Out Shining Smile

January 18, 2011
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Anxiously waiting in room 804, deliberating what I would carry out that day, I vowed to set eyes on making sure every kid smiled as if it were their first time getting the saccharine taste of candy and the best Halloween party. After twenty minutes, I could hear the engine of the bus rattling along past the room trying to stay alive. I maneuvered my wheelchair toward the bus to get on the platform.
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When we slowly approached Phoenix’s Watkins Shelter, it completely seemed utterly dissimilar than to what I imagined it to be. I imagined it to be sort of like an apartment complex put into one building. I imagined it with a number of undersized rooms and an immense dinning hall to feed and house all of the homeless. The shelter, however, was a business-like complex surrounded by construction sites and vacant buildings. The hall inside resembled the gym of a school: empty, dark, and never-ending.

The head volunteer of the building gave us a tour of the shelter, while we were endlessly waiting for the food to arrive. As we sauntered, I saw a fence corral guarding what seemed to be clothes, accessories, and appliances.
Under my breath I whispered “ I wonder why it’s fenced up?” At once the head volunteer turned around as if he had heard a mouse and uttered “It’s like a store for them; they call it Macy’s.”

Soon after, we entered two separate gym sized rooms. One of which housed single women and the other families. The area where the single women stayed was similar to the boot camp facilities one sees in movies; cramped, army size beds, and only a miniscule basket to put personal items in. Discrete from the other segment of the shelter, the family room consisted of fifteen rooms, each a mere six by six feet and housing up to seven family members. Then the owner articulated “We once had a family of twelve stay in one of these rooms.” I was astound to hear that fact and stayed with my mouth open that I think a bug got in. Finally the food arrived freshly cooked. We each took a station in serving a type of food.

I got stuck with fruit.

Suddenly, a perfect line of families came marching toward the food table like ants aligning one by one to get in the ant hill. Since I was serving fruit, not many people pit stopped to where I was but some did and gratefully responded with a thank you.
In the blink of an eye, that empty, dark, never-ending dinning hall was full of exultation, glee and grins as if these people never lost their homes.

While passing through a set of double doors, into a children’s play area, I knew I would witness what I have been waiting for.

Children smiling.

We were set up into stations where the children could do different activities. There was finger painting, candy bag coloring, cutting out pumpkin faces and making ghosts. This time I got to choose and I chose to make ghosts out of lolly pops and tissue paper. A little Hispanic girl timidly lingered toward me, mumbled a few words, and pointed at the ghost I had made a few minute ago. In a amiable tone I mention if she wanted to make a ghost in English and she looked at me as if she was looking at the wall behind me. Then I repeated myself in Spanish and her face lit up along with her smile brighter than a mid summers sun. All of the sudden she began to interact with me and confidently sat next to me to make her ghost. After she was done she would go to other stations and come back to show me what marvelous creations she had created.

Even though they are homeless, you can see a smile that can out shine the empty shelter full of darkness they live in.





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