying if I said that at the end of the week I wasn’t extremely happy to head back to campus, to my house, my own space. I couldn’t wait to leave. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the individuals with whom I got to share life on the trip, but listening to their stories and living in their world also made me realize how extremely hard their life can be. Wake up calls at 6 am, curfew, assigned time to watch TV, crappy food that hurts your stomach, nowhere to be by yourself, surrounded by mental illness, assigned chores, and sleepless nights. But, at least we got to go back somewhere. These people don’t. This is their home right now. So, first, I am happy my friends have somewhere to go, somewhere they can kind of call home for right now… but I’m sure, just as we didn’t want to be there forever, neither do they. When do they get that chance to leave? I pray every day my friends find the care and help they need and remember that they are loved and important. Did I make a difference? I don’t know and I don’t care. I hope I brought joy and love to some of their lives, but I definitely know that they have changed me for life and I will always stand next to them as a friend, as my fellow brother and sister in Christ.

I have a favor to ask of whoever reads this. Next time you see a person experiencing homelessness on the street, try not to assume they want to hurt you, that they are up to no good. You have no idea the complexity of their life and their situation. Don’t run away in fear or look down on them. I challenge you to say “Hi, have a nice day.” You don’t need to give them all your money or build them a house. You just need to be human and treat each human with that same respect and love you desire and that God calls us to give. It’s easy to love your friends. Now try loving those who need some more love in their lives, and remember we are all God’s children.

 

Ashley Gelhaus
Class of 2018

The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.