When her teacher assigned an essay answering the question, "What's one thing that changed your life?," fifth-grader Nicole immediately recalled her first experience at Catholic Charities' The Mission homeless shelter in Fort Collins.
Below is the full text of her submitted essay, provided with her permission.
"The Homeless Soul"
"False; not genuine; counterfeit"
This word, this definition, was all I thought as I looked at their longing faces. And somehow I felt like I could’ve done something to prevent it.
But, before this all happened I was staring at myself, thinking, wondering about what I was going to encounter. Dressed in bright yellow Nike shorts and my state softball t-shirt, a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions were like a tornado inside of me.
I’ll admit I was scared, there was news going around about these kind of people. They were robbers, kidnappers, druggies, and for all I know, drug dealers.
“Mikayla, Cassidy, Nicole!!”my dad shouted,” Let’s go!”
“Coming,” my sisters and I replied. I grabbed my ipod and hopped in the silver Subaru. With Mikayla on my left and Cassidy on my right, we were off.
After many wrong turns...we made it to the Catholic Charities Mission. I couldn’t believe it. The dinner wouldn’t be served for another 3 1/2 hours and there were people already there.
Outside of the building there was a swing set, bike racks and Christmas decorations. My mom, dad, sisters, and I walked into the small kitchen [and] … looked at what we are going to serve. Mikayla found a whiteboard that said,
Thanks for helping out. Tonight at 7 o’clock, you will serve mini pizzas, salad, green beans, and cookies. Cook the pizzas at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
With that, we got to work. Cassidy cut the green beans…my dad made the pizzas and my mom and Mikayla made the salad.
Me, well I “supervised” the cookies. Also, I occasionally helped out here and there. Even if I wasn’t do something, I was taste testing or meeting the residents of the building. Looking back now, that was my favorite part: meeting the people and sort of helping them with their chores.
By the time 6:30 rolled around we were ready. The pizzas were hot and out of the oven, the salad was dressed and cold. The green beans were green and crisp. The kitchen smelled like gourmet fast food. As for the cookies, maybe a few had mysteriously disappeared.
But, of course we had to wait until 7 to serve. That half hour dreaded on. It seemed like you were on a hospital bed waiting to die, but it wouldn’t happen. After what seemed like eternity, 7 o’clock came upon us. With rubber gloves on and spoons in hand, we were ready, ready to face these robbers, kidnappers, druggies, and drug dealers.
But, as soon as my dad lifted up the door, everything went into slow motion. I saw their faces, the kids, the tattoos that had a deeper purpose than anybody ever imagined, but most of all I saw hope.
Hope that one day things would get better. Hope that maybe sometime people wouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, where you could just pull it out of a hat and have it right then and there.
That’s when it hit me. All this time, all my life, I had been complaining about not having the latest fashion, or the coolest phone, or being the smartest.
As for these people, they had nothing, but did they ever complain? No. They still lived knowing that one day things might not get better. That you could die from thirst or hunger tomorrow.
And yet, they still believed. They hoped and hoped and prayed. And still, to this day, I pray and hope with them.
Nicole currently attends Bethke Elementary School in Timnath, Colorado. She and her family have continued to volunteer monthly at Catholic Charities’ The Mission in Fort Collins. To learn how you can volunteer with Catholic Charities, visit http://serve.ccdenver.org/.